A tear in its hanging basket means I’ve had to restart my burro’s tail. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog
Pots don’t last forever and sometimes you have little choice but to replace them. That recently happened to one of my houseplants, a burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum) that has been hanging in my greenhouse for 7 years now. It’s the 4th generation of a plant I’ve had for over 30 years.
At first, I noticed the pot was a bit askew, but didn’t think much of it. Then a closer look revealed a tear in the plastic on one side: the weight of the plant (and it’s a heavy one) had put too much pressure on the plastic and it was starting to come apart.
With most plants, the solution would be simple enough. Find a new and intact pot and carefully repot the root ball into it. Problem solved!
That’s not going to work with my burro’s tail. This succulent is one of the most fragile of all houseplants: a simple touch causes leaves to drop off by the dozens. It’s one of the few plants I literally never move: my current colony, started from leaf cuttings 7 years ago, has been hanging in exactly the same spot ever since I first hung it up 5 years ago.
Usually, I don’t restart my burro’s tail until after it has started to look ratty, either after I’ve had to move it and thus broken off a lot of leaves or it accidentally got hit with a broom handle while cleaning or until after it blooms, with pink star-shaped flowers appearing at the stem tips, and that can take a number of years. But the pot’s starting to split has precipitated things.
From Leaf to Plant
Of course, fallen leaves are how burro’s tail reproduces in the wild. They’re knocked off by birds, animals or wind and take root on the cliffs where it originates, forming new plants (More about that here in the article A Long-Standing Horticultural Mystery Finally Solved, about the discovery of the origin of the wild burro’s tail in 2008).
But in a container, the last thing you want is a burro’s tail with a long stringy stem only a few banana-shaped blue-green leaves.
Of course, you can repot an upright plant with fragile leaves fairly readily. I do it all the time when repotting echeverias and other sedums, for example. However, I just don’t see how you could repot a plant with trailing stems and fragile leaves without major damage.
I could, of course, just have cut the plant back severely, right to the pot’s rim, getting rid of all the trailing stems. Then it would be easy to repot and would regrow perfectly well.
The second logical alternative and possibly even the fastest method would be to root tip cuttings, say about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long, inserting the cut ends of a dozen or so of them directly into a fresh hanging basket full of potting mix.
Even so, I took the slower but more natural method: I simply harvested a handful of leaves to use as leaf cuttings and dropped them onto fresh soil in a new hanging pot. I didn’t even need to bury tips of the leaves: I simply let them fall on the soil surface so they laid on their sides, then left the rest up to them. They know what to do.
In a few months, baby plants will be sprouting from the petiole end of the leaves. Within a year, the babies will have turned into stems that start trailing over the pot edge. In about 3 years, the pot will almost fully hidden from view by the now dangling stems fully covered with leaves. It will take yet another year or two more before the new hanging basket is as impressive as it is now, but… I’m a patient man.
So, here’s my laidback gardening rule and you’ve all heard it before: when life gives you a lemon, make lemonade!