How to Plant and Care for the Toilet Paper Plant

  • How to Plant and Care for Plecranthus barbatus

    We have written and shared this extensive guide on how to plant and care for the Toilet Paper Plant. We have tried to be concise, yet cover most every detail. There are many methods of working with plants, and this is just our method. There is no right or wrong way. By following this method, through our experience, we hope to ensure a high level of success for you in growing this plant. This was written to be accessible to those of you who have never grown a plant from cuttings before. If you follow this guide exactly, you will ensure the highest likelihood of success for your plant. That being said, this is a very resilient plant and there is leeway. We wanted to lay it out step by step, and make this as easy and accessible as possible for people new to this process. At the same time, this can be used as a learning opportunity for reconnecting with our plant friends, because this basic method can be used for many other plants! 

    This plant often thrives. It is one of the easiest plants to grow from cutting. You could just stick the cutting straight into the ground and water it and it very well may turn into a thriving plant. But again, this guidance ensures the highest likelihood of success.

  • Get to know The Toilet Paper Plant in this video
  • Before Planting
        • What are the sticks you have received? A cutting is a branch of a plant that has been cut off, that can be planted to reproduce that plant. Some plants can be propagated from cuttings, some can be propagated by seeds or root or sucker or specialized leaf. Plecranthus barbatus reproduces most effectively from cutting.
        • Note: Cuttings may or may not have leaves on them when you receive them. Leaves are not needed. If there are no leaves, that is not an issue. These cuttings can stay viable for weeks. If you are concerned whether your cuttings are alive, simply scratch the skin of the plant with your fingernail to see if it still green inside. If it is green inside, the plant is still alive. You can also snip off a small portion of the bottom of the cutting to see if it is green inside. If you do this, wait 24 hours to plant so that the cut can heal.
        • Upon receiving the package, we recommend opening the package within the same day and removing the cuttings. If you are not able to plant the cuttings right away, place the cuttings in a cool place in your house or outside, out of direct sunlight or strong heat.
        • Upon receiving the cuttings, plant them into pots within a few days. We recommend planting them as soon as you can. In the meantime before planting, keep them in a cool place in your home or outside in the shade. Not in a hot car, shed, garage, etc. Wrap them in a moist cloth until you plant them. A few notes:
          • The cuttings can sit in their package for a few days if you are not home to receive them and open them, but not in strong heat ideally.
          • The cuttings removed from the package can sit in a cool, dark place for a few days.
          • This is a very hardy plant and the cuttings can often sit for over a week or even two before planting, but to ensure highest success, ideally plant within a couple days.

    How to Plant the Cuttings

        • Note: Cuttings may or may not have leaves on them when you receive them. Leaves are not needed. If there are no leaves, that is not an issue. These cuttings can stay viable for weeks. If you are concerned whether your cuttings are alive, simply scratch the surface with your fingernail to see if it’s still green inside. You can also snip off a small portion of the bottom of the cutting. If it is green inside, the plant is still alive.  If you do this, wait 24 hours to plant so that the cut can heal.
        • Plant the diagonally cut end of your cutting into the soil, with the flat end above the soil. (We have cut the diagonal end to make it clear that this is the bottom side.)
        • We recommend planting them into one-gallon pots of quality soil.
          • You can start with three cuttings in a one-gallon pot and then after a month, transfer each that are alive into their own pots, or you can just plant them each into their own pots to start. Our top recommendation is to plant them each into their own pot, so you don’t need to disturb the roots later.
          • A minimum of two nodes will be planted into the soil and a minimum of one node above the soil. Most of the cuttings we provide have four nodes. Plant two nodes below the soil and two nodes above. (Nodes are the knobby bulges on the stem. See the photo for a visual.)
          • If your soil is really loose, gently press the soil in so the cuttings are firmly and snugly in the soil.

