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Brighten up winter by propagating houseplants

Are you looking for an activity that is rewarding, involves plants, can be done from the comfort of your own home, and can entertain the whole family? If so try propagating your houseplants.

There are several ways houseplants can be propagated such as by vegetative cutting, layering, division, and micropropagation, to name a few. Perhaps the easiest and most common form used by the home propagator is the vegetative cutting. The three most common forms of vegetative cutting are stem, leaf-petiole, and leaf.

The type of cutting used will depend on the plant being propagated. Stem cuttings are suitable for most plants that have stems such as Swedish ivy (Plectranthus sp.), English ivy (Hedra helix), and dumb cane (Dieffenbachia seguine).

Leaf-petiole cuttings are suitable for African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha), rosette forms of peperomia (Peperomia sp.) and some varieties of jade plant (Crassula ovata) to name a few. Certain begonias such as Rex begonia (Begonia Rex cultorum) and snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) can be propagated by leaf cuttings.

To propagate by stem cutting begin by selecting a healthy stem, ideally one that has new growth at the tip, and take a three to five inch cutting containing at least two nodes (the point where the leaf attaches to the stem). Remove all the leaves except the top two to three sets, make a hole in the potting medium with a pencil or finger and insert your cutting. Be sure that at least one node is covered by the potting medium. Firm the medium around the cutting so there is good medium to cutting contact and water thoroughly.

Allow excess water to drain before moving containers. Be sure that leaves are not buried in the potting medium because they will rot. Cuttings should root in a few weeks.

Leaf-petiole cuttings are taken by selecting a healthy mature leaf, avoiding the oldest and newest leaves, and using a sharp clean knife cut the petiole (the leaf stem) off near the crown of the plant. Before the leaf-petiole cutting is inserted into the potting medium trim the petiole back so it is one to one and a half inches long.

Insert the leaf-petiole cutting so the base of the leaf just touches the potting medium. Firm and water medium the same as for stem cuttings. After a few weeks plantlets will emerge at the base of the leaf.

A leaf cutting is a section of a leaf placed in contact with the potting medium. For example, leaves of snake plant can be cut into three inch sections and placed into potting medium so that approximately one inch of the leaf cutting is covered. It is important to keep the cuttings orientated upright when planting otherwise they will not root.

A good way to ensure that the cuttings are properly orientated is to cut a small notch in the top of each cutting. When the cuttings are planted the notched end should be up. After a few weeks a new plantlet will emerge next to the cutting. Leaves from Rex begonia can be cut from the plant and cuts can be made through large veins at one or two inch intervals.

Place the leaf over moist potting medium (veins down) and weight down the leaf edges with small rocks or potting medium. Be sure to cover just the edges of the leaf, new plants will form at each cut in the leaf. Another method is to cut Rex begonia leaves into sections with each section containing a vein. Place the bottom portion of the vein into the potting media with the top portion of the leaf remaining above the surface. New plants will form at the base of the leaf cutting.

There are several kinds of media that can be used for cutting propagation as long as it provides moisture and oxygen in the proper balance, support for the developing plant and is free of pathogens. Most are made from a combination of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, sand or similar materials. A variety of containers can be used for cuttings as long as excess water is allowed to drain.

Cover the cuttings loosely with a sheet of plastic to help keep the humidity high while they are rooting. Cuttings should be placed near a window where they will receive at least one to two hours of bright indirect light. Avoid placing cuttings in direct sunlight because they may burn under the plastic. If a suitable location is not available set up a small light table using a four-foot shop light attached or suspended above the cuttings.

Use cool florescent or grow bulbs and position the light so the cuttings are about six inches below the light. Check the cuttings periodically to make sure they have enough water, if any cuttings die or show symptoms of rot remove them immediately. After cuttings are rooted they can be carefully removed from their container and transplanted into small containers.

Propagating house plants is a project the whole family can enjoy as well as a great way to increase plant numbers. If you end up with too many plants they make wonderful gifts for family, friends, and neighbors. A word of caution, learn if the plant you are interested in propagating has an active plant patent (plant patents are effective for 20 years). Propagation of patented plants is a violation of patent laws unless one has a license agreement with the patent holder.

For more information on this topic, contact me at the Polk County Extension office in McIntosh at 800-450-2465, or at the Clearwater County Extension office on Wednesdays at 800-866-3125. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at

Source: Randy Nelson, Clay County Extension Service.