Pass-Along Plants

By Marsha Krassner, Bexar County Master Gardener

November 2023

Oxblood Lily (School house) Photo from Henderson County Master Gardener Association

Since moving to Texas more than thirty years ago from the cold environs of the northeast, I had to learn an entirely new approach (and vocabulary) to gardening in our (mostly) hot climate. 

Fortunately for me, one of the first things I learned was the term “pass-along plant” –plants that we receive as a cutting, bulb, or seed from another gardener. 

Many pass-alongs have survived in gardens and are often heirlooms flowers or vegetables that have been cultivated for generations and are not easily available in commercial nurseries.  Examples include tomatoes, night-blooming cereus, and dozens more.  Others are plants that are easily propagated or dug up and “gifted” to fellow gardeners such as lilies, irises, or cacti. 

Passalong Plants by Stephen Bender & Felder Rushing is a great resource if you want to learn more about this wonderful tradition.  According to the authors, pass-along plants share three characteristics:

  • They possess multiple values such as beauty, good pollinators, fragrant, antique, native, and exceptional flavor;
  • Anyone can grow them; and
  • They are easy to share. 

A few weeks ago, I was at a friend’s house admiring a potted house plant that I’d never seen. Called a Persian Carpet Flower (Edithcolea Grandis), I was thrilled to leave her home with a fistful of cuttings.  I’ve since potted the cuttings and am eagerly waiting for positive results!


Interested in passing along some of your own plants? The general rule for dividing plants is to propagate them opposite their blooming season—so plants that bloom in the fall should be divided in the spring.

The easiest types of plants to pass along are bulbs, which can be dug up after they have finished flowering. The best method I have found is to do the following:

  • Snap off a few scales from the bulb as close as possible to the base.
  • Place the bulbs in a plastic bag with a 50/50 mix of slightly damp peat-substitute and perlite. Shake the bag and fill with air before sealing and labeling.
  • Place in a warm (21°C/70°F), dark place for six weeks before planting.

For plants in the ground, you should do the following:

ZZ Plant (Photo by Michelle Hobbs)
  1. Locate a section of the plant that you’d like to cut.  The best cuttings contain 2-3 leaves and are around 4-8” long.
  2. Locate the  (the knobby bump opposite where the stems and leaves attach to the main stem) and make a 45 degree diagonal cut just below the lowest node of the cutting. The diagonal cut helps the new plant take in water and nutrients, and the node at the bottom is where the new roots will develop.
  3. Fill a tall, clear glass with water and place your cutting into the water so you can track the growth of the root system.
  4. After about a week, roots will begin to sprout from the bottom of the cutting .  Keep topping off the glass with water (changing it frequently) so that the roots remain just below the surface.
  5. Once the root system has developed and you have at least one strong root that is about 4” long, put the plant in a lightweight potting mix and place the  new plant in filtered or indirect light until you begin to see new growth.
  6. Once there is new growth, move the plant to an area that provides its desired light level.


Bulbine “Avera Sunrise Orange” Photo from Henderson County Master Gardener Association

In short, one of the greatest pleasures of gardening is sharing information with family,  friends, and neighbors. But perhaps the best benefit of sharing with other gardeners is receiving and giving pass-along plants.

BEWARE:  Not all plants are appropriate to pass-along as they may take over your garden.  Many years ago, I admired a beautiful stand of Mexican petunias in a neighbor’s garden and eagerly accepted a handful to plant.  Little did I know that this beautiful plant was a prolific grower, crowded out my other plants and forced me to make some adjustments!