With its tall, spiny body, uniquely shaped leaves, and exotic appearance, the African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona) – also called Rubra, African milk bush, or candelabra cactus – is highly sought after as both an indoor and outdoor plant. Although African Milk Trees look like cacti, they are actually technically classed as succulents which is important to remember during the process. The succulent’s name comes from the moist white latex sap beneath its thick green hide.
Steps for propagating an African milk tree are:
- Locate where to cut the stem
- Make the cut
- Reduce sap flow
- Dry cutting
- Plant cutting in new pot with potting mix
You can trust our step-by-step guide in teaching you everything you need to know about African milk tree propagation, including but not limited to the tools you’ll need, how much water is needed, and the best time of year to begin your propagation efforts.
Why Should I Propagate my African Milk Tree?
As majestic and beautiful as the African milk tree is, it isn’t uncommon for the mother plant to become too large for its pot. If the roots become too cramped, your tree won’t grow the way you want it to.
Another reason for propagating your African milk tree is that the mother plant might begin showing signs of poor health, such as yellow or brown leaves. Diagnosing and fixing the problem might become difficult, and you’ll want to propagate the healthy stems before it’s too late.
What Tools do I Need?
Make sure you have the following before beginning propagation efforts:
- A healthy, mature African milk tree
- Shears / scissors / knife (make sure the blades are clean and sharp)
- Gardening gloves
- Eye protection (sometimes toxic sap can splatter)
- Spare pot
- Soil suited for succulents and cacti (porous, well-draining, with plenty of sand)
African Milk Tree Propagation
Unlike some other plants, there is only one successful technique for propagating the African milk tree, which many experts refer to as the stem-cutting method. As the name implies, this is done by cutting part or all of one of the stems growing from the main body of your African milk tree.
1. Locate where to cut the stem
You can cut a tip off a stem or the whole stem when propagating. Gardening experts recommend taking a cutting of at least 10 – 15 cm in length for a higher chance of success. Cutting off a whole stem means locating which point your chosen stem joins with the main stalk of the tree.
2. Make the cut
Make sure your shears/scissors are very sharp so as to minimize any damage to both the main stalk and your cutting.
Regardless of whether you are taking a tip or an entire stem, make a clean, diagonal cut across the stem. A diagonal cut increases the surface area of the cut and encourages plant growth.
Caution: African milk tree sap is toxic and can irritate your skin and eyes. It is important to wear thick gardening gloves and eye protection so as contact the sap.
3. Stop the sap flow from the cutting
Run the base of your cutting under cool water to stem the sap flow. It is important to wash away the sap so the base can properly callous over. Since African milk trees are susceptible to leaf rot, make sure only the base gets wet and not the whole cutting.
To stem the sap flow on the mother plant, spray cool water on the place where you made the cut or, if there is a lot of sap leaking from it, press a cool, damp paper towel against the cut.
4. Let the cutting dry out / callous over
You’ll find that the base of your cutting needs to callous over, much like a scab. Place your cutting on a dry paper towel or newspaper and set it in a warm, dry area without too much light and with plenty of air circulation. Air circulation is important, as it helps prevent bacteria growth and leaf rot.
It will take between 3 – 7 days for the cutting to callous over, though many experts agree that you should let the cutting dry out for a full week.
5. Plant your cutting
Having the proper medium in which to plant your cutting is vital. It needs to be sandy and well-draining so as to prevent rot. You could use a mix specifically suited for cacti and succulents, Perlite, or even make your own medium by using equal amounts of sand and peat moss.
Unlike most houseplants, which are propagated by placing the cuttings in water for long periods of time, succulents such as the African milk tree need to be planted directly into the soil. They will rot if placed in water.
Fill your spare pot with your chosen well-draining medium and plant the cutting about 5 centimeters deep. Place the newly planted cutting in a warm, sunny spot such as a windowsill. With proper care and maintenance, you should see new growth in your cutting in about two months.
If you want to boost growth in your cutting, you can use rooting powder that contains a hormone that stimulates growth. The powdered form is best for African milk tree propagation, while the gel and liquid forms are ideal for other kinds of houseplants that require being placed in water.
To use, wait until the stem callouses over and then dip the base of the cutting into the powder immediately before planting.
6. Water sparingly
Succulents require very little water, and while it may be tempting to give your cutting a lot of water to help boost growth, overwatering will quickly kill it. Give the cutting a little bit of water – just enough to moisten the soil.
Never water your African milk trees more than once a week, and allow the soil to completely dry out between watering.
Learn more from a similar post: Begonia Maculata Propagation
By following the steps provided in our trusted guide, you’ll be able to successfully propagate your African milk tree.
Remember your cutting must be between 10 – 15 cm in length for best results, and never try and propagate your cutting by placing it in water like other houseplants. African milk trees need very little water and are prone to root rot if placed in water. Choose a sandy, well-draining soil suitable for cacti and succulents. With patience and proper care, you’ll have a new African milk tree!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time of year to propagate my African milk tree?
African milk trees need temperatures between 70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit to grow well. Depending on where you live, summer and spring are the best time to propagate your African milk tree, as the temperatures are warm enough to encourage healthy growth.
It is difficult to successfully propagate your African milk tree in fall or winter, as these are times when the tree is usually dormant.
Is it possible to propagate an African milk tree from a single leaf?
Stem cuttings grow roots from which a new African milk tree can grow, while the tiny leaves that grow along the large stalks will not grow roots. So unfortunately, it isn’t possible for a new African milk tree to grow from a single leaf.
Should I use a grow light for my African milk tree cuttings?
Grow lights and heat mats are good to use during the winter months. During the rest of the year, grow lights should only be used in less than ideal lighting conditions, such as if you live in a place with windows that don’t get a lot of direct sunlight.
Hey, I’m Lisa and I’ve been an avid gardener for over 30 years. I love writing, talking and living in the garden! Feel free to connect with me on my socials below