Succulent offsets aka chicks or pups are little mini-me of a plant. They usually grow at the base of a mother plant (sometimes from other parts too) and are referred to as chicks or pups because they start out by hiding under mum, just like baby animals would. A succulent grows offsets as a means of reproduction.
At our small nursery, we collect over hundred thousand chicks every year to propagate plants. Some succulents are extremely prolific with their chicks and can produce dozens every year. Others, usually the more rare plants, only grow 2 or 3. Then there are succulents, mostly hybrid echeverias, that grow as solitary rosettes and never or very produce chicks.
Although propagating succulents by offsets/ chicks/ pups is quite easy, there are a few tricks that will help ensure success.
Always Propagate In The Growing Season
The majority of succulents grow during the warmer months. However, there are some like Sempervivum (not all Sempervivum) or Aeonium (all Aeonium) that grow in the colder months and stay dormant in summer. It makes sense to propagate offsets when the whole plant, including the chicks, is in a growing mode.
If the timing is right, the offsets will root within a couple of weeks and start growing immediately after. In my opinion and experience, the absolute best time to propagate is mid-spring. Almost all succulents are racing ahead with growth. It is still relatively cool, and there’s very little chance of the sun burning the vulnerable offsets. In cold climate countries, it is best to wait until the danger of frosts has passed.
If a plant is propagated while dormant, it may still grow roots, though it will take a very long time before it is properly established. There is also a risk of succulent offsets rotting or dying if propagated out of the growing season.
Wait Until The Offsets Are Big Enough
This can be a bit subjective as some succulents do not grow very big, but a good rule is that there should be a long enough stalk and at least a few rows of leaves.
Bigger the offset, easier it is to take off and propagate. Tiny plants are much more vulnerable to rotting or burning. Also, and this is quite a big thing, if there is not enough stalk to cut through, the offset will not easily pull off and can break too high, causing it to fall apart. This will completely destroy any pup, and you will end up with just a bunch of leaves that will not be good propagating.
Another bonus of being patient is that bigger offsets are likely to grow roots while they are still attached to the mother plants, which will make propagation even easier. To help the mother plant grow the offsets bigger faster, re-pot into a larger pot. More root space = bigger plants, including offsets.
How To Propagate Offsets?
At the nursery, we first collect our offsets and let them dry off in a shaded spot for a day. This will dry any wounds and minimize the chances of infections and rotting.
After drying, the pups are then planted in pots or trays with drainage holes, in a succulent potting mix. A variety of mediums can be used at this stage, including seed raising mix or coarse sand and even peat pellets.
Peat pellets should only be used if you have a greenhouse where the watering can be controlled as they can become too soggy for some succulents.
Coarse sand is not ordinary sand (never use ordinary sand with succulents) and is almost like small rocks. This is a fantastic medium for plants that are a little touchy with wet feet.
After your choice of medium is in the pot, make a small hole in the middle and insert the stalk. If the stalk is tiny, a little dip will nestle the plant in nicely.
Now, the young chicks will have to be placed somewhere safe, out of strong elements. In my experience, it is good for the chicks to get some sun as this will keep them compact, colourful and hardy. If they are in too much shade, the shape can become distorted (leggy), and they will need to be reintroduced to the sun.
An ideal environment would be a greenhouse or under 30% shade-cloth, but chicks will happily grow outside in morning sun- afternoon shade.
If propagating during the height of summer, it is important to be careful on hot days. Temperatures over 32C (89.6F) can burn foliage on young plants if exposed to direct sun. Moving potted pups in the shade when temperatures rise will prevent these burns from happening.
It is important to remember that most succulents are not frost-hardy and will need to be protected from frosts, especially young pups that have already been taken off the mother plant. We do not recommend propagating any plants in winter, in cold climates with frost and snow.
To see how to take pups off a mother plant, watch the video below. Although succulents grow pups in different ways and some are easier to separate than others, this method can be applied to a lot of 'hen & chicks' succulents.
Water Your Offsets
Although there are people that do not recommend watering offsets, we have always watered ours and think it’s a good idea as many pups can shrivel and die if they dry out too much.
The usual rule of succulent watering should be followed- water when the potting mix has dried out. If using coarse sand, the offsets should be watered more frequently as the small rocks drain and dry out very quickly. This is great for plants susceptible to cracking, dark spots or rot, but they still need water to survive, especially while they are yet to grow roots/ the roots are tiny.
The majority will happily survive outdoors, even in the rain though there are a few touchy varieties (Graptoveria Amethorum, Echeveria Lola, Echeveria Romeo etc.) that will need to be taken out of the rain during heavy falls or rain lasting over 4 days.
Things To Look Out For
Pests love fresh new growth. Mealybugs and aphids are particularly attracted to growing offsets. And can be often found in the middle on the youngest leaves. Mealybugs are the most dangerous pest and should be eliminated as soon as spotted (read more about them here). Aphids are quite an annoying pest and can appear in great number overnight, but are easily killed with Pyrethrum based sprays.
Caterpillars, slugs and grasshoppers can also decimate young plants.
Although most young offsets will be fine, if you’re trying to propagate a rare variety, extra precautions should be taken (check for mealies and aphids regularly, keep under shade-cloth, keep out of the rain, place somewhere safe out of reach of slugs etc.)
The Best Plants For Producing Offsets That Are Also Hardy
I will start with Sempervivum as they are one of the most prolific for producing offsets. One plant can grow upwards of 10 offsets each year, and they are extremely easy to propagate, often growing roots while still attached to the main plant.
Graptoveria, Graptopetalum, Sedeveria and Graptosedum are mostly also hardy and quite prolific with their chicks. There are, of course, exceptions but not many.
Echeveria is another succulent genus that produces offsets and many grow good amounts. The hardiest and prolific in our nursery are Echeveria Prolifica, Glauca, Elegans, Topsy Turvy, Hercules, Apus, Violet Queen and Imbricata. There are other good ones, of course, but these are our favourite ones for hardiness and the number of offsets produced. Echeveria that hardly produce any pups also exists- these are usually hybrids with frilly edges or warts.
Shade lovers such as Haworthia also produce a decent amount of pups and are easy to pot up as often the pups will also have their own roots. Many Haworthia do not grow a stalk and will need to be pulled off the mother plant gently.
In conclusion propagating succulents from offsets is very easy as long as it is done in the right season and the offsets are big enough.