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Cactus
Succulents are plants that store water in their leaves and stems. For example, cacti are a form of succulent.

The ability of succulents to store water and survive harsh periods of drought and poor soils make them popular garden and indoor plants. They come in a range of interesting and sometimes bizarre forms and different colours that mean that they can combine well in a designated planting area or large shallow bowl. Some species (e.g. Sempervivum) can be left to spread across stone walls, paving and gravel. Widely used succulents include Sedum, Aloe, Agave and Kalanchoe.

Succulents have incredible abilities to recreate themselves. While they produce flowers and then seed, they can also be propagated from leaves, parts of leaves or ‘offsets’ (miniature versions of the parent plant). In the wild, flowering may take a huge amount of energy for the plant and only occur infrequently in optimum conditions. Offsetting allows the plant to produce genetically identical clones that can be dispersed by wind or by animals. It is possible to grow succulents from seed but here we are going to look at how to propagate vegetatively, by potting up offsets.

  • Simple and fun to do
  • This is a task that can be carried out inside or in a small space. You can use houseplants, so a garden isn't necessary
  • Can produce lots of plants cheaply and easily
  • Opportunity to explore how plants have evolved to survive in different conditions around the world
  • Let them choose which plants they would like to propagate, possibly by going to a garden centre to look at the range they have
  • Do some research online to explore these amazing plants! See how the Mexican giant cardon cactus can live up to 300 years old, how they flower and how we make use of them as crops
  • Experiment with different ways of propagating. There are many different ways! Follow the link at the end of the article for some more ideas
  • Be careful of certain plants that may have prickly hairs, spines, or irritant sap
  • Buy ready mixed cacti or succulent compost to save mixing your own
  • Choose an easy to propagate succulent like Kalanchoe daigremontiana which produces tiny plants in rows on the edge of its leaves

1. Choose your plant and prepare it. The plant in the pictures below is a succulent Euphorbia. As you can see it has several smaller plantlets or offsets coming off the main parent plant. These can be carefully removed, gently using a combination of twisting and levering off of the main stem. If you look closely you will see white milky sap or latex exuding from both the offset and the parent plant. As this is Euphorbia it is important not to let this touch your skin as it is an irritant.

Once the offsets have been removed, there is a range of different options of what to do next. The RHS website advises allowing a callus to form over the wound which can take 1-7 days.

Other sources recommend longer periods, leaving the offset to form roots before planting. If you do this, the offset or leaf may yellow and wither, but young leaves or plants will grow at the base of the leaf or offset.

In this case, the offset was allowed to dry out for 2 days before planting up. The latex had all yellowed. The purpose of allowing a callus to form is so that it protects the young plant from bacterial infection.

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2. You can buy ready mixed specialist compost for cacti and succulents, or you can mix your own using potting compost and sand or grit mixed together. The exact ratio may vary from plant to plant, but here it's about 1/3 grit to 2/3 compost, but up to 50% each would be fine.

3. Fill your pot with your potting mix. Here a clay pot has been used. These are good for succulents as they dry out quicker between waterings.

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4. Place your offset in the pot and gently pile up your compost mix around the base of it.

5. Aftercare. There is a fine line between allowing your offset to dry out completely and leaving too much water in the soil which may cause the plant to rot at the base. Watering is often difficult with succulents and cacti. Surprisingly, some cacti will have relatively high levels of water each day from condensing sea mists early in the morning. This can be replicated using a water mister or sprayer. Other species like sedums can tolerate quite wet environments.

Here are some ideas for some different methods you might like to try.

We hope you found this useful. Good luck multiplying your succulents!

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Aaron Simon Kemp