You might think lopping the top right off an ailing succulent will only worsen things, but like the mythic hydra, such decapitation will actually make it stronger. Succulents propagate with astonishing ease from the tiniest scrap.
Maybe your succulent was dropped on its head, or the roots are gone from root rot or disease. It’s just a matter of a brave cut and a bit of new soil, and in no time, you’ll have sweet new baby plants to celebrate or share.
Read on to learn more about how to behead a succulent!
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When Should I Behead My Succulent?
There are a bunch of good reasons you may want to try a bit of succulent propagation, ranging from desperate to delightful. Most species of succulent plants take readily to propagation, and they offer an easy way to learn the art of producing new plants from cuttings.
Here are some of the common reasons you might want to cut a precious plant.
When the Succulent Has Long Stems and Few Leaves
Grow a succulent in light that’s too poor, and it’ll gradually stretch out, extending the top part in search of the sun. This is known as etiolation.
Etiolation isn’t reversible. The only way to get those compact rosettes back is to lop the head off and propagate it without the stretched-out stem. Move the stump into strong enough light, and you might just find you can sprout the exposed long stem as well as the head of the plant.
When the Succulent is Diseased or Has Root Rot
These dry climate specialists are easily damaged by overwatering, and I write a bit more about overwatered succulents here. But the basic gist is that too much moisture leads to fungal infections that eat the wet roots, killing them entirely. It can also lead to fungal infections in the lowest leaves or through the stem.
You can carefully clean and treat the sick roots of an ailing succulent, give it new soil, and if the stars have aligned, the root system might regrow. But a great way to ensure a favored plant lives to fight another day is to just take the top off and start again. Even just propagating a few of the most healthy leaves makes an excellent insurance policy against the worst.
When the Succulent is Damaged
Drop a succulent on its head, and it will snap right off. Leaves will also break away with rough handling or damaging weather such as hail storms or heavy rain. Overenthusiastic pets and curious kids can also signal the end for otherwise healthy plants. The good news is if you carefully trim any ragged ends, you can propagate shed leaves and broken tops. A little accident need not be the end for the poor thing.
When the Succulent is Too Big
The price of success is sometimes a succulent plant that’s too large and unwieldy. It’s easy to tame a monster succulent with a bit of judicious trimming. Pare the parent plant back with sharp, clean shears and keep the cuttings – they’ll propagate all the better from a big, healthy plant. The best time to trim is at the start of the growing season, giving the original stem plenty of time and resources to grow new heads before the seasons change.
When You Want to Share Your Succulent Collection
What’s better than sharing new plants with the ones you love? Since you can sprout a whole new plant from a single leaf, it’s easy to ensure there are enough plants to go around. It’s a great way to swap different types of succulents with other plant lovers and expand your collection of indoor plants.
How to Grow Healthy Baby Succulents
If you want healthy new plants, you must start with healthy succulent cuttings. The trick is to treat it like surgery. That is, after all, what it is – you’re cutting right into the living body of the parent plant.
Always use the sharpest tool for the job and ensure it’s sterile. I’ve heard of folks using dental floss for a fast, clean cut – like using a cheese wire on a block of cheddar. It’s sterile out of the box and can produce very hygienic cuts.
Once they’ve grown their first roots, you’ll need to provide an appropriate pot with just the right type of soil and the right pot to hold it all together. I like to mix my own from one part each of coarse sand, perlite, and good quality potting mix, but a standard commercial succulent potting soil blend will do the job just fine too.
Mixing your own soil blends provides excellent insurance against root rot, no matter what you’re growing. I keep a selection of components to hand and can whip up a batch at a moment’s notice.
The pot is also important. Terracotta pots are perfect for succulents. Other porous materials like unglazed ceramics or even concrete are suitable too. No matter what material you opt for, ensuring good drainage with at least one small hole in the bottom is a good idea. For plastic or glass pots, you’ll need quite a few more to keep that drainage just right.
How to Behead a Succulent in 5 Easy Steps
To propagate stem cuttings, including the head of the plant, you will need the following:
- A mother plant
- Clean, sharp knife, shears, or scissors
- Isopropyl alcohol
- New pot of well-draining soil
- Clean water
- Rooting hormone (optional)
1. Choose Your Cutting
When succulent beheading, ensure you have the most closely packed and healthy leaves. Generally, they are thick and fleshy leaves that are firm to the touch. Succulent leaves that are soft, squishy, or wrinkled are to be avoided.
