New Plants from Plantlets

New Plants from Plantlets

Propagating a Piggyback Plant

  • Prepare a small, clean pot by filling it three-quarters full with an open, free-draining compost, such as seed and cutting compost.
  • Choose a healthy plantlet, with 2 or 3 good leaves. Using sharp scissors, cut the main leaf off where its stem joins the mother plant.3 Cut off the stem and gently press the leaf into the compost, so that the area under the plantlet is in firm contact with the compost.
  • Water lightly, then place the pot somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight. Keep the compost constantly moist, but do not overwater.


Plantlets, or offsets, can be the main feature of a house plant. Those that grow along the arching stems of the Spider Plant, or from the tips of the delicate, trailing stems of Mother-of-Thousands, give these plants their special character and charm, and even their name! Other plantlets, such as the miniature ones that edge the leaves of Devil’s Backbone, are more of a curiosity than a feature. In both cases, however, the plantlets provide a quick, easy way to increase your stock, for free.

Propagating from plantlets is one of the simplest ways of making more house plants from ones you already have. In the wild, plantlets would eventually rest on the soil near the mother plant, or in water, in the case of the Umbrella Plant, and send down roots of their own. All you are doing is providing a substitute growing medium, and helping nature along.

Vegetative propagation


When you take a small piece of a mature plant, such as a plantlet, and from it grow a complete new plant, this is called vegetative propagation. With this method, it is important to choose a healthy, disease-free parent plant, because its weaknesses, as well as its strong points, are passed down to the new plants.

Tools and equipment

Use an open, free-draining potting compost, such as seed and cutting compost, to encourage rooting. For fern plantlets, a mixture of equal parts of peat moss, Perlite or sharp sand and leaf mould is best. For plantlets with plenty of roots, use the same compost as for the parent.

Use shallow trays or small pots, 5-13cm (2-5in) in diameter, and a sharp pair of scissors or secateurs for removing new plant from its parent. Some plantlets, such as ferns, benefit from a humid atmosphere, and a propagator or polythene bag is useful.

Warmth is also important for speedy root formation, but normal room temperature is fine for most plants.

The technique

There is no special time of the year to propagate from plantlets – the right time is when they are large enough to be detached from their parent. How many plantlets you take depends on how many new plants you want, and how many can be removed from the parent plant without altering its appearance, if the plantlets are a major feature.

Plantlets with well developed roots can be detached and potted up in one step, then treated as a mature plant. If the plantlet is growing on a long stem, cut if off close to where it joins the stem, and cut the stem off the parent plant. If there are other plantlets on the stem, as often happens with Spider Plant, cut the stem back to the next plantlet.

It is usually safer to pot up an unrooted plantlet while it is still attached,if there is a long enough stem and space nearby for pots or trays. Peg down the plantlet, using a U-shaped wire, so its base is in firm contact with the compost. New growth is usually a sign that roots have formed, and the plantlets are ready for detaching. Don’t worry if the parent leaf rots, as this is natural.

Plantlets from bulbils


The Hen-and-Chicken Fern (Asplenium bulbiferurn) and similar A. daucitolium produce tiny bulbils on the top sides of their lacy fronds. These eventually grow little fronds. Once 3 or 4 fronds appear on a bulbil, gently detach it with your thumb and forefinger and press it lightly into the compost; 6 or 7 bulbils fit in a small pot. Protect from bright sunlight and provide a humid atmosphere.

Alternatively, detach a whole frond and peg it down on a shallow tray of compost, using bent wires or hairpins to keep the frond in contact with the compost.

Plants to try

  • Asplenium A. daucifolium
  • Chandelier Plant Bryophyllum tubiflorum
  • Devil’s Backbone Bryophyllum diagremontianum
  • Hen-and-Chicken Fern Asplenium bulbiferum
  • Mother-of-Thousands Saxifraga stolonifera
  • Piggyback Plant Tolmeia menziesii
  • Soft Shield Fern Polystichum setiferum `Proliferum’
  • Spider Plant Chlorophytum comosum `Variegatum’
  • Umbrella Plant Cyperus alternifolius
  • Saxifraga cuscutiformis

Success with Spider Plants

The Spider Plant is an ideal choice because it is tough, produces a steady supply of babies, and responds well to several methods. If a plantlet has well developed thick roots, detach it and plant in compost. If roots have just started to form, detach the plantlet and rest it in a water-filled jar, so its roots just reach the water. Once roots are 2.5cm (1in) long, pot it up, and treat as a mature plant.

If there are no roots, either dip the bottom of the plantlet in hormone rooting powder, then detach and plant shallowly in small pot; or plant plantlets in pots still attached to their parents by stems. In a month or two, when roots have formed and new growth appears, cut the stem and pot up. You can also wrap the bottoms of attached plantlets in damp tissue, then in foil, until roots form.

Some house plants produce tiny versions of themselves on their leaves or on the ends of flowering stems. These plantlets will quickly make impressive new plants.


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