House plants

Plants with fleshy leaves sprouting from a central crown, such as African violets, rex begonias or peperomias, can be rooted from leaf cuttings. (Photo: Shutterstock)


Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

LONGMONT – Admit it, at one point in your life you’ve coveted someone else’s plant. Sure, you may have been younger and impetuous, or in a weak moment after moving to a new home, but at some time, someone had a houseplant you wanted for your own.

So you took a clipping and hurried home to stick it in a pot of soil, water it lovingly and place it in the sun. Where it promptly croaked. Before giving up in frustration, consider a few tips for houseplant propagation, and go back to your friend to ask for another chance.

But keep it legal. Many varieties are under patent and can’t be propagated without permission. Take a moment to look up the plants’ patent before you take a cutting to avoid a visit from the plant police.

Resist the temptation to send cuttings to friends in far-flung locations, such as other states or countries. Quarantines on plant material are taken seriously and the enforcers of these rules can be stern in their pursuit of transgressors.

When planning to propagate a houseplant, several techniques will come in handy. Sterilize cutting tools in boiling water, and use clean pots with fresh potting soil. Moisten the soil before filling the pots. Rooting hormones are useful, so tip some of the powder onto a paper towel to dip cuttings into.

What: Stem cuttings. Plants sporting leaves along stems, such as Swedish ivy, pothos, or wandering sailor can be propagated by stem cuttings. At each leaf section are nodes that stretch into roots. If the plant’s stem is soft they need immediate planting, but succulents often do better if allowed to sit for one day to callus over the wound.

How: Pinch or clip stems just below a leaf, remove the lower leaves, dip in water, then in rooting powder and push into potting soil. Firm soil up against the stem and enclose the plant, pot and all, in a plastic bag to hold in moisture. Place in a dim room and once per day, open the bag and spritz the plant with water. After two weeks, remove from the bag, keep in the dim room and continue to mist daily until new growth sprouts. At this time, move the plant into light and treat normally.

What: Leaf cuttings. Plants with fleshy leaves sprouting from a central crown, such as African violets, rex begonias or peperomias, can be rooted from leaf cuttings.

How: Clip medium sized, healthy leaves, being sure to include one to two inches of petiole – the stalk attached to the leaf. Plant the petiole into damp potting soil, but plant it shallow, only one half-inch deep.

Enclose in a plastic bag and treat similarly to a stem cutting, keeping evenly damp but not moist. Leaves should root in one month, with plantlets appearing four-six weeks later. Once plantlets have three or more leaves, they can be gently transplanted into their own pot.

What: Division. Like perennials, some houseplants do best when getting divided every few years.

How: Division consists of pulling the plant from the pot and cutting down through the rootball to make several sections of the original plant. These are then potted up separately. But not all plants like to be divided, so chose those that sprout from many crowns from which they grow.

What: Rooting with adventitious roots. When roots develop at points on the stem or on plantlets that shoot from the mother ship, half the work of coaxing plants to propagate is done for you. Spider plants and dendrobium orchids sprout obvious roots from offshoots.

How: With orchids, clip off the plantlet just below the roots and pot it up, with spider plants, leave the plantlet attached to the mother while potting it into a new container. Scrape the long stem slightly one inch from the plantlet to promote rooting.

By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Colorado State University Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail [email protected] or visit