Succulent leaf propagation is both fun and rewarding. It is quite amazing that a whole new plant can be grown from just one leaf. But there is a trick to succulent leaf propagation and some succulents are easier to propagate this way than others.
At our nursery Fern Farm Plants leaf propagation is a big thing as one plant can potentially yield 10 or so new plants. I have tried to grow most of our 300+ species and varieties from leaf and the below are by far the easiest.
Easiest beginner succulents to propagate from leaf
Echeveria Perle Von Nurnberg
But not all succulents are easy to propagate from leaf and many have a low strike rate. There are even some that will never grow from a leaf.
Succulents that are difficult to propagate from leaf
Most ‘Frilly’ and ‘Bumpy’ Echeveria (Echeveria Dicks' Pink, Zorro, Paul Bunyan, Blue Curls etc.)
Cotyledon Tomentosa (and many other Cotyledon)
Echeveria Mexican Giant & Lindsayana
Crassula Buddha’s Temple
Sedums with minute leaves (sedum acre for instance)
There are more, but we have tried and tested the above many a time. Some will grow roots and for a while look viable, but the new plant never emerges and the leaf eventually dies.
Next, let’s have a look at how to propagate succulents from leaf. Many different methods of leaf propagation can be tried. Some people swear by propagating in water while other bury part of the leaf.
Our nursery has its own preferred method which works best for us. I have been propagating succulents this way for the last 10 years.
And this is how I would recommend doing succulent leaf propagation
1. Get to know your succulents
Before you start pulling succulents apart it is best to establish what they are. Once you know the name, simply type ‘can (name of the succulent) be propagated from leaf’ into your search engine of choice. It is very likely there will be an answer to that somewhere out there on the internet.
If your succulent did not come with a name you can search for characteristics, things like ‘succulent pointy green leaves red tips’ etc. and then go to images and scroll through. You can try a different description if you're not having any luck.
It is possible you may never find out the name or get a false identification. This can happen a lot as anyone can put a name to a succulent photo, even if it’s not correct.
Do not despair if you can’t identify the plant. It is still possible to follow through the next steps.
2. Pick a mature plant
Although many of the easy-to-propagate succulents I've listed above will grow a new plant even from a small leaf it is best to choose a bigger, more mature plant that has quite a few large leaves or multiple branches. Bigger the leaf, bigger and more resilient the plant that will emerge from the leaf.
3. Let the plant dry out for a few days
This is not essential, but in most succulents the leaves come off easier when the plant is a little thirsty and not plump prior to pulling the leaves off. When the leaves are full of water they are more likely to break. Once a leaf breaks, it is worthless.
4. Only pick a few leaves
Don’t go crazy and pull all the leaves off. Even if you know the name of your plant and the information available says it is possible to propagate from leaf we recommend to only take a few leaves off (3-4 depending on the size of the plant) just in case it does not work out.
5. Only propagate in the growing season
Depending on where in the world you are and how cold your winters are your succulents natural growing clock will be affected by the seasons. Many succulents grow rapidly in the warmer months (though, as always, there are exceptions) and go dormant in winter. During their dormant time it is difficult to propagate and you may be wasting your time and precious plant leaves.
For many succulents the best time to pull leaves for propagation is spring. Summer is also a good season to propagate succulents, but there is a good chance the small plants will burn on a hot day.
6. Pull from the bottom & be gentle
The largest leaves are usually the oldest ones at the bottom of the plant. In succulents with a rosette formation they are also the easiest to pull off whole (this is extremely important).
Sometimes it helps to take the plant out of the pot to get better access.
If a leaf that has nothing else growing to its side can be located, it should be easy to gently pull to the side that is free of any other leaves. You will then create good space for the next leaf to come off. Dislodge by pulling from side to side gently. In some succulents the leaves come off easily just by touching. It all depends on the particular plant.
If the growth is too tight a leaf or two may have to be sacrificed and pulled off, even if they are breaking, to make space.
Ensure the leaf is not damaged, broken. Nothing of the leaf can be left on the stalk.
There is only one succulent I know of that will grow even when the leaf is damaged- Kalanchoe Tomentosa. The leaf will produce new plants even if it is broken. I have not yet come across another succulent with an ability to grow from a damaged leaf.
Once you have collected your leaves, place your leaves on a dry surface & leave in a bright but sheltered spot.
We use plastic trays but anything will do- a dry towel, take-away container, paper towel. Put the leaves on the same way as they were when attached to the plant and space out so they are not touching each other.
Next, place on a windowsill, veranda or in a greenhouse, if you have one. It is important the leaves are not in direct sun for too long and should be kept dry. In most instances they will grow even if left in the rain, but some varieties may rot, and so it is better to be on the safe side and keep them dry.
New plants should emerge within a month. Some plants will send roots first, some the new mini-me version of the mother plants and some both at the same time.
7. Plant your plants
Once you have a few leaves and ideally some roots it is time to get your hands dirty. We recommend using succulent potting mix but a general potting mix (can’t have manure) with some extra perlite or pumice added will do.
The plants can be planted straight in pots, or trays and the hardy varieties can go right in the garden.
If the plants have roots make a little hole in the potting mix for them and cover with more potting mix. If there are only leaves you can either wait until the roots emerge or put the plant with the leaf still intact on top of potting mix. Do not bury the leaf in (this prevents rot), the roots will find their way in.
8. Introduce the new plant to the sun
At this stage the baby succulents are still a bit fragile and can get quite literally cooked by direct sun on hot days. The best way is to slowly introduce them to the sun a bit at a time.
Morning sun is quite gentle. The plants can be placed in a spot that is sunny in the morning but shaded during the afternoon (unless you are experiencing a heatwave in which case even sun at 9am can reach over 30C/86F. This is too much for the babies).
After about a week place in a spot where they can get an hour or so of afternoon sun as well and increase until they are able to withstand full sun.
Once the leaves are in a tray/pots watering can begin. While the plants are still small water regularly, but leave the potting mix to dry out between waterings. The original leaf will die off and shrivel up on its own.
In conclusion, succulent leaf propagation should not be hard if you choose your plants wisely. To start of on your propagation journey, go for plants that are easy. Once you've seen how it all works, more difficult succulents can be tackled.