How to Breed Succulents: The Definitive Guide


If you’ve decided to test things out and see if you have a green thumb, succulents are often the best type of plant to begin with. They are relatively easy to take care of and relatively low-maintenance. Once you have mastered taking care of succulents, you might want to look into breeding them as well.

Breeding succulents involves cross-pollination between the flowers of two different succulent species. You will need to wait for them both to flower, take pollen from the stamen of one flower and put it onto the stigma of the other flower, cover both of the flowers, and let them produce seeds.

If you’re interested in taking the next step into the world of plants, read on. You might learn some very useful information about how to propagate and breed succulents.

Background Information About Succulents

Before you learn how to breed succulents, it would help to know a little bit more about them and their specific characteristics. The main thing that you should know about succulents is that they store water within the leaves of the plant.

These leaves are typically fleshy and thick, although the specific thickness can vary between species. Also, these plants tend to do pretty well in dry areas, and they don’t need a ton of water or humidity.

They do need to be watered in order to grow optimally, but they can also deal with long periods without water better than many other plants. This is because they can rely on water and nutrients that are stored in their leaves. It is important that you do not overwater them since if the roots are left in water for too long, they will begin to rot and eventually die.

The majority of the time, it is best to grow succulent plants in warm temperatures. You don’t want to keep them in freezing temperatures since the water stored within their leaves will often make it, so the plants die or develop mushy leaves.

Generally, you also want to keep conditions consistent with succulents since shocks can make them turn a different color. This includes extremes in water, temperature, or sunlight.

One of the great qualities of succulents is that you can easily cause them to propagate. Of course, the ability to propagate will vary between different types of succulents. Many succulent plants will grow new plants from just one leaf that has fallen off of the parent plant. The ability to propagate makes it easier to breed succulents as well.

How to Propagate Succulents

One great thing about succulents is that you only have to buy a few, and you can create multiple plants from each one. Once you learn how to do it, the propagation of succulents is actually relatively easy. There are a few different methods that you can try.

Dividing Method

There are a couple of different ways that you can divide succulent plants to generate new ones.

Plantlet Removal

If you see any offsets or plantlets that have popped up right next to the parent plant, you should know that generally, these are fully formed plants that can grow independently. These plantlets even have names in different succulent species, such as barrel cactus pups and echeveria chicks.

You can simply remove these plantlets and plant them in a different area so that they can develop and grow on their own.

Root Separation

In order to grow new succulents, you can also separate the roots of the parent plant. To do this, you just need to remove an entire succulent plant from the soil. Gently tease apart the roots so that you have separated clumps.

You can now plant these clumps in individual locations so that they can grow into individual plants. You can put them into the soil immediately.

If this is what you are going to do, you want to make sure to use the appropriate soil for succulent plants. There are certain soil mixes that you can use, or you can mix some perlite or sand into potting soil, which will promote proper drainage of the succulent plant and give it the nutrients that it needs.

Make sure not to water these plants too often since overwatering can be very bad for succulent plants.

Cutting Method

If you are using the cutting method, you need to cut off a piece of the stem or leaf from the parent plant. Then, let it dry, and let the roots and shoots develop from this piece. You must keep the piece completely dry in this process.

Leaf Removal

If you are using this method, all you need to do is to remove several leaves from the parent plant. Then, dry them out and allow them to grow roots while they are dry. Once they have grown roots, you can plant them in the appropriate potting medium.

To remove the leaves, just twist them gently to take off the entire leaf without tearing the plant matter. In some cases, you might need to use scissors to take off a leaf.

Now, you might be wondering what you should do with the leaf-cutting. You can just put them aside in any type of tray or container. You don’t need water or soil at all. Then, you can check on them in approximately five days.

See if each of the cuttings has formed some kind of callus on the cut end. This is actually a good thing because it will confer protection upon the exposed part of the plant. This way, the plant won’t be susceptible to bacterial infection.

After this, you can watch your cuttings for the next few weeks. You should observe that they are starting to grow roots. It is also normal for the cuttings to wither since they are becoming food for the new plant matter that is forming.

When you see that the plants have formed roots, you can put them in the soil. Make sure that you use containers that drain well, or pick a good location in a garden.

Succulent leaf propagation

Plant your succulents in a sunny area in either the early morning or the late afternoon. It would be best if you planted them whenever the sun is less intense. However, keep in mind that they should get plenty of sunlight in their location since they will grow pale without it. Also, you want to make sure that they don’t get too much water since they will rot if they are overwatered.

Do not water them when you plant them. Just water them sparingly on the next day, and push the soil down again. These will need more water than a full-grown succulent plant, but you should just make sure to moisten the soil rather than create a water reservoir.

Generally, you should just water them when you have observed that the soil is dry. As your new succulent plants get used to their surroundings, they will start to thrive and grow more quickly. When you observe this, you should purchase special succulent food to accelerate their growth even more.

It should be noted that it is also possible to place the cuttings directly into the potting medium to form calluses so that they can form roots directly into the soil. However, it can be more challenging than simply putting them in a container because you need to keep the soil entirely dry while the cuttings form calluses and then form roots.

