Does This Hack for Cloning Succulents Actually Work?
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Low-maintenance, cheerful and easy-to-cultivate succulents need lots of light but little else. We tried this TikTok hack with a water bottle.
Succulents have a reputation for being easy to grow and hard to kill. Even if you do screw up, the latest video making the rounds on #PlantTok, the gardening wing of TikTok, says you can clone a new batch of succulents in no time.
Can you really start a succulent garden with a few leaves and a water bottle? Let’s check out the video first:
@creative_explained A plastic bottle + some water is all you need!? #plantsoftiktok #planttok #tiktoktaughtme #tiktokpartner ♬ Walker – Official Sound Studio
How It Works
Because succulents reproduce by vegetative propagation, aka cloning, they’re easy to grow. According to this TikTok, cloned succulents are only a few steps away:
- Cut several holes in a recycled water bottle.
- Pull leaves off succulent plant.
- Stick leaves in holes.
- Fill bottle partway with water.
- Place in sunny window.
The plants in the video sprouted full, white wispy roots after “one to two weeks.”
I was skeptical. So I decided to test the idea and talk to The Houseplant Guru, Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, to see if this methodology seemed sound to her.
I tried this TikTok propagation method with my Portulacaria afra, aka elephant bush succulent plant. It’s outside on my back patio, and it grows like a weed. I picked half a dozen plump leaves and set them aside for a minute while I prepped my bottle.
Cutting holes in the bottle took some doing. I feared sharp plastic slits would maim my leaves before they had a chance. I tried to make triangle cuts to compensate. Use a sharp utility knife for this part, and be careful.
I stuck the leaves through the plastic slits, filled the bottom with water and put on the cap. Then I put bottle on my sunny window sill behind the kitchen sink and waited.
What the Pros Say
During the waiting period, I asked Steinkopf for her opinion on this propagation hack. “Yes, this would work,” she says, “but I don’t think it is probably the best way.”
Leaf propagation works for many types of succulents, Steinkopf says. The video correctly shows what happens when succulent leaves send out roots and are ready to be potted. But she says the bottle is unnecessary, and the jagged plastic cuts could hurt the tender leaves and roots.
Steinkopf says it’s far easier — and better for the plants — to allow the exposed leaf ends to callous over while they lay on top of moist soil. They’ll send out roots in a couple of weeks. Don’t stick fresh leaves right in the soil or they’ll rot.
So while there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, Steinkopf says, this catchy TikTok complicates a simple process.
After a week, I saw roots starting to poke out from the ends of the elephant bush leaves. It worked! Mine don’t look like the roots in the TikTok video, but it’s only been a week. In the interest of science, I’m going to leave them and see what happens.
I worried condensation from the water would inhibit the formation of the callous, but it didn’t seem to be a factor. That’s good, but the question remains: What’s the bottle for? Is it just a holder for the leaves?
Steinkopf says it’s important to let the cut ends dry out before rooting will occur. But how is the bottle helping? Next time, I’m just going to lay the leaves out to dry without involving a bottle — or that utility knife — at all.
Many succulents do well from leaf cuttings, Steinkopf says, but others can’t reproduce that way. Stem cuttings work with most succulents, even ones that don’t respond to leaf cutting. Instead of taking a single leaf, cut off the end of a plant at the stem.
Remove lower leaves and dry out the cut end before planting. Just like with leaf cuttings, stems need a hardening-off period before sending out roots. Plant too early and they can rot due to all the moisture in the cut end.
If you bring home succulents from the plant store or garden center, check for multiple plants in one pot. If you’re familiar with hens and chicks or Haworthia, you’ll know what to look for.
These separate plants can be divided by taking the entire cluster out of the pot and gently pulling individual plants away from the main group. As long as the separated plant has roots, you can place it in its own pot without further steps.
Seed isn’t an effective method for hobby gardeners — or anybody, really — to propagate succulents. Seeds can take months to germinate, and some species take years to fully mature. Seeds also don’t guarantee that you’ll get exactly the same kind of plant as the parent.
For best results, skip succulent seeds and go right to cutting or dividing.
Pro Tips for Success
Whatever method you try, Steinkopf calls lots of light the key to success. Succulents conserve water in their leaves because their native climates are hot, dry and sunny.
“If succulents don’t have enough light, they will stretch and become leggy,” says Steinkopf. If you live in a Northern climate, consider grow lights to prevent this unsightly trait.
Of course, if your plants do become leggy, that’s a perfect time to cut off the leggy end and make a new plant.