    How to Care for the Establishing Cuttings

        • Keep these developing plants in partial shade. They can be indoors next to a window that gets a handful of hours of sun. They can be outside under the dappled shade of a tree. We do not recommend full sun or full shade.
        • Water them daily or every other day for the first month. The goal is to keep the soil moist so that the establishing roots never dry out. The ideal moisture of the soil is like a wrung out sponge. If you pinch the soil, it will form into a ball that sticks together. A few minutes after watering, if you squeeze this ball only a drop or two of water will drip out, not a stream, just a drop or two.
        • Continue establishing the plants in these pots for about two months (could be up to three months or as little as six weeks). The goal is for the plants to establish a root system that spreads through at least half the pot. Small roots will be coming out through the bottom of the pot. Leaves will be established on the plant.
          • If larger roots are coming out through the bottom of the pot, they have been in the pot longer than ideal. 
          • To see if it is ready: You can flip the pot over (by placing the plant stem between your fingers and most of the top of the soil onto your palm) and then gently lift the pot up away from the plant. This allows you to see the roots in the pot. The soil should be held together substantially and not fall apart (some falling apart is fine) because of an established root system holding the soil together.

    Choosing your Location to Plant

        • This plant prefers part sun/part shade. Not full sun. Not full shade. It can often live in full sun or near full sun. It can often live in substantial shade. But to thrive and produce a lot of toilet paper, part sun/part shade is ideal.
        • Four-to-six hours of direct sun, or sun exposure at different times throughout the day due to blockage from trees and other plants will accomplish this. 
        • Our highest success has come from having about four-to-six hours of direct morning sun. Planting on the east side of a house/shed/structure will accomplish this, as it will be in the shade of that structure in the afternoon and evening.
        • Dappled sun in food forests can be productive. 
        • If you are not looking for high productivity with toilet paper, the plant can handle a lot more shade. It can also live in a lot more sun, but the leaves tend to be smaller and not as soft.

    How to Plant into the Ground

        • Dig a hole in the soil about twice as wide as the potted plant and about as deep as the potted plant.
        • Loosen up the soil on the bottom with your shovel or hands.
        • Add one gallon of soil or compost and mix that in with the sandy native soil.
        • Water the hole thoroughly.
        • Place your plant into the hole, so that the soil level of the plant is the same height as the level of the ground, or one inch above. Do not plant the plant too high up or too deep down.
        • Fill in the hole with a mixture of the sandy native soil and fertile soil and compost. You can do a 50/50 ratio. 
        • The stem of the plant will not be buried. The stem will be exposed the same amount as it was in the pot.
        • Put an inch or two of compost on top of where the hole was, for about a six-inch diameter around the plant.
        • Place a few inches of mulch on top of the compost.
        • The method is “Donut, not volcano” to keep from burying the plant. You make a donut of mulch around the plant so it is not buried.
        • Water the plant thoroughly.
        • Note: If you are planting into an already established garden, then you can just plant directly in without amending the soil as described above.

    Spacing

        • To maximize three plants, we’d recommend planting them three feet apart, which could grow into a hedge eight to ten feet wide. They can be planted more densely, as close as one foot apart. They can be planted as much as five feet apart. They can be spread throughout the garden. Ideally they will have a space of about five feet to grow wide (two to three feet in either direction of the plant). They can be pruned to stay the size that you’d like them to be. (More on this in the care section.)

    How to Care for the Establishing Plant

    Watering

        • Water daily or every other day for the first two weeks. Keep the soil moist.
        • Water every other day for up to one month (days 15-30 after planting).
        • Water twice per week for up to two months (days 30-60 after planting).
        • Once the plant has substantial new leaf growth and seems to be thriving, you can begin to water just once per week. 
        • You can water less than this, but this is an easy suggestion  to follow with the highest likelihood of establishing a thriving plant. 
        • After establishment, we recommend watering once per week continuously, however this plant can survive months or even years without watering. It is drought tolerant. For highest toilet paper productivity and softest leaves, we recommend watering enough. 
        • Robin’s highest success in Orlando came from giving five gallons of rainwater/grey water to each plant about once per week once they were established. This is how he had thriving plants producing unlimited amounts of toilet paper. 

    Soil Nutrition

        • In the early stages, some nutrition will go a long way, especially if you are planting into sand. We like to save the water from our sink, with all the food scraps and use that to water the plants. Our recommended nutrition to add includes worm castings, compost, compost tea, worm tea, garden weeds tea and fish emulsion. All of these can be made at home for free and sustainably. You can also buy these. This plant can grow with very low soil fertility but, for a thriving plant that produces a lot of toilet paper we recommend feeding the soil.