Beheading Method

Even though the name of this method might sound sinister, beheading is a great way to propagate succulents. In fact, it can even be very good for the parent plant. If the parent plant has limbs that drape down or it has grown too tall and thin, removing the head can restore it back to life.

All you need to do here is cut off the head of the plant from the long stem. You should leave approximately one inch of stem attached to the head. In many cases, you will need a pair of clippers or scissors to do this. Dry out the head, and then let it grow its own roots.

You can follow a similar process that you would follow with leaf cuttings for this. The only difference is that you should put the head into the soil immediately rather than allowing it to dry out in a container. Because it is already essentially a full-grown succulent plant, all you need to do is plant it and start watering it. It should start growing roots once it is in the soil.

What’s more, the remaining stem from the parent plant should end up growing new leaves. This will make it so that, in addition to the new plant, you end up with a sturdier and more appealing parent plant than you had before.

How to Decide on a Propagation Method

You might think that any random choice out of the above methods will work for your succulent plant. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The type of cutting you should take depends on the genus and species of your particular succulent plant.

For example, if you have an aeonium, you can only use the beheading method if you want success. Most sedums and echeverias can be propagated using either the entire head or just a leaf. If you want to know the best propagation method for your specific succulent plant, you should do your research.

If you can’t find anything, you should just use trial-and-error and see what works so that you will know for future reference.

What Is Involved in the Breeding of Succulents?

Breeding, or hybridization, is the process of cross-breeding two plants of different species. Since succulents are relatively easy to take care of, you might want to add a little bit of challenge into your gardening routine by introducing hybridization.

This will give you new varieties to add to your garden or nursery. Perhaps you can grow a plant that combines the very best of two-parent plants or eliminates the worst characteristics.

Breeding or hybridization can take place either on a species level or a genus level (a genus is a broader grouping that includes multiple species). If you have two succulents of two different genuses, you can likely cross breed them. One example of hybridization between the succulents of two different genuses includes a cross between the Aloe and Gasteria genuses.

When you do this, it will be considered an artificial hybrid. You can refer to the created plant with the genus name, which often combines the two genus names of the parent plants. You can also create your own unique name for display or marketing purposes.

However, it is important to note that if you want to breed two succulent plants, it will be easier to breed two plants within the same genus. If you are doing the hybridization on a mere species level, the plants will be more closely related, making it much more likely that you will be able to hybridize them successfully.

How to Breed Succulent Plants

You should be aware that the process of actually breeding, or hybridizing succulent plants, is very different from the process of simple propagation. In order to breed succulent plants, you will need to put them through an artificial pollination process.

The flowers of succulent plants typically don’t blossom for a very long time, unlike the flowers of other types of plants. This makes natural pollination very difficult, if not impossible. However, your succulent will not be able to produce seeds if the flowers aren’t pollinated.

Pollinating Echeveria and Graptopetalum Succulent Plant Flowers

The good news is that even though it can be challenging to do it correctly, you can do it yourself. You will just need a few small makeup brushes, a nylon stocking, and some rubbing alcohol. Then, you will need to follow a series of steps to breed your two succulent plants.

Choose Two Succulent Plants to Breed

The first thing you need to do is choose the two succulent plants you want to hybridize. Once both of the plants start to produce flowers, put them together. You might have to manipulate the environments for both of the plants to flower at the same time.

Also, remember that in any case, this process is probably going to be simpler if you have two closely related succulent plants.

Then, what you should do is wait until you see pollen on the flowers. You can find this pollen on the stamens of the flowers, which are located around the middle. If you don’t know exactly what pollen looks like, you should look for something that looks similar to dust on the surface of the flower petals. That would be the pollen.

Store Pollen

In cases when your plants are not blooming at the same time, you might need to take extra measures to store pollen. This is usually fairly challenging, but you can undergo a few steps to do it successfully potentially.

  1. Obtain a few small microcentrifuge tubes with snap caps.
  2. Collect the pollen on a clean, disinfected brush, and put it into one of the tubes. Then, put the tube into a closed container with some type of desiccant, such as silica gel packs.
  3. Allow the pollen to dry for 24 hours.
  4. Snap the cap of the tube shut, and then take a small glass jar, which you have filled halfway with sand. Put your completely sealed centrifuge tube into the sand, and then fill it up with sand the rest of the way.
  5. Shut the glass jar.

If this has been done correctly, your pollen should last for between three and five years.

Disinfect the Brushes

Once you see pollen on the flowers, you will need to disinfect the makeup brushes you will be using for the pollination process. Rubbing alcohol works very well for this. It kills several of the microorganisms that might be located within the brushes.

This is important because these microorganisms could end up infecting your plants; this is particularly problematic when you consider that hybrid plants are often more vulnerable to begin with. Once you have gone through the disinfection process, let the brushes dry.

Collect Pollen

Get the pollen off of the stamens of the first plant. To do this, you will gently move one of the disinfected brushes around the stamens of this plant.

Apply Pollen

Using the same brush that you rubbed on the stamens of the first plant, brush the stigma of the second succulent plant. This is the part of the flower that somewhat resembles a finger. It should be slightly open. If it isn’t, you should wait a few more days and then try the process again.

