Propagating Pilea Babies Into Soil: How And When
Welcome to propagation season! It’s not exactly the official name of the spring and summer months here, in the Northern Hemisphere; but when it comes to the unwritten calendar of Pilea plant-parents, it might as well be.
You may already know that Pilea plants slow down their growth and enter a period of dormancy in the cold and dark months. (And if you didn’t know this already, here’s a guide you might find useful.)
That’s no fun, of course. But what is exciting is what follows once the plant exits its dormant stage - lovely growth and a larger Pilea family. This often shows up in the form of leaf growth from the top of the stem of the mother-plant and more baby plants shooting up from the potting soil.
Here’s how to propagate your Pilea babies in soil once you spot them popping up from the mother-plant.
Step 1: Decide if the Pilea pup is ready for removal.
We know, all too well, the excitement of propagation. You just can’t wait to see that baby Pilea thriving and turning into a new plant. It’s hard not to jump the gun, especially if this is the first time you’re doing it. But don’t be too quick to chop off the new growth.
If the plantlet is too young to fend for itself, then it’s not the right time to remove it from its source of nourishment. Think of it as weaning a human baby. It needs to be able to process its own food before you remove its maternal assistance.
You should wait until the pup has at least 4-5 leaves the size of your thumbnail. Think of this as a good rule of thumb, pun very much intended.
Step 2: Remove the Pilea baby from the mother-plant.
Using your finger, follow the Pilea baby into the soil, and try to grab as much of the stem as possible. About two inches should be enough, but you can get more if the soil is loose. Don’t force it, and don’t disturb the root structure too much while you’re doing this operation.
Using a clean, sharp knife or a pair of scissors, remove the Pilea baby and as much of its stem as you can grab.
Gently rinse the newly removed Pilea baby.
Step 3: Place the plant baby in water.
This step is pretty self-explanatory. But here are a few extra tips to make sure you’re successful the first time around:
Only submerge the stem (and stem nodes) in water. Make sure the leaves stay above the water surface.
Tap water should work just fine, so try this first before you buy any other fancy options.
Change the water regularly, depending on how warm your indoor environment is. Always keep the water and the vessel clean and clear.
Avoid placing the baby plant in direct light or direct sun. Just as the mature plants prefer bright indirect light, so do the babies.
Avoid moving the baby plant too often before it establishes roots.
A question we sometimes get when it comes to propagation is if you can skip this step and stick the babies straight into soil. Honestly, you could try that, but we don’t recommend it.
When you cut them off the main plant, Pilea pups don’t have any root structure. They could theoretically grow roots if you stick them straight into soil. But you’d need to find the right moisture balance in soil. If the soil is too soggy, the stem of the plant will rot and get mushy. If the soil stays too dry for too long, the plant won’t take - it won’t develop its roots.
Step 4: Give it time.
There’s no denying that keeping houseplants is a good way of learning how to be patient.
And this principle definitely applies when it comes to propagation. Your plantlet might grow roots after 10 days of being kept in water. But it may even take up to three weeks or one month to start seeing a root structure forming. This depends on a lot of variables, such as how large the plant is, or how much light it’s getting.
Step 5: Transfer the new plant to soil.
Some houseplant enthusiasts prefer to skip this step because Pilea plants look so beautiful in water. In fact, you can keep your Pilea growing in water long term, and we’ve already written an article about what you need to know if you decide to do this.
But if you decide that you’d rather have more potted plants, here’s how to do it.
Fill a small pot with all-purpose potting soil. You can also mix your own potting soil.
Remove your Pilea baby from water, gently rinse the part that was submerged, and place it into soil, making sure the root structure is completely covered. Please make sure the pot has a drainage hole (this is non-negotiable).
One major mistake that we often see when it comes to propagating Pilea babies is overpotting - placing the baby plant in a pot that is too large (link to How to Choose the Right Pot for Your Pilea - to be published in March). This stems from good intentions, obviously. But keep in mind that if the pot is too large, the excess soil will retain too much water. Over time, the Pilea roots might rot due to this excess moisture, and there’s no easy fix for an overwatered plant.
When transplanting rooted Pilea babies into soil, opt for a small and shallow container, to begin with. As your Pilea grows, you can start upsizing your plant pot - but never go more than two inches larger every time you repot.
Step 6: Give it (even more) time.
No, this is not a typo. We’re well aware that it was also step 4.
This time, you have to give the babies time to get over the shock of transplanting and adjust to their new potting medium and their forever home. The babies might get a bit droopy at first, and they may even lose a few leaves. As long as the roots are healthy, your plant will keep growing.
This necessary adjustment period is also why we recommend that you propagate your Pilea in the growing season - it’s better for the plant-mom and better for the plant-baby.