Echevaria Propagation: Surgery and Aerial Roots

This echeveria has been concerning me.  It, like the echeveria “ramilette” I bought the same day, has been dropping a lot of lower leaves; and recently I pulled the ramilette out of its pot to discover its roots had rotted, and the rot was travelling up the stem far enough that I am not 100% sure there’s enough healthy leaves left for me to successfully propagate anything.  Given that I bought them at the same, potted them in similar soil, and they had similar conditions, I feared what that might mean for this guy also.  It was time for a check up, and probably some surgery – either in the best or worst case scenario, the aerial roots meant I had a prime opportunity to try to propagate the offsets.

It’s somewhat normal to lose a few lower leaves when you change the conditions on an eche – while they wait for roots to re-establish, they might consume lower leaves, or decide that in the new conditions those ones aren’t contributing enough to keep supporting them… but these two were losing more than the others.

That had me worried, but I was hoping the surviving plant would have benefited from a few key differences – the terra cotta pot that the ramilette was potted in was from a different store and had a much smaller drainage hole; and it had been flowering – whereas this one wasn’t blossoming, just branching.  This one had much larger leaves, and its original rosette actually covered most of the pot which made watering it from above difficult and I had been resorting to dunking the pot and watering from below with a long soak.  The advantage of the lower leaves dropping was that it was getting easier to water from above, and I could get a good luck at the stem.  It didn’t appear to have any sign of rot or disease, but what I did see was aerial roots – a lot of them.  The main stem and both branches were putting out aerial roots.

Even though it’s soon – and off schedule for its season – I decided it might be worth it to pull it out and see what was going on.

It was a bit difficult to shake it out of the pot, especially while protecting the leaves – in fact, I started the process before work on Friday and had to finish Friday night.  Once I got it out, though, I was pleased to see the roots were fairly well established (and not rotted, yay!).  In fact, they were already poking through and getting wrapped into the mesh tape at the bottom of the pot.  Part of the issue with shaking it loose from the pot was the fact that the root ball was essentially already almost the entire pot.

Notice the white ends at the bottom?  It’s hard to see the root system in the rest of the ball, but this is essentially the whole root ball… in the shape of the pot it was in.  Given that the soil mix was still relatively “Fresh”, I don’t think the soil is spent; and I don’t think the problem with leaves was root bind yet, but this does indicate that I probably needed to move to a larger pot anyway.  The aerial roots (which you can see again here in this photo) likely had more to do with the fact that the underside of the plant was so shaded from the large crown.

With that done, time to sterilize a pair of scissors and snip off the offsets.  (Look at all the places on the stem where leaves had fallen off.  Sadness.

The offsets can’t be rooted in soil until the cut ends callous over (to prevent disease/rot/infection).  So a good strategy while you wait a few days for that to happen is to take a small pot, flip it upside down, and insert the cut end through the drainage hole.  It’s a little tricky here, because I would love to protect the aerial roots – but as long as they’re kept relatively dark, hopefully they shouldn’t dry out and die off.

The main plant has been loosely set back in its pot, with the root ball misted, while I wait for the cut ends on the top to callous over a bit – then it can be repotted into a slightly larger pot.  If all goes well, I end up with three of these.  Or at least one, if I can stop the hemorrhaging of leaves from the main plant.

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