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When possible, separation might be the easiest and safest way to successfully propagate your plant. If you want to know what, when and how, then this article is the one for you!

What is propagation by separation?

Separation involves removing a part of the plant that is already fully ready to develop into a plant of its own. It could even already be a plant of its own, having its own root system and some leaves.

What plants can be separated?

To determine whether a houseplant can be separated, observe its growth pattern. Plants that produce shoots from the base or multiple stems from a central root system are typically good candidates. Look for plants that have a clump or cluster growth habits, where new shoots or rosettes emerge from the soil close to the main plant.

When to separate a plant?

It’s best to separate your houseplants when they are in a growing phase, as this is the moment when they are the strongest. It makes it easier for them to go through the stress of being separated and repotted. The growing phase is often during spring and summer, but that can vary depending on the plant species and your set-up!

How to separate a plant?

In this article, we distinguish between the separation of a big plant, the separation of a shoot and the separation of a plant with a rhizome. For each of them, we tell you exactly how to proceed.

How to separate a big plant

By big plants, we mean pots that contain several fully developed plants - either because several plants were originally planted together (which is not technically propagation, but you do end up with more potted plants at the end), or because the plant had time to grow several babies and these babies grew into big plants themselves. The result is the same: you have a pot containing multiple plants, each with roots of their own and well-established.

Step 1. Water your houseplant thoroughly a day before you start dividing it.

This ensures the soil is moist and pliable, making it easier to tease apart the roots without causing damage. Hydrating the plant also minimises stress during the division process and ensures the roots remain in good condition.

If the soil is too dry, it can crumble away from the roots, potentially injuring them. Conversely, overly wet or soggy soil can make the process messy and may compromise the health of the plant's roots.

Step 2. Prepare your tools and a space where you will start propagating.

Prepare your tools and space just before you start propagating. You will need tools like:

  • Potting mat
  • Pots with drainage holes
  • Sharp and clean knife or puning shears
  • Well-draining potting soil

Lay down a special potting mat, newspaper or a plastic sheet to catch any spilt soil and make cleanup easier.

Step 3. Remove the houseplant from its current pot.

To do this, gently tilt the pot sideways, using one hand to cradle the soil and the plant's base while the other hand holds the pot. Apply a gentle tug to the plant if it doesn't slide out easily. If the plant seems firmly rooted and doesn't come out with a gentle pull, try tapping the bottom or sides of the pot to help release the root ball.

Expert tip! For pots that are more stubborn, you might need to run a knife or spatula around the inner edge of the pot to loosen the soil and roots.

Always handle the plant with care, avoiding excessive pressure on the stems or leaves, as this can cause damage. Once the plant is out, set the empty pot aside and prepare for the next steps.

Step 4. Try to identify how many plants are in the pot.

Now that the dirt is gone, you should be able to see how many distinct plants there are. These often have their own root systems. By identifying which root belongs to which plant, you can ensure that when you separate them, you won’t accidentally remove a plant’s roots!

Step 5. Start to separate these sections carefully.

With your fingers, gently pull apart the different plants. Make sure each part has some roots. Be careful not to hurt the roots too much and slowly separate any that are twisted together. If some parts are hard to separate, use a clean knife or scissors.

Each plant must have enough roots to support its foliage. If a plant has too much foliage and not enough roots, it may struggle to uptake water and nutrients effectively, leading to stress or even plant death.

Step 6. Repot each section in their own pot.

After separating your plants, transplant them into a new pot filled with well-draining soil. Just handle the roots gently, and don't press them too hard into the soil. After that, water them well but not too much!

Separating plants

How to separate a shoot

Separating a plant with a shoot is not much different than separating a big plant. The steps are the same, except that the shoot will be very tiny. It’s a baby, so it will probably have little to no roots and be attached to the mother plant. You might need to use a clean knife to delicately remove the baby. It’s advised to wait until the plantlet has developed some roots before removing it because it will have a higher chance of success. If there are no roots, you can put it in water or in your preferred medium until it grows enough roots.

Expert tip: it’s best to remove the plant from the pot only if you know for sure that the baby has enough roots and is ready to be collected. Otherwise, you will just stress the plants for no reason! What you can do to avoid going through all of that is gently dig around the shoot to see if it has some roots. If yes, go for it! It’s sometimes even possible to collect the shoot without removing the plant from its pot: the less stress, the better!


How to separate a plant with a rhizome

Rhizomes are special underground stems that can produce roots and stems. They grow horizontally, under the surface of the floor. So when the plant grows in the wild, it spreads horizontally as well. The rhizome extends, and new growth shoots out of it: for instance, ginger is a rhizome! Calatheas also have a rhizome.

Separation is also very similar to the two others. Once the plant is out of the pot and most of the soil is removed, observe the rhizome structure. You will see parts of the rhizome where roots and leaves come out from. Try to break the rhizome in between two of these points. Both sides must end up with leaves and roots!

Expert tip: if possible, breaking with your hands is better than using a knife, as the plant will naturally break at the weak spot of the rhizome, in between nodes. If you use a knife, you run the risk of cutting in a node, because they can be hard to spot on a rhizome.



For the first few weeks, position your fresh propagations in a location with indirect light to minimise stress. Direct sunlight might be too intense, especially as they adjust to their new environment.

Keep an eye on the moisture level, watering when the top layer of soil feels dry but avoiding overwatering. Increased humidity can be beneficial during this adjustment phase, especially for separated shoots, so consider placing a humidity tray or using a glass dome. Signs of growth, like new leaves or shoots, indicate they've begun to settle in, and then you can treat it like its mother plant!

Nothing is more satisfying that separating a plant and having more established plants in a matter of minutes! We hope that we answered all your questions about separation. And if you are looking for another way to propagate, look around on our PLNTSDoctor Page!

Lisa G
Lisa G

Lisa is a true plant enthusiast at heart, and her passion for greenery knows no bounds! Her apartment is a lush oasis, filled with the most unusual and exotic plants. So, if you're ever in need of plant-related guidance, she's your girl!

February 29, 2024
Hi, I'm Emma, your guide!

Hi, I’m Emma, your guide!