Propagate Portulacaria Afra, The Perfect Desert Plant

How to Propagimately Portulacaria Afra is an interesting plant with big flat leaves and finger-like thorns. It also is known under the common name "Elephant Bush", thanks to the appearance of its trunk like branches.

Portulacaria Afra is a small succulent shrub native to South Africa. It can grow to about 13 feet tall but can be much smaller under gardening. It has a smooth brownish-like trunk that is thick and heavily branched with a large amount of bright green succulent leaves. Elephant bush is an adorable and exotic succulent, and that is why you need more of them in your home.

Propagating Portulacaria Afra does not take much effort, despite the big rewards. The plant propagates from stem cuttings that root fast in easy-draining soil under warm temperatures. In a few weeks, you have a strong elephant plant with roots ready for transplant.

So how do you perform the propagation? The best way to propagate an elephant bush is using stem cuttings and plump leaves during the spring or the summer periods. The stem used should be left out to heal and to callus for a few days before they are propagated. Roots development takes about 1-3 weeks before developing. With everything in place, propagating the Portulacaria Afra should be easy. Keep reading this article that we have prepared to ensure that you have everything in place and your propagation is a success.

Propagate During the Spring and Summer Months

The best time to propagate Elephant bush is in the spring and the summer months. During this period, they grow rapidly when propagated and will quickly grow new leaves. New leaves from your cutting indicate that it is time to transplant it to its destination.

Portulacaria plant in a pot
The best time to propagate Elephant bush is in the spring and the summer months.

While you can still propagate the Portulacaria Afra during the winter and the fall months, they do not grow much because they are in their dormant stage. Propagating in the cold season means not seeing new leaves until the spring, but the roots still grow. Leaves show signs of shriveling, especially when not receiving enough water.

Best Ways to Propagate Portulacaria afra

The Elephant plant is rarely grown from seeds. Most gardeners propagate this succulent from cuttings. The reason being the process takes a short time and is enjoyable. Propagating Portulacaria can happen in two ways.

  1. Propagating from the stem cutting
  2. Propagating from the leaf-cutting

1.    Propagating from the Stem Cutting

This is the most preferred method to propagate the Portulacaria Afra. The method is easier and takes a shorter time than the leaf method. To do it successfully, follow the steps below:

1. Obtain the right stem and cut it

The first step is to obtain a few cuttings from a healthy stem. Stems with plump leaves have a good water reserve and grow fast. They develop new leaves when needed. Look for branches that are thick with four sets of healthy leaves and fresh trucks.

You can also measure 5 inches from the tip of the branch and make an angle of about 45 degrees using pruning shears or sharp scissors. It is not necessary to measure the length of the stem. But focus on increasing the probability of a perfect result. 

You need to cut the stems right under their nodes. Stems have a node after a particular distance between two stem segments. Be careful not to cut through the node. It slows down the growth of new roots.

A plant stem being cut for propagation.
Most gardeners propagate this succulent from cuttings.

Place the Portulacaria Afra in a warm, waterless place away from direct sunlight. Allow the cutting to heal. The healing process takes a few days. The cutting has to be left until it develops callous before propagating it. This ensures the plant does not rot before the roots form.

2. Prepare the soil

The second step is to prepare a good pot for the plant. Select a fairly small pot with a depth of at least 5 inches with several drainage holes. The pot selected should not be too big for the plant as it will hold more moisture that can lead to root rot.  

Fill the pot with cactus potting mix or a mixture of equal parts standard soil and grainy sand. The soil should hold moisture for long but still drain the excess water. This soil will help the Elephant bush cutting to root properly.

Remember that this soil is used until the plant grows roots but after the roots have been established, transfer the plant to a more draining soil to prevent root rot. You can also increase the size of the pot as the plant grows.   

Top view of the plant, pot, and soil
The pot selected should not be too big for the plant as it will hold more moisture that can lead to root rot.

