Ask Martha: How Do You Divide and Propagate Houseplants?
Martha Stewart shares simple step by step instructions on how to propagate plants to ensure growing success
Question: Hi Martha, How do You propagate a houseplant?
Martha Stewart: Houseplants are among the wild cards of interior design because they are changing all the time, and the changes are not always for the better. Regular care works wonders, but every houseplant occasionally needs more thorough refurbishment.
Of all the plant tune-ups you can perform, dividing and propagating are among the most rewarding since they incite new development. Young, fast-growing plants need annual upsizing of pots so their roots can spread to support their tops and take in moisture and nutrients. But don’t forget older plants languishing in small containers. The more tightly stuffed the pot, the more frequently it needs water. The longer the plant stays in that pot, the greater the likelihood that the salts and mineral residues from water will build to harmful levels in the potting mix.
A large pot-bound plant with several stems at the crown can be divided and the pieces transplanted into other pots. As long as each division has its share of healthy roots, it will take off quickly.
This is one of the simplest (and least expensive) methods I know to increase the number of your favorite houseplants. Just follow these steps:
1. Slide the overgrown plant, in this case African spear (Sansevieria cylindrica), a succulent native to Angola, from its pot. If the plant has been in its container for a long time, it may seem stuck; gently loosen the sides by sliding a knife around the edge, just as you might with a cake, and it will come out more easily. Wearing gloves, gently pull the plantlets away from one another using your hands, being careful not to damage or bruise the leaves.
2. If the crown of the plant is very thick and unyielding, cut the sections apart with a garden knife. Make sure each new plantlet has its own robust root system.
4. Several newly potted sansevierias replace the one large original plant. I can keep a few and still have some to give to friends as gifts.
I always enjoy growing my own plants, but there’s something even more exciting and gratifying about propagating them - producing plants by dividing, grafting, or taking the cuttings from existent stems. It’s an interesting and very easy-to-follow process.
There are different methods for propagating houseplants, depending on the type of plant, all described below.
STEM CUTTINGS – Vining, tropical plants such as philodendron, pothos, monstera and fiddle leaf fig.
- With a clean, sharp knife (or clippers) cut the stems or vines close to the soil.
- Cut the main vines into small sections including a leaf stem and part of the main vine.
- Submerge the cut ends in water and place in indirect sunlight. New roots should appear within a couple weeks. Propagation stations are a good way to grow and display your cuttings. Gather multiple vessels such as small vases, jars, or unique glasses to make your own. Consider using grow lights if you don’t have a sunny location.
- The cuttings will actually survive just fine in water, but to repot, wait until the roots are at least an inch long and then bury the roots in moist Miracle-Gro® Indoor Potting Mix and keep out of direct sunlight.
ROOT DIVISION - Bushy plants such as ferns, peace lilies, and snake plants.
- Gently remove the entire plant from its pot and shake to loosen the soil from roots.
- With a clean, sharp hori hori or knife, cut the root-ball in half and replant each half into separate pots.
- Water and keep the plants moist in a spot with bright indirect light.
OFFSHOOTS - Self-propagating plants such as dieffenbachia and snake plants as well as some types of succulents.
- Allow the new shoots, or "pups," to grow to at least 3 inches. Then use clean, sharp clippers or scissors to cut them as close to the parent plant as possible (it's fine if you lose some leaves).
- Pot the new plants and keep moist and in bright but indirect light.
LEAF CUTTINGS - For most types of succulents and cacti.
- Break off leaves from a small branch, exposing a short stem. Dry or "callus," both stem and leaves for several days (out of direct sunlight) before rooting. (bottom left of image)
- Use Miracle-Gro® Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix; water well
- Push the stems or ends of the leaves into the mixture and tamp around them to set them in place.
- Water and keep the succulents moist in a sunny spot. Watch for new growth in four to six weeks, then repot as needed.
MARTHA’S TIP – PROPAGATING PLANTS AS GIFTS
I love propagating rare plants from cuttings and do so often. Many friends ask for homemade specimens of my greenhouse plants. They make great gifts when presented in artisanal decorative pots. Personalize each pot by making labels as hang tags. I purchased quilted-paper boxes, lined their lids with some shredded paper, and wrapped the plants in shrouds of clear cellophane.
Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.