Leaf cuttings FAQs

I was recently given a plant the donor referred to as umbrella grass. Its leaves are now turning yellow. Can I propagate it before it dies?

This species (Cyperus altemifolius) can be divided during the summer months, but in your case the method may not be satisfactory, so I suggest you take cuttings. Remove a head of leaves complete with a short piece of stem. Place this upside down on some wet compost and maintain a temperature of 16°C (61°F). Roots and shoots will soon develop, and when the young plant is established pot it on.

I would like to grow-on the leafy top of a pineapple fruit that I bought recently. How do I go about it?

First, make sure that the leaves are fresh—if they are too dry they will not grow. Slice off the top of the fruit 38 mm (lVfe in) below the leaves, and trim away most of the fruit flesh so that only the hard core remains. Let this dry out for a couple of days, then pot it into a moist, sandy potting mix. Cover with a glass dome (or a polythene bag supported by two canes) and maintain a minimum temperature of 18°C (64°F). Roots should form within a couple of months, and then they can be potted on into a 150 mm (6 in) pot of loamless compost and grown on in a warm temperature. Do not, however, expect your plant to produce fat, luscious pineapples in the British climate!

I have grown some cape primroses from seed, and a friend tells me I can propagate them by chopping up a leaf and laying the pieces on top of some compost. Is this true?

Yes, these plants (Streptocarpus) will propagate quite easily from leaf cuttings. Choose good strong leaves and, with a sharp knife, cut them into segments about 50 mm (2 in) long. Insert them shallowly on their edges into compost—in a seed tray, (making sure that the sap flow runs upwards), and put them in a heated propagator with a bottom heat of 21°C (70°F) with a humid environment. Young plantlets should appear within a couple of months, and as soon as they are large enough to handle they can be potted on individually. The popular Rex begonia hybrids can be propagated in much the same way. Cut a large leaf into squares and place each, lightly weighted down, on the surface of the compost.

Are African violets easy to grow from cuttings? I have a large healthy plant but would not like to spoil it by taking cuttings if they have little chance of rooting.

African violets (Saintpaulia) are quite easy to grow from cuttings, which can be taken at any time of the year. Select fully mature healthy leaves and remove them from the plant complete with their stalks. With a sharp knife trim the stalks to 50 mm (2 in) in length, and insert them to just above the base of the leaf in a tray- of rooting compost. Water them in, and place in a heated propagator with a bottom heat of 20°C (70°F). Within two months tiny plantlets will develop. As soon as these are large enough to handle, pot them on and harden them off before putting them on the greenhouse staging.

Why have the rooted cuttings of my variegated (yellow-and-green) mother-in-law’s tongue turned out to be all-green?

The variegated mother-in-law’s tongue (Sanseuieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’) is what is called a periclinal chimera, which refers to a genetic condition in which two completely different and incompatable cells are found in layers. If propagated from leaf sections the new plants will revert—as in your example—to all-green. The only way to perpetuate your striped form is to propagate it by division.

Wait until your plant has plenty of leaves and the pot is full of roots. The shoots required arise from underground rhizomes, and those pieces of shoot that have two or three leaves attached can be severed from the parent and potted individually.

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