With your calloused stem cutting, it’s now time to bury it into the soil. Poke a 3-inch hole in the succulent soil mix. Insert the cutting of the elephant bush cutting into the hole and press slightly the soil around it. You can add a small layer of about 0.5 inches of gravel over the top of the pot to conserve water and prevent spilling over the edge when watering.

2.    Propagating from leaf cutting

Although most people prefer to propagate Portulacaria from the stem, rooting them from the leaves is also possible. Propagating from the leaves is not a preferred route due to the time taken by the plant to grow. When propagating from the leaves, first identify a good leaf that is neither too young nor too old. The leaf taken should include the stalk where it attaches to the branches of the Portulacaria plant because a leaf taken without the stalk will die.

Place the leaf in a cool place where it does not receive direct light. Let the leaf dry for a day to prevent it from rotting when planted into the soil. The cutting of the leaf will develop callus after some time which indicates that it is ready for planting.

Though not necessary, you can dip the leaf into a rooting hormone to speed up the process. Once the leaf is healed and dry, stick it to a well-draining soil mix like mentioned above. Laying the leaf flat can also be a way of making it grow.

Keeping it away from direct light and watering it when the soil feels dry will have the leaf rooting in a while. You can also take the healthy leaves that have fallen, throw them in the pot, and let them do their things. Amazingly, some of them end up developing roots.

Watering the Portulacaria Afra Propagated Cutting

Watering this plant during propagation depends on the environmental conditions of your area. With a good soil mix, water the plant once or twice a week after propagating. You can also do this when the soil seems dry or when it has stayed for a day.

Portulacaria afra plant with water droplets.
Lack of proper watering will make your plant stay for long before rooting.

 It depends on whether your area is humid or dry or whether you are propagating outdoors or indoors. The soil should not be left to dry for too long. The plant is still developing and can easily dry. Lack of proper watering will make your plant stay for long before rooting.

How Much Light is needed while Propagating Elephant bush?

Do not place the propagated cutting in direct sunlight. If the plant is outdoors, place it where it gets indirect sunlight, preferably in the shade. If kept indoors, leave the plant near a window that receives proper lighting.

Propagating the elephant bush in direct sunlight causes the leaves to be sunburnt. The plant is still young and cannot get enough water from the soil due to a lack of roots. Hence direct light could be preferable as they mature.

When to Water Your Portulacaria afra Cutting

Watering this plant depends on the environmental conditions of your area. With a good soil mix, water the plant once or twice a week after propagating. You can also do this when the soil seems dry or when it has stayed for a day.

 It depends on whether your area is humid or dry or whether you are propagating outdoors or indoors. The soil should not be left to dry for too long. The plant is still developing and can easily dry. Lack of proper watering will make your plant stay for long before rooting.

Common Problems Associated with Portulacaria afra during Propagation?

Improper Sunlight requirements

During propagation, place it in bright sunlight or a warm environment to grow the roots. When the plant is kept for too long in intense temperatures it may die. If the plant is grown indoors, provide as a bright light as possible for them in the house.

Elephant bush in a pot.
Place it in bright sunlight or a warm environment to grow the roots.

 If your place does not receive proper sunlight or there is poor lighting, consider a glowing light so that the plant can meet its lighting requirements. When grown outside, ensure to check on the plant regularly for proper growth.

Watering conditions

Watering will largely depend on the place you stay. These plants is adapted to their native settings, and when they are propagating, they are more sensitive to water levels. Do not apply much water to them. The soil should just remain moist for the roots to develop properly.

Frost will kill a propagating Portulacaria

Elephant bush can tolerate mild frost and cold temperatures when it is fully grown. During propagation in extremely cold places, grow these plants in a container and they should be kept indoors. A propagating Portulacaria should be treated like a child who is not adapted to most things.

Bottom Line

Portulacaria Afra succulent is an amazing plant, and growing it has many advantages. It is easy and fast to grow and take care of. If you find the optimal place for it in your indoor or outdoor garden, this succulent can best suit you.

With the information above, you can propagate as many Elephant bushes as possible using the same steps. The ball is now on your side to build a bonsai collection with this information. Success!

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