Spread Holiday Cheer by Growing and Giving Mini Succulents



We are in full holiday swing, which means, between attending dinners and parties and our desire to show appreciation for loved ones, we are also giving lots of gifts. And if you're like me, your budget is already stretched to the max. That's okay. You can still acknowledge your best mom friends, your coolest co-workers, or the barista who always gets your order perfect with a thoughtful, inexpensive present. 

Enter: the Mini Succulent. 

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Why? Because they're adorable. Plain and simple. They have all the earthy good vibes of a regular plant with the added bonus of extreme cuteness. They're also super easy to keep alive. Win win win. 

You could go to your nearest garden center and buy a pallet of these cuties and tie ribbons around them, but there is an even cheaper and more thoughtful approach to the gift of a mini succulent: propagation. It sounds intimidating, but it is totally doable, I promise. I'm going to walk you through the process. And consider that the first time I did this, I just scanned some stuff on the internet (my resulting approach is therefore by no means the best, most scientific way to do it) and let my four-year-old run the show, and they still came out great. You can do it, too. 

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First, you need a succulent or two, depending on how many plants you want to yield. (One leaf will make one new plant.) They usually cost a few bucks. Or you can buy/beg for cuttings or leaves that have fallen from other plants. (Word to the wise: you shouldn't stroll into a botanical garden or garden center and take these from the ground even though they look like waste -- if you're really committed and stealthy that's not my business, la la la -- but if you know someone with a succulent garden, it doesn't hurt to ask.) You also need soil specifically for succulents (I use Miracle Gro Cactus, Palm, & Citrus Potting Mix) , a shallow container or tray, mini pots (2" or 1.75" are perfect), and water. Oh, and time. A couple weeks at least. 

Starting with an existing plant, your first step is to pinch off the leaves right where they connect to the stem. If you're starting with cuttings, you're good to go. You'll see a small oozy hole where the mother leaf has separated. Some people say you need to allow that little spot to dry out and callous over before it has contact with moisture again. I generally follow that recommendation, but honestly, sometimes I've found freshly fallen leaves sitting in water, and it hasn't ruined them. To dry them, I set them on a window sill and forget them for a few days to a week. (Okay, I forget them a lot longer sometimes, and they are just fine thank you. You really have to try to kill these things.)

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Once they've calloused over, you can spread soil across a shallow container, plate, or tray and moisten it with water. It just needs to darken with saturation -- no standing water. Lay your leaves on top of the soil, preferably an inch or so apart because you don't want them to get tangled like mine usually do. (I have limited space, and I don't always do what's best, I'm human.) No need to nestle them down in there. They will sprout roots if they haven't already like tiny little squids if squids were cute and kind of magical and made you feel witchy. No, seriously, I have brought three humans into this world, but there is something profoundly satisfying about creating an entire new plant from a mere leaf. They call it the mother leaf for a reason. (It's also less painful and takes far fewer weeks!) 

Put the container of mother leaves in a spot that gets moderate sunlight. I put mine in my kitchen window even though it gets limited indirect light because that's the only place I remember them that my kids also can't reach. Again, they do fine. If they're not in a closet or baking in full sun all day, they'll live. This part takes about a week. A couple weeks is better. More time just means a bigger, fuller plant to pot. Spritz the soil lightly with water if it dries out during this time. 

And then, like magic, you should see tiny new leaves sprout from the mother leaf. This may take only a few days. It may have even happened while you were waiting for the leaf to callous. If it takes longer, don't fret. Some people say to wait to plant your new baby succulents until the mother leaf has fallen off, but sometimes this doesn't actually happen. I don't know if some species are just clingier or what, but if you've got something that looks like a new mini plant, you can probably gently pinch it away and move on. If you're not sure that it's ready, look for fading, shriveling, or drying out of the original leaf. I have also just left the mother leaf still attached and buried it to provide some extra stability to the plant. Is this a huge gardening faux pas? I have no idea. But it didn't hinder my plants from growing, so. 

If you're artsy and want your small gift to be extra thoughtful, while you're waiting, you can paint the pots or do whatever cool art thing you do to them. Metallic color block? Personalized rhinestone name? Knitted sleeve to go around the pot? Inspiring quote painted around it? Do you, man. 

Then fill the pots with soil and dig out about an inch-deep hole. Very gently free the roots from their shallow container and set the plant in. Gently press the soil in around it, covering the roots so the lowest leaves sit right on top. Pour a bit of water around it to moisten the soil. 

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And that's it. Easy, right? Make a dozen and stick them on a windowsill to grab when you need a small hostess gift or the next time you're grabbing coffee with a friend. They fit nicely in a car cup holder, just saying.  

Or enjoy them for yourself. Or create your very own mini succulent farm and keep on propagating them forever like I accidentally have. Did I mention that these things do not die? I literally leave them in an inch of year-old soil and water them once a week while I "figure out what to do with them." All my friends are getting these babies this year.

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So this holiday season, give your loved ones the cutest gift that says, "Our friendship will go on like this hardy little survivor, through drought and dark times, and we'll stay cute for life." Or skip the metaphor if you're just gifting your mail carrier. (Do people still do that?) Either way, it's a lovely, cheery present that's sure to surprise the gift-getter, and it won't break your budget. Happy propagating!