Back in the day when I started with succulents, I also wondered whether or not I could breed my favorite succulents, raise new plants, just like you raise a kid or a cat. My assumption was that succulent flowers can be breed to produce new types of seeds. But I did not know whether any two succulent species can be bred together, just like you breed two tomatoes or cherry trees.
So I did several experiments. I tried many breeding attempts but I hardly found success. I even tried two Haworthia plants, which again failed. I realized that the breeding process is tough and challenging, especially when you simply go by gut and try your luck, without understanding the theory behind the process. So I was searching for ways on how to breed succulents successfully. I learned about many techniques, and tried them all, but only some of them worked. Now I will tell you how I did it, and how you can do it too!
Breeding is entirely different to propagating succulents
In most cases, the propagation process involves using stem cuttings and leaves. Stems and leaves will eventually produce roots that allow the plant to survive on its own. Breeding, however, requires an entirely different process. In the breeding process, two types of succulents are combined to produce new species through cross-pollination.
The flower is very important in the pollination process. The challenge is that, because succulents have so many varieties, there are different types of flowers with different shapes. The good thing, however, is that the inner structures of the flower are the same. This means that the pollination process you successfully use on one type of succulent you can later apply to any other specie. That being said, here is my five steps guide on successful pollination and breeding!
* Special tip: Make sure to have a small soft brush ready for the process!
May also interest you: How Fast Do Succulents Grow?
The first thing you need to do is to select the type of succulents you need to breed. Basically, you need two flowers – the donor and the receiver. The selection process heavily depends on your preference. In my case, most of the time I want to combine two succulent types (of the same genus) with different distinctive colors. I want to see what the resulting breed will look like.
This step is critical, and it is one when you use a small fine brush to transfer the pollen from the donor flower to the receiver. Carefully brush the donor’s pollen-covered anther. As you see pollen on the strands of the brush, carefully and lightly rub the brush on the receiver’s stamen. Repeat the process as many times as you want.
But there’s one important thing you need to remember. Because you are using one brush on the entire process, there is a high chance that you also transfer the receiver’s pollen to the donor flower’s stamen. As a result, it will create a reciprocal effect. If you don’t want to have that reciprocal effect, I suggest that you use many soft brushes. Just use one brush to transfer the pollen from the donor to the receiver flower. Do not reuse the brush. In this way, you will be able to avoid the reciprocal effect and self-pollination.
Another reminder is that not all flowers reveal their anther at the same time. Some succulents would only open their petals for a very short period of time (a couple of hours). It is important that you capture such a specific moment to successfully breed your succulents–and it is also the no.1 reason why not many people breed new succulents.
Protect the flower from potential accidental cross-pollination. The best way to do this is by covering the stigma and stamen (or the whole flower) with a small bag. You do this for your outdoor succulents. For indoor succulents, this is not an issue. Because in most cases, insects do not reside inside the house.
How do you know if the breeding process is successful? The best indicator of success is a little swelling in the base of the flower. This happens several weeks later. The length of time you need to wait depends on the succulent you are growing.
Make some marking on the flowers that have just undergone the cross-breeding. You can tie a soft string on it or write markings on the bag of the flower. This will help you easily identify the pollinated flowers. Remember, it seems easy to remember which flower you pollinated once you do it. But when in a few days other succulents start to bloom or plants grow and flowers open, you may not remember it anymore…
This one seems secondary, but it is actually very important. Isolate the newly pollinated plants from possible disturbance of any kind. Wait until you see the result. Breeding succulents is a tricky process. This means that it does not guarantee a hundred percent success. It depends on how you do it.
In addition, patience is key to a successful cross-breeding. If you cannot wait or in many cases, redo the whole process (if it failed the first time over), then breeding succulents is not your thing. You might want to propagate succulents using leaves or stems instead–which is much easier.
Related: How to grow succulents from cuttings.
Problems you may encounter while breeding succulents
The hybridization process of succulents is challenging. You may come across a variety of problems. And most of those challenges are unpredictable. You will never know if the result meets your expectations until it reveals. Sometimes it takes a hundred if not a thousand attempts before you see the desired outcome. But that’s perhaps how it goes with most worthy things in our life…
Another possible issue is that the newly-produced breed may not be as cold or drought-resistant as the original plant. This problem is commonly seen among hybridized succulents. The offspring sometimes are sterile too, so while you managed to achieve some success, you may not be able to replicate it further and perhaps sell your new succulent variety.
Sterile succulents cannot be cross-breed with another succulent through pollination. The only option is to propagate them using stems and leaves–which may also not always work. Another problem in breeding succulents is that your chosen two plants may not bloom simultaneously. You cannot save the pollen of each plant… In this case, your best option is to manipulate the environment to make both plants produce flowers simultaneously, such as changing temperatures or moisture and simply incentivize the succulents to bloom at the same time.
Another issue consists in insects and other animals. After the pollination, you need to protect the flowers from accidental pollination by insects or animals. Lastly, hybrid succulents are not as healthy as the unaltered ones. Aside from being sterile, they are also weak and prone to diseases. As a result, they are more vulnerable to environmental changes. However, this does not mean that you cannot have a hybrid succulent. In fact, there are suppliers that sell beautiful hybrid succulents online. The price is usually high because of the complicated process it takes to produce such a plant…
Do succulents self-pollinate?
Many people have asked me this question so I want to clarify it for good. Can you actually self-pollinate succulents? The answer is yes. Succulents do self-pollinate. But depending on your purpose, this process, in most cases, is harmful to the plant itself.
Self-pollination triggers the recessive traits to resurface. Although potentially harmful, it could also produce color and shape variations. But some succulents won’t self-pollinate. They just don’t accept their own pollen. In short, you need to pair them with other succulents. Cross-breeding with the same genus is the best thing to do.
Succulent breeding in most cases is always experimental in nature. Sometimes things don’t turn as expected. Hence patience is key. Do not expect results, do not focus on them. Focus on effort instead, giving it your best shot. As you become more experienced in the process, you’ll become more and more knowledgeable. You just need to believe in yourself. Good luck!