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Succulent Cuttings Won’t Root – What To Do

You have succulent cuttings and it seems like you did all the right things, you followed all the steps and yet, your cuttings won’t root. What went wrong? What happened?

This article will explain possible reasons why your succulent cuttings are not rooting. Also, we will discuss how to best plant your cuttings in order to increase their chances at survival and making it a fully grown plant.

succulent leaf cuttings in soil

Succulent Leaves Won’t Root

Succulent leaves will not root if:

  • Leaves are not viable to begin with. Either the leaves are damaged, too small or for whatever reason, it just wasn’t cut-out to survive on its own and propagate into a new plant.
  • You used the wrong type of soil or the growing medium has poor drainage.
  • Overwatering which can lead to rot before roots or new plants start forming.
  • Underwatering which can cause the leaves to dry out before rooting.
  • There is excessive heat or sun exposure causing the soil to dry rapidly and burning the leaf cuttings.
  • Wrong growing season.

Generally, most people should start seeing signs of rooting in three to six weeks. Around the six to eight-week mark, you may also start seeing new growth or baby plants emerging from the end of the leaf where the roots are growing. Suppose by that time your leaf cuttings have not shown any roots, those leaves are probably not viable due to one or more reasons mentioned above.

Use Enough Leaf Cuttings To Increase the Chance of Success

To increase the chances of success, use as many leaf cuttings as possible. Sometimes it’s just a numbers game. If one does not grow, you can depend on the others.

Typically, if you’re propagating a handful of leaves, you may see some root and some don’t. In my opinion, it is difficult to guarantee a 100% success rate with leaf propagation. That’s why it’s a good idea to start with more than a couple of leaves to propagate because some will just not make it all the way.

Succulent leaf cutting with roots

Succulent Species That Won’t Propagate From Leaves

If you are trying to propagate a leaf cutting, ensure that the plant type is the right candidate for this propagation method. Not all succulents will grow from leaf cuttings.

A possible reason why your leaf propagation is failing is because it’s the wrong species or the wrong type of plant.

Succulents that won’t propagate from leaves:

  • Most Sempervivums or Hens and Chicks
  • Most Aeoniums
  • Agaves
  • Haworthias
  • Succulent plants that do propagate from leaves but just take too long: Portulacaria Afra (Elephant Bush) – different types and varieties of this plant.
  • Succulent plants that may propagate from leaves but I’ve never seen evidence of myself: Senecio Rowleyanus (String of Pearls), Senecio Radicans (String of Bananas), Senecio Peregrinus (String of Dolphins).

An excellent, if not over simplified strategy for selecting succulent plants that propagate through leaf cuttings is to choose succulents with thicker leaves. These species are usually best for leaf propagation. Succulent plants with thinner leaves are mostly best propagated using their stem cuttings instead.

The Weather Or Season May Impact Leaf Rooting

Like all plants, different species of succulents have their growing season and their dormancy. When propagating, note that the seasons may significantly impact their rooting and rate of rooting and growth. Pay attention to the plant’s growth, when it grows the most, and when it slows down its growth.

For faster or best results, obtain leaf cuttings during the plant’s active growing season which is mostly in the Spring and early summer months for most succulents, but not all.

What To Do To Help Succulent Leaves Root

The way you care for your plants can discourage or promote their rooting. Use these tips to help your succulent leaves root successfully:

  • Avoid putting your leaves in direct sunlight. Too much heat and sunlight can burn your leaves before they have a chance to root. Pick a bright location but away from direct sunlight.
  • Use well-draining soil. I use one or a combination of these: succulent/cactus potting mix, perlite, pumice, calcined clay, pine bark.
  • Wait until the root system has developed before repotting. Unless your soil is the issue, do not continuously transfer your leaf to new pots. The roots will not have time to form. Similarly, avoid disturbing your leaf cuttings as much as possible.
  • Water or spritz the soil when dry to prevent the leaves from drying out completely. Some people avoid spraying or watering until the leaves have formed roots. For me, I spray the soil when it feels dry.

Following these tips will help your leaves produce healthy roots faster.

Succulent leaf cutting with roots

How Often Do You Water Succulent Leaf Cuttings

This question comes up a lot and I truly believe there is no one right answer. The answer can vary depending on where you live, the humidity in your area, the type of plants you’re using, the type of soil, the amount of sunlight and other factors.

As you can see, there isn’t a simple answer because what works for me may not work for you. II can only talk about what’s worked for me. It is more dry than humid where I live and this works for my area. Water or spray the soil once a week or when the soil feels dry.

Continue spritzing or spraying the soil this way until roots form and a baby plant emerges. The leaf will eventually shrivel and die or appear like it’s rotting away. It should be OK as long as the baby plant continues to grow.

I honestly believe that there is more than one proper way of leaf propagation. Try out different methods and see which one works best for you.

Is Humidity a Factor in Rooting Succulent Leaves?

