On Makin’ Babies & Succulent Propagation

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In Johannesburg, no pavement gardens are safe. If it grows on the road-side of your boundary wall and it contains succulents, there’s a chance I’ve raided your curb garden. You see, I have a succulent addiction. Like all of the best addictions, it’s a very expensive habit. Especially when you’ve got as much garden to fill as I do. Some call it botanical thievery, I prefer the term ‘guerrilla gardening’.

A few slips and cuttings plucked here and there, and I’m steadily working my way toward re-homing a succulent jungle on my property – one that is made up almost entirely of shoots and roots from other people’s gardens. Every time I post pictures on Facebook and Instagram of my habits, I get questions. So I decided to put together a little blog post, containing all of the tips I’ve picked up from my personal experience on the thievery, propagation and growing of all things succulent.

Tips for guerrilla gardening: (aka how to perform the pull over, pluck, duck and dash.)

  • Keep a pair of tongs, a couple of bags (I prefer canvas bags, plastic bags tend to get too humid and sticky in summer) and some hand sanitiser in your car.
  • Use your time in your car to scope out new areas and gardens for potential raiding. Whenever I go anywhere new, I try to give myself at least half an hour to take a drive around a few blocks and see if there are any succulent gardens worth stopping at.
  • If you’ve spotted a garden that you’d like to browse, do a slow drive-by and check to see that no one is home. (It’s not impossible to raid someone’s garden if they’re home, it’s just a little trickier.) Or you can do what I do, and ring the doorbell to ask permission.
  • Stop your car as close as you can get next to the pavement garden you’re raiding. Use the doors of your car as a shield to conceal your guerrilla gardening tactics from oncoming traffic.
  • If a car does come down the road while you’re busy, just try to look like you belong. Honestly, no one has ever stopped to ask me what I’m doing.
  • If you can’t raid it right then, move on. If I spot a garden that I desperately want to get stuck into, but the timing isn’t right, I mark it. I take a few pictures and drop a pin in the Maps app on my iPhone, with a description. This makes it easier for me to go straight back there the next time I’m in the area.

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Tips for planting your newly-acquired succulents:

  • If you’ve snapped a cutting of a succulent off the main plant, it is important to let the stem tip dry out before you plant it or root it, to prevent the cutting from rotting and eventually dying.  A freshly-snapped stem looks green and raw. It’s ready to be replanted/rooted once the tip has dried out and healed.
  • You can put succulent cuttings out to dry on a sunny window sill for a few days. Or you can just do what I do, and leave them in the boot of your car to dry out. (This is where a canvas bag comes in handy, as its breathable. Plastic bags aren’t.
  • Planting cuttings out into your garden is as easy as digging a hole and filling it with sand. While succulents are known to be water-wise plants, it’s important to water them daily until you’re sure they’ve settled in your garden.
  • All succulents (and most plants) can and will grow an entire new plant, just from a cutting or a leaf.
  • Don’t throw away any succulent leaves or roots that you might have left over, after planting any “re-homed” succulents. These can be used to grow new plants, ala succulent propagation.

Tips for propagating succulents from leaf: (aka how to grow succulent babies from just a leaf)

  • An entire plant can be grown from just one single succulent leaf, if you’re patient enough. It’s much easier than you think.
  • Use egg cartons filled with potting soil (or dirt you dig up from your yard) and arrange the little leaves on the surface of the soil.
  • Leave in a semi-sunny spot. Water daily, using a spritzer bottle.
  • In a few days time you’ll notice roots appearing from the leaf, and it won’t be long before you notice a new plant forming at the stem of the leaf.
  • If you’re into making an effort and doing things properly, you can use honey as a rooting stimulant. Mix it in with the water in your spritz bottle.
  • If you don’t feel like using soil, egg cartons or honey, you don’t have to. A pile of succulent leaves left in a warm spot will do its own thing.
  • These can be planted into your garden when the old leaf has shrivelled away and you’re left with just the new plant.

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7 Responses to On Makin’ Babies & Succulent Propagation

  1. You and my MIL will have lots to talk about – she has been busy with covert garden operations for years and years and has a lovely succulent garden as result
    Cat@jugglingact´s last blog post ..Books I read in May

  2. Sharon says:

    Following your instagram account has inspired my own love of succulents and succulent stealing.
    Another tip I’ve learned… don’t take your kids with you, I stole some succulents from the school gardens last week and Ava told on me!

  3. Lovely post! I love succulents so much, but all the plants I have are from my mother, I’ve never planted them by myself. I want to plant more around my garden and I had no idea their propagation is so easy. Thank you for the great information!

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  6. PAULA says:

    I’m afraid I do it all the time at the garden nursery. Sleight of hand and the deftly detached leaf is in my pocket. I suffer with a tidy plant OCD – I can’t bear to see untidy leaves. My take on it is that that plant needed to be tidied up.

  7. Marion says:

    Oh my word! I’m a guerilla gardener. Love the terminology! Although I tend to do all my botanical thievery whilst I jog… I return – satisfied that I haven’t been caught – with hands full of my takings. I must have every succulent available in Jhb, compliments from my neighborhood. I have enough now, but I have resorted to stealing rocks and pebbles now for my succulents. My poor kids now have to come “mine” the rocks with me from sidewalks and up the mountain behind us. We’ve collected beautiful white quartz rocks and natural slate which look fabulous with my succulents. Glad I’m not alone in my guerilla tactics…

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