How to Propagate House Plants – Cuttings, Re-potting and Air-layering

How to Propagate House Plants – Cuttings, Re-potting and Air-layering

There are many ways to propagate houseplants but the timing is crucial.  The living functions of perennial plants never cease entirely but there is a time when they are at their lowest ebb and the plants enjoy a rest period. The rest period is one when a plant slowly girds itself by maturing changes for a renewal of active growth. As the plants begin to awaken from their rest period, during which time they need very little or no water and lower temperatures than when in full growth, it is a good time to re-pot old-established plants.


Re-potting operations are the same for young or older plants. The plant itself should be in soil on the dry side so that it can be easily dislodged from its present pot. A clean pot is essential. Pots greened from previous use should be soaked in a bucket of potassium permanganate (½ ounce per gallon of water) overnight, then scrubbed. If new clay or absorbent pots are used, they should be soaked for twenty-four hours beforehand. There is nothing to be gained by giving a plant a pot larger than it needs, for this leads to water-logging and repotting (2) damping off. The pot just a fraction larger will usually provide ample space. To turn out the pot, one hand should be spread over the top of the soil holding the stem between the fingers, and then the pot inverted.

If necessary, the root ball can be given a push with a pencil through the drainage hole so it will slip out. The drainage material must be removed and, with gentle pinching and rubbing motions, the soil ball reduced until it is small enough to go into a clean pot. There should be 1 inch of clearance between the cleaned ball of earth and the side of the new pot. Adequate drainage is achieved by covering the hole on the bottom of the pot with a piece of broken flower pot, concave side downwards, and covering this in turn with a layer of flower pot chips or gravel. A layer of moss on top of this will prevent fine soil sifting through and clogging drainage.

A little moist compost should be put into the pot and pressed down lightly. Any damaged roots should be cut off with the sharpest knife available. Roots may be cut back in moderation to induce fresh growth and if the plant is an awkward shape it may be lightly pruned. The soil mark on the stem indicates the level for planting and as the soil settles the plant will sink to a slightly lower level. A potting stick is helpful for working the compost down the sides of the pot. The top soil should be evened up and the plant watered thoroughly and then not again until the soil has almost dried out.

Propagation by Division

Propagation by division is the simplest method of vegetative propagation and one of the easiest. It should be carried out under clean, hygienic conditions with clean tools and hands and the plant material chosen for propagation should be healthy and vigorous. The plant should be knocked out of its pot, the roots freed of surplus soil, gently pulled apart and singled out each with a separate stem, leaf or crown, and removed with a sharp knife, with roots attached.

Each division is potted as a separate plant in a suitable sized pot using a good growing compost. It must be firmed, watered and placed in a propagating frame with light shade until growing strongly, when it can be grown on in the conditions suitable for it as a house plant.


Soil-layering can be used very satisfactorily for plants with trailing stems, or low shoots that can be easily bent down. With house plants it is used chiefly for plants that produce stolons or runners, with small plantlets on them, the plantlets being inserted in small pots placed beside the parent plant, firmed and pegged down. They are not severed until rooted. For soil layering shoots, the method is slightly different. Robust young shoots are chosen and the sap flow partially interrupted just beneath a node, or bud, by sharply bending the shoot or making a slanting cut halfway through the stem. This part of the shoot must be bent, inserted into a pot filled with moist compost and pegged down. It helps to dust the cut area with a hormone rooting powder. The soil must be watered regularly and rooting may take place several months before the layer is ready to be severed and to be grown on alone.

air layering Air-layering

Air-layering is practised on shoots that cannot be bent down easily, and is useful for propagating overgrown plants, such as Ficus elastica. A narrow ring of bark is removed below a suitably placed bud on the stem, or a slanting upward cut made halfway through the stem. Any leaves are detached, the area treated with rooting powder and then a large handful of moss, moistened with a dilute solution of hormone preparation, wrapped around the stem to enclose the cut, and enclosed in polythene. When white roots can be seen penetrating freely through the moss, the layer can be severed, the polythene removed and the rooted portion potted up.

Parts of a living plant severed from it, to be rooted and grown as separate but identical specimens, are termed cuttings. It is best to root cuttings in a balanced compost in which the roots will be well established before being transplanted.

Stem Cuttings

Stem cuttings are usually taken from the ends of young robust shoots, in active growth. The shoots must be cut cleanly with a sharp knife and, in the case of very soft tissued plants, the cuttings should lie for a few hours to let the cut surface dry off. The cuttings should be stripped of their lower leaves, firmly inserted in the rooting medium for about half their length and lightly sprayed with water before covering with glass or polythene.

Leaf Cuttings

Leaf cuttings are taken for the propagation of fleshy-leaved plants and succulents. A mature adult leaf with stalk can be inserted in the rooting medium with the blade of the leaf just above the surface. Plantlets develop at the base of the stalks and can be transplanted as soon as they are easily handled. The leaves of African violets may be rooted in a jar of water. Propagating by leaf cuttings is also used for large leaves with prominent veins, especially Begonia rex. A firm mature leaf should be selected and the main veins cut through just below where they divide on the underside. The leaf is laid, right side up, on the surface of the rooting medium and anchored flat with the help of small stones or bent pins over the main veins. Small plantlets grow from the cuts and they can be separated when they are large enough to handle.

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