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What do you need to propagate a plant?

The easiest and cheapest way to grow your house plant community is through propagation — dividing a plant by either cutting leaves or stems or dividing roots to create two plants from one mother plant. Not only can you increase the plant population within your home, but you can also give little plant babies as gifts to friends and family! While propagation can feel intimidating, it’s easier than it seems — and it’s fun, too. 

The best advice on how to propagate is to dive right in and give it a try. We’re covering what you need to propagate, the different propagation methods, and which methods you can use for which plants.  

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What propagation methods are there?

There are two basic types of propagation, which are cuttings and division. Within those types, there are two more subcategories. For cuttings, there are leaf cuttings and stem cuttings. In both cases, you’re cutting a part of the plant away from the mother plant. You can use water or soil to encourage root growth from the leaf or stem. Depending on the plant, this is an excellent option but can sometimes fail due to rot or an inviable cutting. 

For division, there is rhizome or root division, then there is pup division. For rhizome or root division, you take the plant up from its roots and either cut or massage the plant into two separate plants at the roots. This usually requires a lot of time and can get quite messy. Pup division tends to be more manageable but can still be messy. Plants such as snake plants and spider plants shoot off baby versions of themselves. These are called pups; they are a fantastic opportunity for propagation. By removing the pup from the mother plant and potting it into its own pot, you’ve now got a viable and healthy baby plant.

Water propagation vs. soil propagation

When it comes to leaf cuttings or stem cuttings, there are many ways you can go about encouraging root growth. The two most common and easy methods are with water or soil. After cutting the plant with clean shears or scissors, you can plop the stem or leaf into a dish or jar of water. There the plant will begin to shoot off roots. Once the roots are about 2 inches in length, they can then be placed in soil. 

This same process can be done using soil, except you won’t have to transplant it into the soil because it will already be there. This can lower the risk of losing a plant to transplanting shock. However, it is harder to see if there is any root growth when it is in soil. Each option has its pros and cons, but both are successful in propagating plants. 

zz plant stem cutting
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

How do you know which method to use?

 When first starting, it can be hard to know which method is best for which plant. While we encourage you to jump in and try, below is a short list of common house plants under the type of propagation they work best in. These are not complete lists but just here to get you started on your propagation journey. You may notice some plants are on multiple lists, which means these plants are versatile and can be successfully propagated using various methods.

Plants to propagate by leaf/stem cuttings

  • Pothos
  • Tradescantia
  • Umbrella plant
  • African violets
  • Rosemary
  • Philodendron
  • Prayer plant
  • Snake plant
  • ZZ plant
  • String of pearls (or beans, dolphins, bananas, hearts)
  • Syngonium 

Plants to propagate by rhizome/root division

  • Boston fern
  • Peace lily
  • ZZ plant
  • Snake plant

Plants to propagate by pup division

  • Spider plant
  • Aloe vera plant
  • Bromeliad
  • Ponytail palm
  • Snake plant
  • ZZ plant
  • Pilea peperiomioides

Propagation is a fun and exciting way to grow your house plant family. Be sure to use clean and disinfected scissors or shears before taking a cutting of any plants. Plants such as pothos and snake plants are particularly susceptible to disease, and it’s best to avoid the risk by washing and sanitizing tools after each use and between plants. 

Now that you’ve got the basics of propagation give it a try and watch these beautiful plants grow roots like magic. 

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Rebecca Wolken
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rebecca's has written for Bob Villa and a Cincinnati based remodeling company. When she's not writing about home remodeling…
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