If you’ve got happy aloe vera, agave, hens-and-chicks, or other clump-forming succulent plants, you’ll soon find that the plants are outgrowing their space and need to be divided. Many succulents are quite easy to divide or propagate simply by removing and repotting the offsets.
Spring and early summer are the best times to divide desert and tropical succulents, since it’s the beginning of their main growing season. Here’s how to divide and propagate aloe vera and other succulent plants.
This aloe vera might not look big, but it took three strong adults to move it. The pot was crammed full, so the first order of business was to get a closer look at this monster.
Gently lay the plant on its side and remove the pot. If the plant is growing in your yard, clear away enough soil to get a closer look at the crown and topmost roots – you may be able to divide it without digging it all up.
What to Look for:
Offsets: Offsets are new plants coming up around the parent. They can be teased or cut away from the parent and are the easiest to propagate. You can usually dig up offsets without disturbing the parent plant.
Natural Divisions: With very large plants, you may find that offsets have sprouted and grown until you have several adult plants packed together. If this is the case, you’ll see several large stems or plant crowns, with roots radiating out from each one. To divide this type of plant, you’ll need to dig it up completely.
Divide and Conquer
This plant had plenty of large natural divisions, along with enough offsets to start an aloe orphanage! I started by pulling the aloe apart in natural clumps (being careful not to break any stems), and dividing it into thirds: one-third to give away, one-third to put back in the original pot, and one-third to plant in new pots.
There are a few things to keep in mind when dividing succulents:
Keep the Roots: Make sure each division has an ample supply of its own roots. It’s very easy to break a stem away from the root ball, so be careful!
Minimize Damage: When succulent stems or roots are cut or wounded, they become very susceptible to rot and disease. Take the time to tease the plant apart, to minimize ripping and cutting.
Use a Sharp Knife: A sterile, sharp knife is your best tool for cutting away plant divisions. Make one clean cut rather than hacking away at it.
How to Plant Divisions
Once the plant has been divided, it’s time to repot:
Potting Soil: The best potting soil for succulents is loose-textured, easily aerated, and fast-draining. Avoid potting mixes that are peat-based, since peat tends to stay moist and soggy. Buy a succulent-specific potting mix, or add gravel, perlite, pumice, or coarse sand to standard potting mix.
Choosing a Pot: Make sure the pot has drainage holes in the bottom. Deep pots work better for large heavy plants, since the soil surface can be farther down in the pot, and the high sides will help prop up heavy stems.
Allow Time to Heal: Leaving the roots left out in the air for a couple of days before replanting will allow the cuts to seal and callous over, which helps protect them from disease. As an alternative, hold off on watering the pots for a day or two to give the cuts time to callous over. If you have leftover plant divisions to give away, they should be fine for a few days in a bag or box.
Planting Divisions: With large divisions, it’s a simple matter of pouring a little soil in the bottom of the pot, carefully sitting the clump in place with the top of the root ball at least a couple of inches below the rim of the pot, refilling the pot with soil, and tamping the soil down with your hands.
How to Divide and Plant Offsets
Dividing and planting offsets is much lighter work than dividing an entire plant. If you can clearly see some offsets, then you may not even have to dig up the plant – just brush away enough dirt to see where the offset is attached.
Offsets, or “pups,” start as a shoot off a parent stem, then form their own roots and start looking after themselves. To remove a pup, just use your hands to wiggle it free. Sometimes it helps to make one slice with a sharp knife, right where the offset attaches to the parent, but make sure to include the roots with your pup!
To plant offsets, follow the guidelines above for planting divisions. You can put one offset per pot, or several in one pot. I have better results when I bury the little stems all the way up to the first pair of leaves. If I bury only the tiny root ball, the plant tends to fall over.
How to Care for Replanted Succulents
Water: After a day or two, give your newly potted plants a drink of water. Remember that overwatering is the number one cause of death for succulents! Water no more than once a week (I barely water mine once a month), and make sure that water never sits in the drainage tray.
Light: Put your new plants in a bright, protected spot – such as a lightly shaded bed or porch – for the first few weeks to give them a chance to become settled.