Humidity is really not so much a factor in rooting succulent leaves but humidity affects how you go about with leaf propagation.

Two things to keep in mind when propagating in humid climates:

  • Firstly, you do not need to water or spray your succulent leaves or soil as much. To avoid rotting the leaves before roots form, water or spray the soil or rooting medium only when it feels dry. In most cases, once a week is sufficient to start and adjust watering as needed.
  • Secondly, you need to use a fast draining or fast drying soil to avoid too much moisture from accumulating in the soil, potentially rotting the leaves. For those in really humid climates, instead of succulent/cactus potting soil, you can try using one of a combination of the following: pumice, calcined clay or pine bark. These materials help absorb excess moisture. If using succulent/cactus potting mix, you can combine it with one of these materials I just mentioned or with perlite to make the soil more porous and fast-drying.

How Much Soil Do You Need for Leaf Propagation?

Leaf propagation does not need a lot of soil. In fact, all you need is a shallow dish, no more than an inch deep. Once roots and baby plants form, you can transplant into a deeper pot for the plant to grow into.

Does Water Propagation Work for Leaves?

Yes. I’ve tried both water and dry leaf propagation and sometimes, not all the time, water propagation works better. Here’s a few simple steps to follow with water propagation:

Step 1: Prepare a dish or cup and fill it with water. Tap water is fine.

Step 2: Place leaf cuttings just above the water. Use something to hold the leaves up and above the water line. The idea is for the leaves to seek out moisture by shooting out roots.

Step 3: Cover the container with plastic or cling wrap to prevent evaporation.

Place in a bright location but away from direct sunlight. You should see roots forming in about 3-4 weeks. New baby plants start growing in 3-6 weeks. You can transplant the leaf when you see a baby plant growing and pot it in a small pot using a fast draining potting mix. Spray or water once a week or when the soil feels dry. Protect from direct sunlight.

Succulent leaf water propagation with roots and baby plant growing
Leaf water propagation success

When Leaf Propagation Still Fails After You’ve Tried It All

If you’ve tried almost everything mentioned above and you still cannot propagate your leaf cuttings, you may want to try a different approach.

Some growers suggest covering your leaf cuttings to boost their growth. You can do this in two ways:

  • Using a plastic bag
  • Planting the succulents in a sealable container

How To use a plastic bag to encourage rooting:

Step 1: Select a small terracotta pot.

Step 2: Add cactus soil to the container.

Step 3: Use growth hormones on the tip of your succulent leaves.

Step 4: Lay the succulent leaves flat on the dirt.

Step 5: Lightly water the trimmings.

Step 6: Place the pot in a sunny area but away from direct sunlight.

Step 7: Cover the top of the plants with a plastic bag. Use something to prop up the bag and keep it hovering away from the plants.

Step 8: Remove the bag every three days. Leave the covering off for a few hours, then replace it.

This method creates a greenhouse effect for the succulents. In most cases, this will result in enhanced growth and healthier plants.

How To use a sealable container to encourage rooting:

If using a plastic bag is inconvenient, a sealable container with a clear top can work as well. You will need the following:

  • Pumice, calcined clay, pine bark (one or a combination of these)
  • Paper towels
  • Rooting hormone

Follow this method for the best results:

Step 1: Add your growing medium to the container.

Step 2: Place thick paper towels on top.

Step 3: Dust the ends of your leaf cuttings with rooting hormone. Tap off any excess ingredients left on the leaf.

Step 4: Rest your cuttings flat on the paper towel.

Step 5: Pour small amounts of water on the paper towel to moisten it.

Step 6: Seal the container. Place it in a bright area.

Step 7: Water the paper towel when it feels dry. Check your container every four days for dryness.

In about three weeks, you will notice roots and new growth start to form.

Succulent Stem Cuttings Won’t Root

Succulent stem cuttings will not root if:

  • The cuttings were not given a chance to scab or dry before planting in soil.
  • You used the wrong type of soil or the growing medium has poor drainage.
  • Overwatering or the soil stayed too wet causing rot before roots developed.
  • Underwatering or the soil was too dry causing the stems to dry out and eventually die off.
  • There is excessive heat or sun exposure causing the soil to dry rapidly and burning the stem cuttings before roots have a chance to develop.
  • Propagating during the wrong season or during dormancy.

Generally, most people should start seeing signs of rooting in three to six weeks. If by that time you haven’t seen any roots form, it could be due to one or more reasons mentioned above.

Jade Crassula Ovata stem cuttings
Jade plant (Crassula Ovata) stem cuttings

Are there Succulent Species that Won’t Propagate Through Stems?

Most succulents can be propagated through stem cuttings. Some species that cannot be propagated through stems are:

  • Agaves
  • Aloes
  • Sempervivums or Hens and Chicks
  • Haworthias

Most of these species mentioned propagate by producing pups or offsets instead of leaf or stem cuttings.

Does the length of the stem cuttings matter?

