September 24, 2016
I have grown to love succulents during the past 10 years. I can trace the beginnings of my attraction to these incredible plants to a visit to the J. Paul Getty Center gardens in Los Angeles, where a dark-colored aeonium with an unusual architectural structure fascinated me. The docents could not identify the species, but my dogged research over the next few days revealed it to be an aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf.’
Before then, I didn’t appreciate the rather odd beauty, surprising blooms and incredible variety of succulents. Because of the drought conditions in California, succulents are rapidly becoming a welcome addition to the water-wise garden, and different and unusual varieties are becoming more and more available. But even better is the ease with which most succulents can be propagated — a bonus for the frugal gardener since succulents at the nursery can be rather expensive.
I finally found one tiny aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf’ in a nursery in Half Moon and now my garden is full of them − and many other delightful succulent species as well.
Succulents can be propagated from seed, but being a bit impatient, I prefer to propagate from rosettes, stem cuttings, and pups (pups or offsets are the little plants that emerge under the “mom”). Certain succulents such as sedum and echeveria (both succulents with plump leaves) can be propagated from the leaves, but this may take a little more time. Before I became a Marin Master Gardener and knew better, I would just break off a rosette or pup, or a small stem and stick it in the ground. Amazingly, these plants are so hardy that this haphazard technique worked occasionally, but I have since learned more reliable ways to successful propagation.
Use a light soil that will drain well. Succulent/cactus mix is available at your local nursery, or you can build you own, mixing potting soil with something gritty like crushed lava rock or sand. Use pots so that tender cuttings can be moved to a protected place with plenty of warmth and light, but no direct hot sun, where watering can be controlled. Indoors is fine, too, especially in the winter.
When harvesting a rosette or stem for propagation, make a clean cut with a sharp, sterilized knife (use alcohol), leaving a short stem with lower leaves removed. Wash away any insects or debris. Allow the cut to callous (or harden) over for a few days before planting, discouraging disease. You can also dip your cutting in a rooting hormone, but this is not an absolute necessity. Carefully apply fresh water to newly planted succulent cuttings. Keep lightly moist, and in a few short weeks, your cuttings should sprout roots, maybe even show new growth.
If propagating from pups, going for the larger ones is best. You can use your hands to separate the pups, which should already have nice roots and can be planted right away. Use the above techniques for pups without roots.
Leaves can just be laid on top of moist soil in a relatively shallow pan, with their curved sides down. Make sure you have the entire leaf. Spray lightly with water and roots eventually will reach down from the cut end to the soil and a very small plant will emerge. The leave itself will eventually die. Resist handling these babies until they are well established.
You might also enjoy a program on creating mini succulent container gardens from 10 to 11 a.m. Oct. 1 at the Tamalpais Valley Community Center at 203 Marin Ave. in Mill Valley. The cost is $5. You will learn how to incorporate these versatile plants into mini-gardens, using common household objects like teacups and cookie tins as containers.