Garden Variety: Quick, easy methods to propagate popular houseplants
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Indoor plants, or houseplants as they are often called, will soon respond to longer day length and return to a period of active growth. This period of active growth is a good time to propagate plants if you wish to do so and usually begins around mid-February. Although it’s a little early to get started on the work, now is a good time to look at your indoor plant collection, decide which plants you wish to propagate and the best methods to do so, and gather supplies.
Propagation of plants means to make more of them. The most popular methods of asexual plant propagation are division, stem cuttings and removal of offsets. The type of propagation that is best to use depends on the species of plants in question.
To decide which plants to propagate, take a look at your indoor plant collection. Do you have a peace lily that has outgrown its pot? A vining pothos or philodendron that has gotten unruly? Or a spider plant (also called airplane plant) that is covered with baby plants? These are all prime candidates for propagation.
Division is one of the easiest methods of propagation and is an option for plants that grow in clumps or have multiple stems. Division is a good choice for plants that have outgrown their pots.
To divide a plant, lift it from the pot it is in and cut the clump in half or even smaller parts and pot each one up individually. You’ll need to plan ahead to get enough appropriately-sized pots to hold the divisions. For example, if you decide to propagate the overgrown peace lily into four sections, you need 4 pots that are only a little bigger in diameter than the clump itself.
An old serrated kitchen knife works well for cutting through plant roots to divide the clumps. For plants with easily distinguishable stems like palms, tease the roots apart rather than cutting through them to avoid excess damage.
Pothos, philodendron, wandering jew, jade, shefflera and Christmas cactus are good candidates for stem cuttings. To take cuttings, look for stems with healthy growth. Stems should have a terminal shoot or growing point, meaning it should look like it is growing from the end rather than having been cut back previously.
Clip one or more stems from the plant with pruners or a sharp knife. Length depends a little on the plant in question but 4- to 6-inch cuttings usually work well. Make cuts right below the point where a leaf is attached. That point is referred to as a node. Remove the bottom leaves. Then the stem can be “stuck” into a pot of soil or other growing media. Ideally, 2 leafless nodes will be below the soil surface.
Many experts suggest the use of rooting hormone. This is a powder that is a natural or synthesized plant hormone that stimulates the growth of roots. Rooting hormone is not vital to propagation but may help plants get a quicker and stronger start. Use according to label directions.
Small pots work best unless you want to stick multiple stem cuttings into a larger pot and divide them later. For growing media, a high quality, well-drained potting mix works fine. Some people prefer sand, vermiculite, or perlite. If you do use sand, look for one that has been heat-treated or is labeled for plant growth over other sands that could contain plant pathogens.
Once the cuttings are stuck, place them in bright, indirect light such as an east window. You could also put a clear plastic bag upside-down over the plant and pot, with a rubber band holding the opening of the bag tight against the pot. The bag will hold humidity around the plant to keep the cutting from drying out while roots are developing. Bags are not completely necessary but can help speed the process along.
When the stem cutting begins putting on growth, remove the bag and/or move the plant to wherever you intend to keep it. This is the sign that it has developed its own root system and is now a plant.
Removal of offsets/plantlets
Spider plants and other plants that produce plantlets are very easy to propagate through removal and planting of those offsets/plantlets. The plantlets look like miniatures of the mature plant. Using pruners or a sharp knife, cut plantlets from the mother plant anywhere along the connecting stem. Stems can be trimmed on both ends to give plants a cleaner look after plantlets are removed. Then, plant plantlets into small pots with high quality, well-drained potting mix. Multiple plantlets can be planted into the same pot if desired for a fuller effect. Place pots in bright indirect light and wait for the roots to grow.
— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.