Garden & Greenhouse


Houseplant Propagation Techniques

Posted March 16th, 2016 by Robin Nichols in

Plant cuttings are when you take a piece of the parent plant and use it to start a new plant. It is just one of the techniques that can be used to propagate houseplants.

Air Layering

This technique is used primarily for large plants that have thick strong stems and are not easily propagated by other methods. Roots are grown directly on the stem of the parent plant. This is one of the more difficult propagation techniques. Using a sharp clean knife make an upward 1” slit just below a node on the stem. The slit should go about half way through the stem. Place a piece of toothpick in the slit to keep it open; if the slit heals shut, new roots won’t develop. Remove any bark or leaves a few inches above and below the slit. Dust the whole area with a rooting hormone that contains a fungicide. Pack a handful of moist sphagnum moss around the slit, cover the moss with clear plastic, and tie the plastic securely to the stem. Check the moss weekly to be sure it stays moist but not soggy. When roots have filled up the moss, cut the stem below the new root ball and plant it. It may take months before air layering is successful & new roots start to grow, so try to be patient.

Branch Cuttings

These are ideal for trees with long woody branches. Cut off a 10”-12” healthy branch that has 4-6 nodes on it. The branch should be about ¼” thick. Remove any side branches and all but 2 or 3 of the leaves at the top. Plant the branch and nodes in coarse sterile sand or perlite.

Cane Cuttings

This type of cutting is used when a plant has bare unattractive canes. Cut off a 6”-10” piece of cane and divide it into 3”-4” sections. Each section should have one or two nodes. Dust the cut ends of the canes with a rooting hormone that contains a fungicide. Lay the sections horizontally in soil with the nodes facing upwards and the bottom side of the cane resting in the soil. An alternative Cane Cutting method is to plant several sections vertically in a pot.

Leaf Cuttings

These are similar to stem cuttings except a leaf is used instead of a stem section. Remove a mature healthy leaf from an actively growing branch, stem, or vine. Dip the cut end of the leaf into a rooting hormone that contains a fungicide. Plant the bottom 1/3 of the leaf in soil. Long leaves can be cut into sections. New plants form around the base of the parent leaf.

Plant Division

This is an easy way to propagate plants that form root clumps or rosettes as they mature. When the plant becomes too crowded in its pot, carefully remove it. Gently pull the root ball into 2 or 3 sections, while being careful not to damage the roots. Never use a knife to cut the root ball apart. Plant the sections in pots that are a few inches bigger than the new root balls. Try to use approximately the same soil mixture that was in the parent plant.

Propagation by PlantletsSpiderPlant

This works for plants that send off long slender stems called runners. At the ends of these stems are new plants, or plantlets, that can be used for propagation. Place these plantlets on top of potting soil while still attached to the mother plant. The plantlets will get nutrition from the parent plant while developing roots of their own. Pin the plantlet to the soil with an open paper clip or a small piece of wire. Once the plantlet has rooted, sever the connection to the parent plant. Alternately, some plantlets can be carefully removed from the stems or leaves of the original plant and directly potted.

Stem Cuttings

These are the easiest and most common way of propagating houseplants. Use a sharp clean scissors or razor blade to cut a 3”-5” piece from the end of a healthy stem, just below a leaf node. (A node is where a leaf joins the stem.) Remove all the leaves from the bottom 1/3 of the stem and all flowers or buds. Dip the cut end of the stem into a rooting hormone that contains a fungicide. Plant the stem section in a small container of moist soil. Cover the pot with clear plastic or place it in a plastic bag to increase the humidity and prevent the soil from drying out. Check the plant every few days to ensure that the soil is still moist. After a few weeks gently tug on the cutting, if there is resistance the roots have started to grow and the plastic can be removed.

Tuber Division

This is a specialized form of plant division. Certain plants develop thick stems or roots called tubers that store food for the flowers and leaves. These plants, such as caladium, gloxinia, tuberous begonias, and cyclamen should be propagated in the spring as they emerge from dormancy. Take the plant out of its pot and cut the tubers into sections; each section should have a bud. Dip the cut ends of the tubers into a rooting hormone that contains a fungicide. Plant the tuber pieces just below the soil surface in a small pot.

Offsets, Suckers, or Pups are baby plants that form at the base of certain plants. Gently detach the baby plants from the mother plant once they have grown several inches; at this point they should have developed a few roots of their own. Plant the offsets, suckers, or pups in a small pot while their roots continue to develop.

Want more information? Read these articles:

11 Houseplant Propagation Tips

A Consistent Environment is a Key Factor in Successful Plant Propagation

Plant Propagation by Division

Plant Propagation Calendar – What You Should Be Doing Each Month of the Year

Using an Electronic Leaf in Plant Propagation