If they’re in through the head, remove them carefully and discard them. Obviously, dead leaves can go in the bin, too.
2. Sterilize Tools and Remove Lower Leaves
Sterilize your tools with alcohol and cut the main stem cleanly. Allow half an inch of stem to serve as the new rootstock. Remove the lower leaves if needed to clear the base of the stem.
3. Dry the Cutting
Rest the cutting on a cool, dry surface to allow the stem to dry out. This will cause a layer of tissue called a callus to form across the open wound, preventing infection. Generally, a callus takes three days and a week to form.
If the rest of the main plant is healthy, pop it in a spot with enough light and good airflow. With the right conditions, it won’t take long until you get new growth from the cut end of the stem.
4. Prepare Your Pot and Water the Soil
Once the callus forms, fill a new pot with potting medium. Succulents prefer soil that drains readily and doesn’t hold too much water.
Water the soil until it’s damp without feeling sodden, allowing it to drain if needed. If it drains poorly, you may want to reconsider your soil blend.
5. Position Your Beheaded Succulent for Rooting
Finally, place the beheaded top of your succulent stem down into the soil, with the bottom half inch buried. The callused stem will sprout a whole new root system in as little as a few weeks.
You can dust the base with rooting hormone if you like – while this will help things along, it’s not totally required and can be reserved for the most desperate of cases. I’ve had great success without it.
How to Propagate Succulent Leaf Cuttings in 4 Easy Steps
Propagating leaf cuttings is another easy method (and one of the most common methods) of succulent plant propagation and is simpler than taking stem cuttings.
For this approach, you will need the following:
- A leaf
- Shallow tray of well-draining soil
- Spray bottle of clean water
1. Prepare Your Soil Tray
Start by filling a shallow tray with soil fit for a succulent. Give it a spritz with the spray bottle so it is damp but not sodden.
2. Take Your Leaf Cuttings
In this case, ‘cutting’ is a misnomer – you want to take the whole leaf from the stem of the original plant without tearing it. In sick, stressed, or damaged plants, it’s often easy to just pull them gently away. They’ll pop off like a grape from a stalk.
You might need a bit more force if you’re propagating a healthy plant to share with a friend. Just take your time so that you get the entire leaf.
3. Allow the Leaves to Callus and Wait for New Growth
Lay the leaf on the surface of the tray with the end exposed. Put it in a shaded area with good airflow.
This allows the end of the leaf to callus.
Remarkably, the leaf will also detect the presence of moisture below and develop aerial roots that will seek it out. These roots will develop over a couple of weeks and eventually reach the soil. You will also find a teeny tiny baby plant developing right at the base of the leaf.
They are, without a doubt, one of the cutest forms of propagation. Even leaves from monster parents will produce teeny-weeny copies of the original plant.
4. Repot the New Babies into a New Container
After 2-3 weeks, the plantlet and new roots will be developed enough for a proper pot. During this time, moisten the soil periodically.
Leave the original leaf attached and plant the lot, root down, in a small pot of appropriate soil. As with a stem cutting, make sure the pot has good drainage.
How to Care for New Succulents
To keep your compact new treasure short and sweet, you’ll need to provide it with lots of bright, indirect sunlight. Succulents really need a lot of light. Even the most retiring of species desire their moment in the spotlight.
Potted Exotics Pro Tip: Place your new succulents near eastern-facing windows. They catch the full early morning light and can bask for a few hours in a sunny spot before the day gives bright shade conditions. A south-eastern windowsill is good too, as it will have good even light all day. Just be careful to not let your plant babies burn.
If you’re growing away from good windows, a grow light is the best way to give them the light they want. Smaller style Plant Halo types are perfect for desktop succulents and really emphasize the angelic qualities of these little cuties.
Succulents also need to be kept appropriately watered.
Allow them to dry out entirely before watering deeply and draining thoroughly. You’ll also need to ensure your succulent soil is up to the job. You need a potting medium that has low water retention and a pot with enough drainage holes.
One of the important things to remember when caring for indoor succulents is that they are desert plants from dry climates with lots of light and sporadic rainfall. If you want them to thrive indoors, you must keep them in the conditions they love.
Keep them well-lit, well-watered, and in good soil, and you’ll be able to enjoy their gentle company for a long time to come.
Looking to introduce a few new Euphorbia succulents into your garden? Check out our top 25 choices for Euphorbias here!