Repeat in Reverse

Using a different brush that is also disinfected, repeat the two previous steps. However, this time, get the pollen off of the stamens of the second flower and apply it to the stigma of the first flower.

You must use two different brushes because they can help prevent self-pollination. Succulents are capable of self-pollination, which can be harmful to any offspring that you can create when it brings up recessive traits.

If you want to be entirely sure that no self-pollination occurs, you might want to avoid this step. It can also be easy to accidentally get the receiver flower’s pollen on the stamen of the donor flower.

Cover the Flowers

After you have done the cross-pollination, cover both of your flowers using nylon stockings. This will help prevent any further cross-pollination between the two plants and remove any other plants from the equation that you don’t want to be involved in the process.

If you’re not particular about the specifics of the cross-pollination and just want to make your succulent plant produce seeds, you don’t necessarily need to do this. If you leave the flowers uncovered, it’ll allow the wind to move pollen around and attract pollinating animals, such as bees. It’s also unlikely that cross-pollination by insects will happen if the plants are inside.

How Succulent Plants Produce Seeds

For succulents to produce their own seeds, you need to create the right conditions. Seeds are produced when flowers on the succulent plant start to blossom. Once it blooms, it needs pollination to take place.

In a natural environment, the flowers produce a sweet smell that attracts insects, such as bees. The insects can then transfer pollen from one plant to another. Some succulent plants require the process of cross-pollination to form seeds.

Once pollination has taken place, the ovum of the plant starts to transform into seeds. The flower will dry out during this process. When the flower is dry and wilted, the wind then carries the seeds so that they can go into the ground and sprout in other places.

It will help if you remember when you are engineering the cross-pollination process yourself that succulent seeds are very small in size. A lot of people believe that they are dust at first sight. Once you start to see these seeds, you should put them into a propagation tray immediately. The propagation tray should contain moist soil.

How quickly the seeds will start to germinate will depend on the species of the plants with which you are working. Sometimes, it will take a few days, and sometimes you will only see full germination after a few weeks.

Problems With Breeding Succulent Plants

After going through all of this, you should remember that even if you get a wonderful hybrid, most of the time, it’s going to be quite a bit more fragile than the parent plants. This is particularly true when you have crossed two parent plants of different genuses. This is because you have combined two very different genomes, leading to DNA that isn’t necessarily very robust.

These plants can be more susceptible to damage via the environment. This is also why these hybrids are very often sterile. Of course, there are hybrids that are very robust and strong, but these are generally exceptions to the rule.

Unexpected Effects

When you are breeding succulent plants, one of the biggest obstacles that you might encounter is that the effects of hybridization might not be what you would have expected. You can picture your created plant having the best characteristics of both parents, but the truth is that you don’t know exactly which characteristics will be passed down from each parent plant.

In some cases, your created plants could have some undesirable traits. This means that you might need to try repeatedly before you get the result that you want. Most people don’t have the tools to alter the DNA of the plants in a controlled fashion, so all you can do is pollinate your plants and hope for the best possible outcome.

If you want to alter the plants’ DNA, you can expose the plants or seeds to radiation during the process. However, you should keep in mind that these effects are quite difficult to control. This can lead to mutations in some cases, which can potentially be good. However, you should also keep in mind that mutations can also be bad.

Different Blooming Time

Another challenge that many people encounter is that the two succulent species that you want to hybridize might not have the same blooming time. Additionally, you can’t necessarily store the pollen and use it later since it doesn’t always stay viable for the time you need.

You would need to manipulate the environments that the plants are in to lead them to bloom at the same time. This can lead to a lot of work to hybridize these two plants.

For example, if you need to keep the plant that is being pollinated in an outdoor environment to have the two plants bloom at the same time, you will need to protect it from cross-pollination that can happen naturally, such as via bees. This will often mean that you need to put small bags over the flowers or tape them shut after they are pollinated.

Once the seeds have developed and you are ready to collect them, you can take away the bags or tape.

Inability to Sexually Reproduce

Another thing that you need to keep in mind is that the offspring you will produce via hybridization will usually not be able to reproduce itself sexually. This means that it won’t be able to flower, create seeds, and be pollinated by other plants.

Fortunately, since succulents are very amenable to propagation and cuttings, you will usually be able to assist these plants in asexual reproduction. One positive aspect of this is that sexual reproduction could lead to an entirely new plant anyway, and reproducing via cuttings will simply propagate what you have already created.


As you can see, it can be quite challenging to breed succulent plants. It might be easier to start with propagation so that you know that you are able to nurture a brand new succulent plant on that level. It is possible to breed a succulent plant on your own, but you should keep in mind that this process is not always successful.

Additionally, although it can be very rewarding, breeding succulent plants can come with its share of frustrations. If you make sure that you understand the associated procedures, you will be much better prepared for success.

Tina Painter

Tina Painter is a Succulent Plant Advisor. She is interested in helping others learn the proper care, maintenance, and growth of healthy succulent plants. Tina is well known as a succulent lover and is in the process of developing her "Growing Succulents Masterclass for Succulent Lovers." She also loves creating artistic and whimsical gardens with succulents.

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