As you may have noticed, I'm trying to do more how-to posts lately:
This is sort of the natural consequence of 1) not being able to rely on pictures from work for posts to the extent that I used to, and 2) not working also means that when I have to do stuff around the house, I'm a lot more likely to have the time to take pictures of the process.
So this particular task involves my Alworthia
'Black Gem.' I got it as a single little rosette in the mail, through a plant exchange in 2007, and in the two years since, it has grown into a tightly-packed bundle of plants, which is awesome.1
When this sort of thing happens, I want to propagate, because . . . well, because that's just what you do
when you have an easily-propagated plant that grows well for you. I mean, what were my other options?
cvv. vary considerably in their tendency to offset, by the way. Many of mine have not offset at all. This may be, to some degree, a function of how long I've had them and what kind of care I've given them, but at least some of the latter group are "tree aloes," which grow tall and branched, rather than producing offsets in low clumps. 'Black Gem,' 'Walmsley's Blue,' and 'Doran Black' are all good offsetters, though, and even many of the trees will offset occasionally.)
Anyway. So to divide a clumping Alworthia
like 'Black Gem,' first you pull the plant out of its pot and assess the overall situation.
You can't really see it in the picture so well, but these are all connected to one another by thin underground stems. I didn't want to remove the soil to show you because I figured I'd be traumatizing the plant enough already as it was.
Separating the plants from one another is so easy I'm not sure how to tell you to do it. You just grab the base of one rosette gently and pull it away from the rest of the plant: that's it. Generally the daughter plant will come away with a bit of a root system already, though if it doesn't, it's not that big of a problem. You'll notice the one furthest to the left in the below picture doesn't really have anything you could call a root yet. It'll be fine.
From this point on, it's basically indistinguishable from repotting. You fill a pot loosely with dirt:
Then you stick your finger in to make a hole in the dirt:
Then you set the plant in the dirt:
Then you add soil as necessary and firm it up around the roots, so the plant stands upright on its own:
And then you're basically done. I personally water mine in afterward:
Watering in is slightly controversial, in that the usual recommendation is to, at the very minimum
, wait for a few days before watering, and some people will even tell you to pot the plants up a few days after separating them, giving the plants time to callus over any wounds incurred in the process of separating them. I don't disagree with this, exactly, but I've also never done it, and I've never lost any plantlets as a result, as far as I can remember. (With Aloe
s, I'm much more likely to have a plant root and do well for several months, and then die when I overwater it during the winter.)
Certain things might make the callusing / delayed watering thing more necessary: if you're having to reuse old soil from a sick plant, or garden soil (you should not do
either of these, but I know some people will anyway), then there's more risk of a fungal or bacterial infection, and allowing some time to callus will do the plant some good. It might also be worth waiting a day or two to plant and water if the plantlets didn't come loose easily: if you think you might have injured the plant a lot in the process of pulling the plantlets off, then by all means, wait.2
However, if you're using clean, sterile soil, as you ought to be, and the plantlets came free easily, your actual risk of rot is pretty minimal, and my experience is that there's no penalty for impatience if you're not cutting corners elsewhere.
Something that is
very important is your soil composition. Not only should it be a clean, sterile, and loose mix, but you want to avoid soils that will retain a lot of water. This means
Miracle Gro, or any other mix that's mostly peat moss. Your mix needs to drain quickly, it needs to be permeable to air, and it needs to dry out quickly when it's wet and re-wet quickly when it's dry. Miracle Gro has none of these characteristics.3
I prefer Ball Potting Mix with a bit of Schultz Aquatic Soil4
mixed in to speed drainage up a little bit, though you can vary the recipe somewhat. With Aloe
s, any decent potting mix will work, ideally with a little coarse sand, aquarium gravel, or "aquatic soil." All it really needs to do is sit there and not rot, dissolve, or absorb water.5
Perlite, though it will absorb water, does a good enough job of allowing air into the root ball that it's also okay to use, though I still like my aquatic soil better.
Water the new plants cautiously. You should have been doing that anyway, because they're Alworthia
s, but it becomes even more important with freshly divided plants. I've also found it useful to use bottom heat and bright light while the plants establish: Aloe aristata
x Gasteria batesiana
offsets were the main beneficiary of the top-light-bottom-heat system I described in the post about my shelving set up
, and the 'Black Gems' seem to be settling in very quickly already. I think I'm even seeing new growth already, even though I only did this a couple weeks ago.
This is fairly basic stuff, but it comes up often enough at places like Garden Web, so I figure there must be someone who wants to know.