The size or length of the stem cuttings do not really matter. What matters most is obtaining cuttings from a healthy plant and during its active growing season. This way you can be guaranteed of greater success at a faster rate.

Calloused jade stem cutting
Calloused stem cutting ready to be planted in soil

How Often Do You Water Stem Cuttings?

Water stem cuttings whenever the soil feels dry. This may depend on the area you live in and how humid it is. For me, I water my stem cuttings about once a week, more in the summer months when the soil dries out faster. I live in a dry climate and use a fast draining potting soil.

Lately, I’ve been amending the potting soil and adding more pumice and calcined clay in the mix which dries out the soil faster and I’ve noticed that I need to water the soil every few days or the soil dries out.

Watering frequency highly depends on your environment and the soil or growing medium you’re using. If you live in a humid climate and use regular potting soil that is not very fast draining, you may not need to water as often.

Succulent stem cutting with roots growing
Roots growing from stem cutting

Is Humidity a Factor in Rooting Succulent Stems?

Like with succulent leaves, humidity is not so much a factor in rooting succulent stems but you do need to take humidity into consideration while propagating.

Three things to consider when propagating stem cuttings in humid climates:

  • Firstly, you do not need to water or spray your succulent leaves or soil as much. To avoid rotting the leaves before roots form, water or spray the soil or rooting medium only when it feels dry. In most cases, once a week is sufficient to start and adjust watering as needed.
  • Secondly, you need to use a fast draining or fast drying soil to avoid too much moisture from accumulating in the soil, potentially rotting the leaves. For those in really humid climates, instead of succulent/cactus potting soil, you can try using one of a combination of the following: pumice, calcined clay or pine bark. These materials help absorb excess moisture. If using succulent/cactus potting mix, you can combine it with one of these materials I just mentioned or with perlite to make the soil more porous and fast-drying.
  • Thirdly, use containers that allow for proper air flow. Containers made of terracotta or ceramic are more breathable and allow for moisture or water to evaporate quicker. Containers like glass and plastic make it difficult for water to evaporate, keeping the soil more moist longer.
Succulent stem cuttings sedum coppertone

How to Cut the Stem Cuttings

Another potential reason why the stem cuttings won’t root is due to damage to the stems, either already present before cutting or the damage was inflicted when cutting. Always obtain stem cuttings from a healthy plant as much as possible to avoid using damaged stems that are not capable of propagating.

To avoid damaging the stems when obtaining cuttings, always use a sharp knife, sharp pruning shears, or scissors. Blunt knives or scissors can damage the stems when cutting and can lead to infections introduced to the cuttings when planted in soil.

Do You Need to Cut at an Angle?

Some gardeners recommend cutting at an angle to prevent infection. In my opinion, it does not make a difference whether you cut at an angle or a straight line. I tend to always just cut straight across. What matters most is using a sharp tool to cut so you don’t damage the stems and also letting the stems dry before planting.

Another thing to pay attention to is where you’re cutting. If the stems you’re cutting are segmented with nodes, cut right below the node and not across it. This is where the roots appear and you don’t want to damage the nodes where the roots grow. But even if you cut through the nodes, rooting can still develop from the node above.

Succulent stem propagation with root growing from segmented nodes
Cut below or above the segmented nodes where roots develop

Does Water Propagation Work for Stems?

Yes. I’ve tried both water and dry stem propagation and they both work. When propagating stems in water, there is an extra step of transplanting the stems into the soil after rooting in water and this is why water propagation is not my preferred route when propagating stems. But sometimes, not all the time, water propagation works better especially for those plants that are difficult to propagate, especially using leaves.

Here’s a few simple steps to follow with water propagation:

Step 1: Prepare a dish or cup and fill it with water. Tap water is fine.

Step 2: Place stem cuttings either just above the water or the tip of the stems touching the water. Both seem to work just fine.

Step 3: Cover the container with plastic or cling wrap to prevent evaporation.

Place in a bright location but keep away from direct sunlight. You should see roots forming in about 3-4 weeks. Transplant the stems into a suitable, well-draining potting mix once roots have developed. Spray or water once a week or when the soil feels dry. Protect from direct sunlight.

Aeonium stem water propagation with roots growing
Successful water propagation of stem cutting

When Stem Propagation Still Fails After Trying It All

Let’s say you’ve tried everything and stem propagation is still not working, you may want to use rooting hormone. Some growers use a rooting hormone routinely when propagating stems and leaves. You do not need to be a professional grower to use rooting hormones.

The rooting hormone helps speed up the process of propagation and can help guarantee success. It is also a very affordable product. Sprinkle or dip the cut ends of the stems or leaves in rooting hormone. Tap off any excess powder and stick the stems in the soil.

Final Thoughts

Succulent stem and leaf propagation should not be a stressful process. Have fun with it. Make it a learning and enjoyable experience. Remember, we can control our environment only to an extent, and the rest we have to leave to nature. It can be a trial-and-error process before you find what works best for you.

Succulent stem and leaf propagation
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