Propagating your favorite plants provides an inexpensive supply of plants for your home and garden. Learn about dividing, taking cuttings and more.
The best reason to divide plants is to prevent overcrowding. Many potted plants and perennials need occasional thinning to prevent crowding of the root systems.
Signs of Overcrowding
Natural division makes flowers produced from bulbs (tulips, lilies, etc.) the simplest to propagate. They’ll form tiny bulbs on the sides of the original bulb after a year of growth. When the plant is dormant (after it flowers), lift it out of the ground, remove the tiny bulbs by hand and plant them individually. Replant the original bulb. New bulbs require at least one year to fully mature.
Another example of natural division is offsets or offshoots, which are stems coming from the base of a plant just under the ground. They often have roots of their own and can be removed from the parent plant and grown into new plants. Plants such as pandanus, sansevieria, and aloe are good examples. Snake plants, Boston ferns, cast-iron plants, African violets, philodendrons, and asparagus ferns are also good plants to divide. Each of these plants produces a cluster of stems at the base of the plant, making them easy to split up.
Dividing houseplants and perennials
The best time to divide houseplants is in the spring while they're beginning an active growth period. Before you begin the division or cutting, give the plant less water than usual to firm up the top growth. When you're ready to divide a houseplant, remove it carefully from the pot and cut the various sections apart with a sharp, sterile knife. Don’t use clippers as they crush fragile stems. Make sure there is a good root and top on each section. Work as quickly as possible to prevent the plants from drying out. Repot all divisions in fresh soil and water immediately.
Divide perennials the same way after they finish flowering. For example, plants that bloom in spring should be divided in early summer, and plants that bloom in summer should be divided in early fall.
Plants produced from cuttings are identical to the parent plant and provide an exact replica of your favorite plant. A cutting is a piece of a branch, root, or leaf that's separated from a plant and used to create a new plant. Creating the right conditions for a cutting to root can be tricky. Warm temperatures and high humidity are essential.
There are three common types of cuttings. To understand the difference, here’s a brief explanation.
A leaf-stem cutting is a piece of the plant's stem that is cut just below a joint or a growing point and has at least three leaves. All you have to do is remove the lower leaves and insert the stem halfway into a damp rooting medium. For root azaleas, lavender and gardenias, include some of the woody stem in the medium to assist in the process. Leaf stem cuttings from geraniums, impatiens, coleus, ivy and philodendron should only be rooted in water.
Leaf cuttings differ from leaf-stem cuttings. A leaf cutting is a single leaf or a portion of a leaf that can be used to propagate a plant. The stem is not necessary for rooting. African violets, kalanchoes, jade plants, snake plants and prayer plants are perfect candidates for leaf cuttings. Cut an inch section and insert upright in a rooting medium to start the rooting process.
Root cuttings are made by dividing the root clumps of a specific plant with a knife. Divide root cuttings when the plant is dormant, which usually occurs during the cooler months of the year. This method works well for African violets and most ferns, particularly Boston ferns. Make root cuttings from ferns by cutting inch sections just below root nodes. Bury the fern cuttings in the same soil as the parent plant.
To grow a healthy plant from a cutting, follow these steps:
Start the cutting in a firmly packed rooting medium.
Cover the cutting with a plastic freezer bag. Close the top and place in a shady, warm area (at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Be sure to keep it watered and drained.
To check for root growth, gently pull on the cutting every few days. When the cutting resists coming out of the rooting medium, the roots have formed, and the cutting is ready to be transplanted to potting soil.
Layering uses vine-like growths (or runners) to produce new plants. Layering runners is simple. Peg the runner to the soil by pushing it down at intervals, an inch or two into the soil. Make sure it's well covered. When roots have formed, lift and plant the root cluster. Be sure to cut off any excess runners.
Watch our Garden Basics video: How Do I Transplant or Split A Plant?