    Pruning and Maintaining

        • The key to growing a lot of toilet paper is to prune the plant to become a bush/shrub. If you neglect the plant and it becomes one long branch you will not have much toilet paper. Again, this plant can survive under many conditions, but if you want to work with blue spur flower as a means to break free from buying toilet paper, then pruning is key for maximal toilet paper yields.
        • When the plant is young, prune off the flower spikes, so that the plant’s energy and resources are put into leaves and roots. Once the plant is developed, flowers can be on the plant year-round. We recommend pruning off the flowers until your plant has at least five-to-ten established branches. Prune the flower spikes by clipping off the green developing stem at one or two leaf nodes below the flower stem. This will help to produce a bushy plant at the same time. 
        • Pruning a branch will generally result in two new branches branching out. So what you do by pruning a branch is you turn one branch into two. If you do this continuously over the first year, you will turn what could have been one vertical stick into a plant with 30+ branches in the first year. More branches means more leaves which means more toilet paper. Note that sometimes the plant will naturally bush out on its own, but strategic pruning ensures the highest likelihood of a productive toilet paper plant.
        • Mature branches are brown and woody. Young branches are green and bendable. Branches are ready to be pruned once they have become brown and woody. We recommend not pruning the young, green, bendable branches unless there’s some need to, such as a broken branch.
        • Your first pruning is likely to be three-to-five months after planting your original cuttings. Depending on your plant, you will prune the branch likely between two and five leaf nodes from the top. Ideal cuttings for planting have four sets of nodes, so ideally you can prune so that the piece you cut off has a minimum of four sets of nodes. Depending on the plant, these will often be the length of your pruning shears, about seven to nine inches.
        • Cut just above the set of leaves/leaf nodes that you are leaving on the plant. There will not be a chunk of stem above the leaves that you leave on the plant. 
        • In the early stages, when pruning for maximal productivity, we recommend leaving a few branches unpruned. We recommend pruning a few branches at a time, not the entire plant. With this method there will always be some new branches forming from where you have freshly pruned and some branches that are older and stable.
        • With a developed plant, it is possible to prune the entire plant way back. This is sometimes necessary as the plant can grow to be over six feet wide and more than six feet tall.

    Making cuttings to propagate from

        • Within the first year, it is possible that you will be able to produce a couple dozen cuttings from one plant.
        • Within the first two years, it is possible that you could get 100 cuttings or more from a few plants.
        • Ideal cuttings for planting have four sets of nodes, so ideally you can prune so that the piece you cut off has a minimum of four sets of nodes. Depending on the plant, these will often be the length of your pruning shears, about seven to nine inches.
        • Remove all large leaves from the cuttings and leave the small leaves (leaves smaller than your thumb perhaps) or you can remove all leaves. If the cuttings are being grown locally and planted quickly after removing from the plant, we recommend leaving some small leaves on. 
        • Leave about one inch of stem underneath the bottom set of nodes.
        • Remove all leaves from the nodes that you are planting below the soil (at two sets of nodes).
        • Both green and brown stems can make excellent cuttings. We find the cuttings with some green stem and some brown stem to most quickly produce vibrant plants. (Note: These are less hardy so we ship mature, brown cuttings and we generally have a larger quantity of brown cuttings.) 

    Potted Plants

    Plecranthus barbatus can be grown in pots, however the pots will limit your ability to produce a large quantity of toilet paper. You can have a beautiful plant that can live healthily in a pot for years. It could live in the pot for years and be transferred into the ground later. We have experience with plants in pots in numerous settings and have seen the plants thrive. However, we do not have experience with growing them in pots and using them as a substantial source of toilet paper.

    We recommend growing in pots that are a minimum of five gallons, but ideally a minimum of 15-gallon pots if you want large plants to harvest more toilet paper from.

    Plecranthus barbatus is resilient and puts out substantial roots. The root will often break through the bottom of a nursery pot within a matter of months and start growing into the soil.

    Follow the same care and guidance for outdoor potted plants that we have shared throughout this guide. Note that soil can become deficient more easily in pots and soil in pots can often dry out faster than the ground.

    We do not have experience growing the plant indoors. It can be grown as an indoor plant as long as it has substantial sunlight. However, we do not see it as likely that it will produce substantial toilet paper as an indoor plant.