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Propagating Houseplants


"Propagation may be a foreign word if you are not a horticulturist or gardener, but it can be easy by following a few simple steps." states University of Illinois Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup. Trained horticulturists grow new plants called clones by taking simple leaf cuttings or tip cuttings.

Many gardeners use propagation techniques this time of year to rejuvenate houseplants. Illinois houseplants enjoyed a long, wet summer of moderate temperatures, and may have outgrown the space they were allotted. Some of you may have to tame the indoor jungle before holiday décor can commence.

Instead of cutting back the plant, take a few cuttings and start anew for the next growing season. This way you still have the exact same plant without dealing with repotting and over-wintering such a large plant. Fresh cuttings can ensure a healthy plant.

Kelly suggests following these steps when taking tip cuttings of tropical houseplants:

1. Always take cuttings from plants that are healthy and sufficiently watered. If there are mealy bugs or scale, cut back or throw away instead of taking cuttings. Plants stressed will not develop the sufficient roots.

2. Tip cuttings are the best. If you are without a tip, then it will take much longer to root.

3. Tip cuttings should consist of at least four nodes. A node is where the leaf meets the stem. This is the location of your future roots.

4. Snip cutting above the fifth node and snip off the stem tissue below the fourth node. If this tissue is not removed it may be a source of rotting and bacteria.

5. If the plant has large leaves, cut them in half to reduce shock. Participants in my Master Gardener programs usually gasp when I remove so much of the leaf, but soon understand the importance. I have encouraged the cutting to put its energy into producing roots rather than sustaining large leaves.

6. Gardeners will sometimes dust a rooting hormone on lower nodes to speed rooting and increase uniformity of cuttings. Rooting hormones can be found in any garden center and be beneficial because the quicker it roots, the quicker the plant can take up water and photosynthesize.

7. If they are small cuttings, take two to three tip cuttings to stick in the same spot. If this is done, you will have a much larger plant sooner.

8. Use old plastic inserts or 4-inch pots for larger cuttings with professional quality soilless media from the garden centers.

9. Water in well and place in a zippered bag over the cuttings or a dome to retain high moisture level. Without roots to take up water, cuttings can dry out and die quickly.

10. Heat from pads and lights will aid in root formation.

11. Remove covers when cuttings have formed roots. Once roots are formed, new growth will begin.

12. After the roots have filled the pots, pinch the tips to make a bushier, more compact tropical houseplant.

13. Bump up to a bigger pot size when roots fill the pot; fertilize in late spring.

African violets, Begonias and Sansevierias are unique in that they only require a leaf and not a stem with nodes to form roots, but may take much longer to regenerate.

Succulents should follow the same process as above, but after 7 to 10 days of air drying the cut ends. Do not cover when planted, and allow them to dry between watering.

Before you start making cuttings with your new found knowledge, Kelly would like to give you a few tips for growing houseplants that she has learned through trial and error.

  1. Never repot houseplant or fertilize during the winter when the plant is not growing.
  2. Do not overwater, but rather stick your finger in the bottom of the plant to see make sure the plant completely dries between watering. A lot of times the top inch or so may be dry but there is plenty of moisture at the bottom of the pot.
  3. Never let roots sit in water. Dump saucers.
  4. Fluorescent lights are always helpful, even when you have a south or west window because the winter sun is not that bright.
  5. Grouping plants, adding humidifiers, and spritzing leaves with water can add humidity that heaters steal away.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail Kelly at or visit her at her blog -"Flowers, Fruits and Frass."