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Propagate Portulacaria Afra: Details on Soil, Sun, Water, etc.

After taking care of Portulacaria Afra plants for many years, I find them to be one of the easiest to grow and propagate. My husband has been getting very interested in these plants lately and has painstakingly studied them very closely. He has found the best way to propagate Portulacaria Afras and has compiled his very detailed findings below.

The best way to propagate a Portulacaria Afra is during the spring/summer time, by using stem cuttings with plump leaves. Stems should be left out to callus or dry for a few days. Place cuttings in a soil mix that is moist or provides enough moisture. Your stem cuttings will root within 1-3 weeks.

With the right conditions, you should be able to propagate your Portulacaria Afra easily. Read on and we’ll dive into the details on how to make sure the condition is just right so that you can propagate your Elephant Bush properly.

How to Propagate Portulacaria Afra

To propagate Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” I prefer to use stem cuttings. We’ll talk about leaf propagation below.

Plump Portulacaria Afra Leaves vs. Thin Leaves

The first step is to obtain a few stem cuttings. I prefer to take stem cuttings with plump leaves. It means the leaves have a good water reserve and can quickly grow new leaves if needed. Based on my observation, it doesn’t seem to matter how long or short your stem cuttings are, as long as you have at least 4 leaves on them then it should be good enough.

Wrong Way and Right Way to Trim a Portulacaria Afra for Stem Propagation
*Cut through the nodes (sorry for the typo above)

We would need to cut the stem right under a node. A node is a connection between 2 stem segments. Be sure not to cut through a node. I’ve done this before and somehow it slowed down the growth of new roots for the stem.

Ideally, it’s better if you can bury the stem an inch or two under the surface of the soil. Since the soil dries up pretty quickly on the surface, you want your stems to be at least an inch under the surface since the roots’ goal is to seek moisture and the soil nearer to the bottom of the pot retains moisture longer.

Be sure to set aside your Elephant Bush stem cuttings for 2-7 days to callus or dry up. This will make sure the stem cuttings won’t rot before they get a chance to root.

The second step is to put together a soil mix that will help the Elephant Bush stem cuttings to root. While most soil mixes work, I’ve tried all sorts of soil mix shown in the picture below. All of them rooted but there is an ideal soil mix that I found to work well for us.

Photo of Different Soil Mixes for Portulacaria Afra Stem Propagation will Work

The above photo includes the following mixes:

Out of the Box Commercial Succulent Soil Mix:

  • Bonsai Jack Succulent Soil
  • Miracle Gro Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix
  • Sun Gro Succulent Soil Mix

Soil Mix We Put Together for Testing:

  • 33% Turface MVP, 33% Pumice and 33% Pine Bark
  • 80% Turface MVP and 20% Sun Gro Black Gold Succulent Mix
  • 80% Turface MVP and 20% Micracle Gro Succulent Mix
  • 40% Turface MVP (sifted and unsifted), 40% Pumice and 20% Pine Bark
  • 40% Turface MVP(sifted and unsifted), 40% Perlite and 20% Pine Bark

Best Soil Mix to Propagate Elephant Bush

I’ve found that the best soil mix for propagating Elephant Bush is a soil mix that can stay moist longer. My preferred soil mix currently is 1 part turface mvp-calcined clay, 1 part pumice and 1 part pine bark as shown in the photo below.

Our Soil Mix for Portulacaria Afra Stem Propagation - 3 kinds of growing medium.

This soil mix will hold on to water longer because of the pumice but still allow excess water to drain through. I would caution though that after your stem cuttings have rooted, that you transplant your newly rooted Elephant Bush cuttings to a more fast-draining succulent soil to prevent any root rot.

The photo below was rooted in the above soil mentioned, as well as the Portulacaria Afra Variegata that you’ll see a few sections below.

When to Water Your Elephant Bush Cuttings

With this soil mix, I water once or twice a week. I do this once the soil is dry and has stayed dry for more than a day. Typically it’s still wet at the bottom that’s why I wait a day. It really depends on how fast your soil dries out in your area, and whether your area is humid or dry, or whether you are propagating outdoors or indoors.

Be sure not to leave the stem cuttings in this soil to dry for too long. If your soil on top is dry, count one day and you need to add water again. It will not die if you leave it to dry but it won’t root and produce new leaves quickly.

Best Time to Propagate Portulacaria Afra?

The best time to propagate Portulacaria Afra is in the spring and summer months. They grow rapidly in spring and summer so when you try to propagate them around this time, they will quickly grow new leaves. When I see new leaves coming out and growing from my cuttings, it is a sign for me that my cuttings are ready for transplant into a faster draining mix.

You can still propagate an Elephant Bush in the winter and fall but they are usually dormant in the winter season or late fall, or at least do not grow as much around this time. So when you try to propagate them during the colder months, you might not see any new leaves come out at all until spring but their roots would be growing under the surface.

I attempted to propagate my Elephant Bush smack in the middle of winter and I didn’t see any new leaves for 4 to 6 weeks until spring time rolled around. But the roots under the surface had grown quite a bit. When this happened, I was not sure whether the cuttings were ready to be transplanted or not.

How Much Sun is Needed While Propagating an Elephant Bush?

You want to avoid direct sunlight while propagating. If kept indoors, leave it near a window sill with light but no direct sunlight or very little direct sunlight. If left outdoors, protect from direct sunlight by placing under a shade or under taller plants.

I’ve found burnt leaves while being propagated with direct sunlight. This might not occur all the time but there’s a good chance sunburn will happen if the sunlight is too strong. The plant has not rooted yet and can’t get enough water to its leaves so it can get sunburned quickly.

Leaves can get sunburned while Propagating Your Portulacaria Afra

How Fast Does Elephant Bush Propagate

With the right conditions, Elephant Bush stem cuttings can produce roots very fast. Most of the time, it will root in about 3 weeks and start producing new leaves in another 1 to 2 weeks.

The fastest I’ve seen my cuttings root is in about 3-4 days. And new leaves started shooting out in another 2-3 days. This photo shows you one of our Elephant Bush propagation with the fast timeline.

Small Portulacaria Afra Propagation New Leaves in 7-9 days

Can You Propagate Elephant Bush from Leaves?

It is possible to propagate an Elephant Bush through its leaves. It’s just not my preferred way since it takes much longer than stem cuttings and requires a great deal of patience. For me, stem cuttings are just the faster and easier route to take and also have a much greater chance of success. What I do with healthy leaves that have fallen is I throw them back in the pot and let them do their thing. If it propagates on its own, then great.

How to Propagate Portulacaria Afra Variegata

You can actually propagate Portulacaria Afra Variegata the same way as illustrated above. In fact, I used the same soil and pot to propagate these 4 portulacaria afra variegata first before using it with the regular elephant bush.

The photo below shows you the results of the 4 stem cuttings I took from our main Portulacaria Afra Variegata or Variegated Elephant Bush.

Photo of Portulacaria Afra Variegated Elephant Bush with Roots

This set rooted within 3 weeks. I didn’t check before 3 weeks so it most likely has started rooting earlier.

New leaves started to sprout out from one of them about a week after I repotted the cutting in a larger pot with bonsai jack succulent soil.

Final Thoughts

Portulacaria Afra is very easy to propagate. If you create the ideal conditions for the stem cuttings to propagate, you can get the stems to root quickly and even get it to produce leaves in as little as 10 days.

For most conditions, it’ll take about 3 weeks to root and start producing new leaves about a week or so later, sometimes longer.

I hope you found my husband’s detailed report helpful. He has been very fascinated by these amazing plants and plans to build a bonsai collection out of these stem cuttings.

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