Planet Houseplant’s Chop And Prop Guide

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Chop and prop (or chop n prop) is a term we see bandied all around house plant groups and forums, and it can be a bit confusing to newbies.

I think it's because it seems such a casual phrase when what we're actually discussing is chopping your plant up into several new plants because the only alternative is death.

Chop and prop just doesn’t have the gravitas you’d expect for such a drastic course of action.

How do you chop and prop plants?

There are several ways to chop and prop plants. It doesn’t refer to a specific way of propagating, because by the time you’re saying phrases like ‘chop and prop’ with gay abandon you probably already have a preferred method of propagating.

If you don’t, I usually suggest people begin propagating in water, because it’s easiest. You can see what’s going on and there’s not really that much room for error. Phrases like ‘keep the moss damp’ are subjective, whereas water is…always wet.

For those people that are new to propagating and you don’t have (or want) any special equipment then just put your cutting in a glass of water. To root the cutting quickly, change the water every day. it makes all the difference.

If that’s too much, go for every other day. I have cuttings that I only change the water of weekly, and it’s taking freaking AGES for them to root. If you change the water every day, you might see movement in a week.

When should you chop and prop?

  • When your plant has root rot

Overwatering is a super common issue for plant noobs to have, and sometimes it’s so bad that there are no roots left and you need to chop and prop – i.e. take cuttings (chop) and propagate (prop) them so you can re-grow the plant’s root system.

Root rot doesn’t automatically mean you need to chop and prop.

Sometimes you can re-root the whole plant, sometimes the roots grow back with minimal intervention once you’ve sorted out the soil and your care routine.

However, when your plant has stem rot then you need to chop and prop. If the stem is rotten, then there’s no way that the water and nutrients absorbed by the root can get into the leaves.

I used to think that once you got stem rot the roots were already rotten but actually, you can have perfectly healthy roots and stem rot. It happened to my Rhaphidophora tetrasperma (I assume the stem was laid in the damp soil and I didn’t notice how much it wasn’t down with that until it was brown mush).

rhapidophora tetrasperma growing without a root

Anyway, the only course of action is to chop the stem, chop the rest of the plant into wet sticks/nodes and propagate them.

How do you know where to chop?

Some plants can root from leaves, others need nodes. When it comes to the chopping part, you need to research the plant to find out exactly where to cut.

As a general rule of thumb, cut off some of the stem, and make sure it has 1-3 leaves coming out of it. Remove the lowest leaf and put that bit in a glass of water.

Not all plants propagate this way (ferns, for example) but a decent chunk of them do.

Which plants can’t be chopped and propped?

There are a few plants that can’t really be chopped and propped.

It can be tricky on self-heading Philodendrons because they don’t grow long stems.

Peace lilies have to be divided, as so Calathea (though Maranta, who are in the same family as Calathea, can be chopped and propped) and ferns.

All these plants do have other ways of reproducing, for example by producing flowers or spores, but it’s not particularly easy to do when they’re kept as houseplants without doing a lot of research.

Instead, we tend to divide them.

Can you put your cuttings straight into soil?

You can but it tends to be a bit more difficult and slower than rooting in water plus you can’t check on the progress without uprooting them which can then hinder any progress that’s been made.

That being said, some plants like Monstera are pretty good at rooting in soil. I have an article on rooting in soil here but I lean heavily into layering plants in soil, which is ‘prop and chop’ rather than ‘chop and prop’.

You keep the cutting attached to the plant, push the node into the soil (secure with a hair grip or similar) and wait for the node to root (and preferably a little growth point) and then you chop it from the mother plant.

How long does it take to prop plants?

As long as you like. There are various ways of speeding up the propagation process:

What’s the easiest method of plant propagation?

The easiest methods are the most expensive:

These are by far the easiest because you don’t have to do anything. Especially if, as in my case, I just stick cuttings in the aquarium my boyfriend maintains. Do NOT set up an aquarium (at least not one with fish) to root plants unless you want all the maintenance that goes with it.

An Aerogarden needs to have water/nutrients added but it tells you when it needs them so it’s pretty similar and you don’t need to dump out the water and start again from scratch.

A lot of people love to prop in moss, and it can be easy, but can be tricky for newbies to get to grips with keeping it at the right moisture level. I personally don’t think it’s much easier than propping in water UNLESS I do it in a closed prop box, which I will inevitably forget all about.

I just don’t like it, ok? I do think I’m in the minority though. Harli G has great videos on prop boxes.

Final thoughts

Chop and prop is just the cool kid’s way of saying propagate, especially widely used when people ask ‘what’s wrong with my plant and how do I fix it’ and the plant is just four droopy yellow leaves and a mushy stem.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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