Propagate Good Times, Come On! (When to propagate, when to wait)

 ‘Why don’t mine look like that?’

One of the most common questions/complaints I used to have, and still hear from others (just about daily) is why some leaf propagations seem to be ‘underachievers’ with little desire to put out roots, let alone leaves.

Sound familiar? Then read on!

Simply put, most succulents are already slow-growers, and if the species we’re trying to propagate isn’t in its growing season, we’re in for an even longer wait to see any progress, if it grows at all. This applies to cuttings taking root as well. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try off-season propagation, but our expectations should be aligned with the seasons. Using my city and region as an example, Houston summers are hot, humid, and long, with short, mild winters, and we have a growing season that averages 300 days, almost double that of Indianapolis or Denver. So when learning about succulent care, please keep in mind that your location is a primary factor in determining what advice applies to you.

Despite our extended growing season, this doesn’t mean I’m popping out fat leaf-babies 300 days a year. The hot summer months are intense, hot enough to slow the growth of many succulent varieties. Outdoor propagation is difficult in high temperatures for the same reason the leaves conserve their juice and energy by slowing their cell reproduction. Heat coupled with ungodly amounts of rain and humidity is not ideal for most gardeners, let alone succulent keepers.

So scratch about half of June, all of July and August, and sometimes September, off of the list of prime months for propagation if you’re climate is similar to Houston and you’re working outdoors. But if you have the space indoors with good light, there’s nothing stopping you from successful summer propagation. Remembering not all leaves are equally viable. The more you pluck, the better your luck at yielding new plants.

  Houston only has an average of 90 ‘clear’ days a year, with October and November seeing the bulk of blue skies. Poor and inconsistent light is disastrous to ideal succulent growth, and regions with long periods of overcast weather, hot or cold, are going to find it more challenging to accommodate these lumen-lovers with the amount of sunlight needed to keep them happy enough to want to multiply. And that’s what grow lights are for! (I’ll cover a bit on supplemental lighting in a future post and link to it from here.) As I’m writing this, it’s a cool December day, and the clouds are blotting out any hope of sunshine.  It’s been like this most days for the last couple of weeks and I don’t expect much sun anytime soon. (Scratch that: As I’m editing this the next day, it’s cooler out and nary a cloud can be seen in the sunny blue sky. Very typical of Houston’s temperamental weather.)

October and November…what glorious growth took place in my outdoor propagation trays! The cool, clear climate with warmer afternoons and balmy nights, really appeals to succulents. But now as we settle into winter and the sun is lower on the horizon, the growth will slow again as plants enter dormancy and become rather boring. Even our potted plants need little to no water or food, which means they don’t need us. So I know I shouldn’t expect to see much action in my propagation trays over the next few months. However there are a lot of winter growing and flowering succulent species to hold you over if you have enough light. For example, my Haworthia Limifolia is shooting out an impressive 18″ flower stalk at the moment! It’s length is rather comical considering how simple the blooms are.

Spring will be here soon enough and winter dormant plants will wake up and get back to business. Your sleepy leaf propagations will pop out roots and leaves faster than ever, rewarding your patience with some of the most admirable displays of growth seen in nature. As previously mentioned, your location will determine the prime growing periods for your succulent propagations, but aim for times of the year when the days are bright and long, yet not too hot or cold.

To keep you occupied  while things are slow growing, you can have fun with DIY projects like wreaths or potting up a bunch of cuttings and babies in cute tiny containers without worrying about them outgrowing their home for a good while. You can also spend time getting to know the individual needs of your garden gang or species you hope to acquire. Research a variety online and dig in, noting their origins, care needs, similar species, bloom times, how to collect seeds, best methods for propagation, etc. It’s almost as good as  the real thing…almost.   

Finally, a watched plant never grows, so it’s best to have a lot of them around to divide your attention! If space, light, and temperatures allow, treat yourself to some new sucs now so they can adjust to your climate by Spring. I know I have no desire to wait too long before bringing home a new pretty or two…I mean, how can you resist when it’s just a click away? The internet is your oyster when it comes to accumulating knowledge and beautiful succulents. Live your life. There’s always room for one more…I promise!

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