Succulent Propagation: Off with Their Heads!

Learn how to save those leggy terrarium plants that didn’t get enough sunlight by giving special care to succulent leaves and stems.

| September 2019

Photo from Shutterstock 

Sometimes in spite of our best efforts, terrarium plants will begin to get stretched out, or “leggy.” The scientific name for this is etiolation. This is most common in succulents and happens when they lack proper sunlight. In a last-ditch effort to get more sunlight, their stems grow tall and their leaves become more spread out. It’s really a shame when this occurs because they lose their natural shape and morph into something unrecognizable from their original appearance. The question on everyone’s mind is always, “How can I stop my succulents from continuing to get leggy?” The simple answer is, you can’t. Once they are stretched out, there is no putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. But have no fear! This is the perfect time to begin the propagation process. 

Begin by popping off the lower leaves first. Hold the leaf between your thumb and index finger and wiggle left and right until it gives way. If you hear a slight popping sound, you know you’ve done it right. If any part of the leaf remains on the stem, the leaf will not be a viable candidate for propagation. Only those leaves cut cleanly from their bases will have a chance to grow roots.

Photo from Creative Terrariums

Continue popping leaves off until you get near the top of the stem. Collect your leaf cuttings and place them near a window for two to three days. This time allows the cuttings to callus over, which prevents bacteria from entering them. Next, place the leaves on a shallow bed of soil. I like to fill ramekins or shallow baking pans with soil and set the leaves down side by side. It’s important to keep the soil moist but not drenched. Use a mister once a day to keep the soil evenly moist. You should begin seeing roots within one to two weeks and rosettes within three to four weeks. Eventually, the mother leaf will begin to shrivel and dry out. Feel free to cut off the mother leaf and plant your new succulent in a terrarium.

Examples of leaf propagation over a five-week time period. Photo from Creative Terrariums



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