In today’s bustling world, houseplants often get neglected due to busy work or class schedules. In some ways, this has meant many classic houseplants are less popular, but it also means that succulents are becoming increasingly popular.
Between relatively low maintenance, the ability to handle neglect (they say it’s almost impossible to kill an aloe vera plant), and their often eye-catching appearance, it’s no wonder succulents are taking over.
But this also means suffering the Pringles syndrome – once you have one, you will always want more. Now, you could always go out and buy another, but this can quickly become expensive. Alternatively, you can use the leaves of most species to create new plants or even salvage a dying succulent plant in some cases.
How To Grow Succulents From Leaves?
Let’s be honest: getting most succulents to flower is incredibly difficult, and division or stem cuttings (necessary for aeoniums and some other succulent types) aren’t always an option. But thankfully, most succulents can be propagated using just the leaves.
The Advantages Of Leaf Propagation
Leaves are an excellent way to propagate plants when that plant is capable of this method. Unlike seeds, you can successfully propagate cultivars and hybrids because you’re using an actual portion of the parent plant.
It’s also a great way to salvage healthy leaves when you’re pruning your succulent.
The leaf propagation process is based on an evolutionary trick these succulents have developed. A succulent might lose a leaf or stem when a strong wind or other environmental accidents happen.
Mother Nature has taught these plants to take advantage of this damage, allowing the fallen leaf to take root and create a brand new plant, similar to how some plants use runners or budding.
As a result, every leaf on a succulent capable of leaf propagation is a potential new plant.
The Disadvantages Of Leaf Propagation
There are some drawbacks to leaf propagation that we should cover.
First and foremost, this isn’t a 100% percent successful method, and your first attempts may have a relatively low success rate.
However, the more you try this method, the more successful you’ll become, especially if you use more than one leaf.
Sometimes, success is a matter of dumb luck, but in most cases, it comes down to experimentation and tweaking conditions to best suit the particular species or cultivar you’re working with.
As a result, the following information should be used as a baseline and not as the hard rule for every plant.
After all, humans are a single species, and every person is unique, so we shouldn’t expect thousands of species and cultivars of succulents to be all exactly the same.
One other important note is that your success will significantly drop if you’re trying to salvage a sickly or dying plant.
However, if your plant cannot be saved, it’s often worth the attempt, even if you’re ultimately unable to salvage the plant through propagation successfully.
Succulent Leaf Propagation 101
Now that we’ve gotten all the small print out of the way, let’s get into the actual method.
Again, remember that your mileage may vary a bit based on your particular plant, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little if your first attempt doesn’t work out.
Step 1: Choosing and Harvesting Succulent Leaves
This single step often causes people a lot of trouble the first time they attempt to harvest leaves.
You will want to thoroughly examine the plant, checking for signs of infestation or disease.
Only the healthiest leaves should be used, and mature leaves will succeed more than juvenile or old leaves.
Also, when trying to salvage a dying plant, you may have to settle for the least damaged leaves, but keep in mind viral infections are incurable, and plants suffering from a virus cannot be salvaged.
When you find a few good leaves, the next step is removal – arguably the hardest part of the entire process.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Gently reach into the rosette or foliage and grab your target leaf at the base.
- Now twist it to snap it off of the stem. What makes this step difficult is the fact that you need to get the leaf at the base. If you accidentally damage the stem, it can hurt the mother plant, and if you break the leaf above the base, the success rate will drop sharply (although propagating a damaged leaf is still possible).
- Place the leaves in a sunny spot for 2 to 3 days so they won’t be disturbed. This allows the wound to callus over, which is vital for reducing the risk of infection.
Once the wound has hardened over, it’s time to grow!
Step 2: Rooting the Leaf
There are two ways to pot your leaf cuttings; you may need to experiment with both to find the one that works best for you.
The first method is to stick the leaf vertically into the soil with the callus side down.
People often have trouble with this method because you want the leaf in far enough so it won’t topple but not too deep, increasing the risk of rot forming.
The other method is to lay the leaf flat on the soil surface, and this seems to have a higher rate of success for some people but can also increase the risk of rot if you aren’t watering the cuttings properly.
You can generally fit several leaves in a single pot or shallow container, but make sure to give them some space, so the new roots don’t become tangled.
As for soil, any succulent-friendly potting mix will work, but add an aggregate such as perlite or vermiculite to ensure good drainage.
Step 3: Rooting
The next step requires time, but it’s easy to overwater the plants.
Misting the plants is a popular method to ensure the soil stays moist, but this can also increase the risk of succulent rot.
Instead, we recommend using the bottom-up method, so your cuttings never get wet.
This method requires you to place the container in a shallow tray of room-temperature distilled water (natural rainwater also works).
The soil will soak up moisture through the container’s drainage holes.
Add a little more water to the tray as needed and remove the container when the soil surface feels slightly damp.
After about 2 to 3 weeks, you’ll see a baby rosette forming where the callus is and little pink roots beginning to form.
As long as you see one of these, the process is working, so don’t fret if you see a rosette without roots or roots without a rosette.
It isn’t viable if a leaf doesn’t form one of these after a month.
Step 4: Transplanting
Allow the baby plants to grow until they have 1″ to 2” inch-long roots.
At this point, gently remove each baby plant and give it a container of its own.
Avoid feeding the plant for a month after this initial transplant, so it has time to establish itself, but keep the soil slightly moist during this time.
Congratulations! You now have brand new succulents ready to grow using the same care instructions as their parent plant.