Saving Succulents: Propagating Scraps from the Streets of San Francisco

My succulent garden has well over 200 plants, many of which I obtained through propagation.

There are several ways to propagate succulents/cacti. Over the last few years my husband and I have done several experiments, and what we found is no one method is best for all propagation projects.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share different methods. This post will be dedicated to propagating scraps that I literally have found on the streets of San Francisco.

These props are usually in dire shape and in need of a lot of love.

I took this photo in the NoPa District of San Francisco. Such a beautiful succulent sidewalk garden!

If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you know there are succulents EVERYWHERE. Seriously they’re everywhere.

Residents and businesses alike have containers overflowing with beautiful varieties, and the City has used succulents in the landscaping of roads and sidewalks. Larger street dividers are crowded to the brink with aloes, and neighborhood trees are cuddled at the base by various echeverias.

With the foot traffic, many pieces that extend too far into the side walk get broken and trampled.

Now, I’m an opportunist. When I’m walking around and see a broken, crumpled piece of withered succulent, I see potential. I scoop those babies up and take them home to rehab.

This means that almost every time I go to San Francisco, I end up bringing home another 3 – 6 future plants.

This is a haul I collected recently:

You can see some are stronger than others. But I promise you, not only will these all survive, but they will THRIVE!

The first step is cleaning them up.

I like to rinse them off to remove any dirt or pollution that may be caked on.

Then, I examine the ends. Gently squeeze the end. If firm, that means the stalk is healthy and doesn’t need to be cut. If it is soft, that means the end is dead, and you should trim all the way up until you reach a healthy part of the stem.

Most of these I did not need to trim. I prefer to not mess with them unless I absolutely need to.

Next is letting them rehydrate

One thing these little props have in common is that they are in need of water.

Succulents are plump and juicy because they carry an abundance of water in their foliage. When they are dehydrated, their leaves lose their rigidity. All of these plants are at least partially dehydrated.

As they rehydrate, they will form new baby roots to assist with this process.

I like to use jars since they’re tall and narrow, which helps keep them upright.

I have all sorts of glass containers I use for this.

I had to bring out a large mug for this one, I didn’t have anything wide enough to hold the root and didn’t want to cut it.

You can place the jars in filtered light, but not direct light (they’re not strong enough for that yet!).

I have some on my windowsill, but these are fairly big so I have them all outside in the shade. They will be exposed to plenty of indirect light.

The rehydration process can take at least a couple weeks, depending on the size and state it was found in.

Here is a comparison of the six propagations before and after they’ve been in water for three weeks.

Time to Plant!

I plant my propagations in well-draining potting soil.

Yes, I said potting soil, not succulent soil.

Look at how happy they are!!

Remember when I said my husband and I did experiments?

One of our first was comparing succulent and potting soil when propagating succulents. Potting soil out performed succulent soil every time.

I am not an expert, but I assume this is because potting soil (we use a standard Organic soil) has more nutrients than succulent soil, helping the damaged pieces heal and grow up big and strong.

After they’ve been planted in soil, I lightly mist them with water, but I don’t water them for 2-3 days after planting (again, reduces chance of shock).

I’ll keep them in the same place for another couple weeks while they adjust to their new environment. Once they are ore established, I’ll move them to a sunnier area.

Happy Planting!!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Emily

    Where was this post when my succulents died last month?! Haha! Anyways, thanks for the tips Joey! I have gotten some new succulents that my dad found and I am hoping this process goes a lot better.

  2. Tess

    I am weirdly fascinated by this post which I never thought would happen because normally I couldn’t care less about plant propagation. It got me weirdly emotional, picturing you and your husband following succulents on their journey from being weakly plants growing into strong plants in my head. Also it’s funny how you say you just randomly “adopt” succulents from the street — I wished this is something I could do here in Germany too!

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