You can inexpensively multiply your houseplant collection by propagating the plants you already have. Here are the proper techniques for each type of propagation: stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, layering, seed, and root division.

By Jenny Krane

The growing tips of many plants will produce vigorous new plants when cut and rooted properly. There are many ways to grow new houseplants from a "mother" plant: stem cuttings, division, leaf cuttings, and layering. The process for each is a little different, so here's your complete guide to plant propagation.

How to Propagate From Stem Cuttings

Step 1: To propagate new plants from most multistemmed houseplants, try rooting tip cuttings. First, cut 4 to 6 inches from the tip of the main stem or side branch. Cut just below a node (where leaf and stem meet).

Step 2: Remove the lower leaves and any flowers. Dust cut ends with rooting hormone powder, then plant in moist rooting medium (half peat moss, half perlite works well); keep leaves above soil. If you use powder, poke a hole in the soil with a pencil or chopstick so you can place the cutting in the soil without knocking off the powder. Or, skip powder and place in water.

Step 3: Provide indirect light and bottom heat. When cuttings planted in soil resist tugs, they are taking root. Dig up gently, check root growth, and pot up. Move cuttings in water to another rooting medium as soon as roots sprout; pot up.

How to Divide Roots

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Step 1: To divide a multistemmed houseplant, first remove the plant from its pot. Press your thumbs into the middle of the plant, grab the plant with both hands, and tug it apart. If this doesn't work, remove the soil and try again. If that fails, cut the plant with a knife.

Step 2: Keep a large clump of roots with each division. Immediately pot the new plants in potting soil. Keep the soil evenly moist for the next few weeks to help heal the injured roots.

Step 3: Place plants out of direct light until they start to grow. Move them into brighter light over a period of 10 days.

Propagating and Dividing Tips

  • Bulb plants can be divided in a couple of ways. When a parent bulb produces small bulbs off to its side, simply divide the new bulbs from the old. Plant the new bulbs as you did the parent bulb.
  • Some bulbs, such as achimenes, are made up of many scales that resemble pinecones. For new plants, pull off one of these scales, pot, and water.
  • Caladium and tuberous begonia are among the houseplants that produce fat underground growths known as tubers. Cut the tubers into several pieces, making sure each division has an eye. Dust wounds with fungicide. Plant immediately.
  • Gloxinia and cyclamen produce underground growth somewhat similar to potatoes. Cut sections containing at least one eye from these tubers, then pot. Each section will produce a new plant.

Cutting Top-Heavy Plants

Dieffenbachias and similar plants often lose lower leaves because the plant becomes top-heavy. When this happens, cut the top off and propagate a new plant. Treat the top section like a stem cutting—remove leaves from the bottom inches of the stem and plant the stem in soil. Or, start the top section in water and transplant once roots start.

3 Ways to Propagate From Cuttings

African Violet: To propagate an African violet, cut at least an inch of its stem with each leaf. Insert the stems into either water or a peat-based mix. Pot leaves that have been in water as soon as roots form. Pot others when roots are established.

Begonia: To propagate a rex begonia, set a healthy leaf, top side up, on moist growing medium. Sever a few of the veins. Pin the leaf down so the cuts come in contact with the medium. Keep moist. Pot the plantlets that grow from each cut.

Snake Plant: To propagate a snake plant, cut a leaf into sections; indicate with angled cuts which end is bottom. Dip bottom ends in rooting powder; insert in moist rooting medium. Pot new plants that form to sides of leaf sections.

Air Layering Propagating Technique

Step 1: Make an upward cut into the stem just below a node at a point where you'd like new roots to grow. Cut halfway through the stem. Place toothpick or matchstick into the cut to keep it open. Dust area with rooting hormone powder.

Step 2: Place moist moss around the cut and secure it with plastic. Wrap wire twists at top and bottom. Mist moss regularly. When roots are thick, cut stem several inches below original cut and pot.

How to Propagate Plants With Runners

Plants that send out aerial runners and form new plantlets are easy to propagate. When age takes its toll on a spider plant, it's time to root the plantlets and start over. Spider plants often become straggly. Their natural inclination is to produce new foliage and shed the old.

To root plantlets that form on aerial runners, set pots filled with rooting medium nearby. Pin plantlets into medium with hairpins. Keep moist. Once plantlets take root, sever stems to the parent plant.

Starting Houseplants from Seed

Seeds are an inexpensive and satisfying way to start many houseplants, including asparagus fern, bromeliads, cacti, coleus, gloxinia, impatiens, and kalanchoe. But, because your plants won't be of display size for many months, you'll need patience.

Step 1: Fill tray or pot with sterile medium, mist with water, then top with 1/4 inch of milled sphagnum moss. Press moss with a book. Sprinkle seeds across moss surface or into shallow rows.

Step 2: Cover larger seeds with a sprinkling of moss. Pat small seeds into moss. Mist again. Cover tray with glass or plastic; place on a heating pad or the top of a refrigerator. Place in light conditions suggested on packet. Mist when the moss begins to dry.

Step 3: Remove glass when seedlings pop through the moss. Move seedlings to brighter light. Transplant when the second set of leaves develops. Dig seedlings up gently, holding by one of the leaves, not the stem.

Step 4: Give each seedling its own small pot filled to within 1/2 inch of top with light soil. Firm the soil around the base of each stem, making sure not to bury the leaves. Water immediately. Move plants steadily into brighter light.


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