Cactus is undoubtedly a great addition to your indoor or outdoor garden, thanks to its unique shape, striking sizes, and colorful flowers. Having said this, you may have been prompted to ask, ‘how can I reproduce my cactus?’ Well, the answer is simple; through propagation! Propagation is one of the most effective ways to increase your collection of cacti without spending a penny. All you need to do is learn the best practices in cutting and propagating cactus.
So how do you cut and propagate a cactus? Most cacti species can be propagated through stem, leaf or offshoot cuttings. For species whose stems grown in segments like the Christmas cacti and the prickly pears, individual segments are cut off the main plant before propagation. For offshoot propagation, the sections are cut or snapped from the parent plant before being repotted in a new container.
How to cut and propagate cacti from stem cuttings
Take your cutting from the top of a mature cactus. Ensure you go for a mature and disease-free piece from your cactus. In the case of columnar cacti, go for the thin stem that will root faster.
Cut off the stem just a few inches from the top. Do this using a clean cutting tool to avoid infection risk to both the propagated and parent plants. Ensure the cut is as clean as possible without any traces of dents or crushes.
Let the new cutting rest in the sun for a few days to allow the wound to form a callous.
Fill your pot with good potting soil ideal for cactus. This should be a light soil mix that allows proper drainage (Here are our recommended ones).
Once the end of your cutting dries out, stick it upright into the soil mix with the wound end facing down. You may want to dip your cutting in some rooting hormone before planting to help spur root development.
Lightly water the soil. Keep doing this every few days to help encourage the development of roots.
By following these steps, your cactus should root within a few weeks. However, the speed of root growth will be dependent on the cactus variety, size of the cutting and efficiency in watering. You can then introduce your new cacti to sunlight to help maintain color and shape. The roots will keep growing, but you may not experience any substantive stem growth within the first year.
How to cut and propagate cactus through crafting
What you will need:
- The Rootstock and Scion
- Sharp Knife
- Electric Tape
- Rubber bands
- Heavy Gloves
Grafting is a process where two pieces of plants are blended to produce a stronger hybrid. Here, the top portion (scion) is grafted onto the plant with roots on the ground (rootstock). For cactus, grafting is often preferred for ornamental or colorful species like the moon cactus and the coral cactus.
Choose a healthy scion and rootstock. The two plants will need to be closely related and similar in size. The more closely related they are, the better the chances of survival and overall development into a healthy plant.
Disinfect your knife by rubbing in alcohol or simply washing with warm soapy water. This helps avoid the introduction of fungal infections and other diseases.
After determining that the diameters are similar, cut the two plants using a sharp knife. You can choose to do a diagonal cut or a v-shaped cut, depending on your preference. Make the cuts as perfect as possible to help create a perfect match.
Place your scion onto the rootstock without leaving any gaps in between. For better chances of survival, ensure that the ring in the middle of the stem, hereby called the vascular cambium, matches up. This part comes in handy to help transport nutrients from the roots to the top of the plant.
Secure your graft by wrapping and electric tape, rubber bands or twine around the grafted area. Keep the grafted cactus in a warm location away from direct sunlight.
Water your cactus cautiously to avoid water getting in contact with the grafted area. With time, the vascular cambiums will match and create a new plant.
Within a few months, the graft should merge successfully, and you can then remove the binding. As a rule of thumb, the rootstock should be a fast-growing plant, while the scion can be a slow-growing variety. Some common cacti species that can be used as scions include trichocereus and Spachianus.
Propagating through offsets/offshoots
Propagation by use of offsets or pups is another popular and effective way to reproduce cactus. This is especially so for cactus species that produce such offsets. Some cactus species would send out mature offsets to grown on their own while in the wild. However, you can do this personally for your indoor cactus. By removing these offsets, the parent plant focuses more on its strength, health and production of even more offsets. Notably, propagation of cactus through offsets has the highest success rates compared to other methods.
Identify a mature cactus with enough offsets already. You can then pick out offsets that are about 2 inches long. These are healthier and stronger to withstand the new environment and thus grow faster.
Remove the pups from the parent plant by hand. Do this by twisting it a little from the point of connection with the parent. Break it off gently to avoid causing unnecessary tears or cuts. Alternatively, you can use a sharp knife to cut the offset from the parent plant.
Set the offset aside for a few days as you prepare your potting mix and container.
Plant the offset by inserting about a quarter of the stem into the soil and leave it in the shade for a few days. Take care not to water your new plant immediately after planting as this may increase chances of infection attack or rotting. Instead, wait for about 5-7 days to start some light watering regime.
Cutting and propagating cactus through pads
Reproducing cactus by pads is as popular as it is easy if looking to expand your collection. However, not all cactus species can be propagated using pads. Some species do not grow pads and thus propagated by other means already discussed. Follow these steps to propagate your cactus through pads:
Using a pair of tongs, break off a mature pad from the parent plant. Alternatively, you can snap it by hand if you have thick gloves to put on for protection against spikes. This should be a clean job for most cacti species, but if the process proves challenging, you can use a sharp knife to cut off the pad.
Allow the pad to callous over for a few days before laying it flat on top of your potting soil. Soak the soil as you would when watering your other cactus. Do this regularly by ensuring the soil remains moist but not too dump. This helps spur root growth, and in no time, your plant will hold on to the soil and growth into a strong, healthy plant.
How to root a broken piece of cactus
As much as we can propagate most cactus varieties through cuttings when the need arises, sometimes accidents may occur, and a cactus breaks off from the mother plant. In such a case, the best course of action would be to find a way to turn the broken piece or cactus cutting into a new plant. A cactus will root much easily when the right conditions are met. The following are some vital steps you can take to root a broken cactus.
Get a sharp knife and disinfect it with alcohol or soap and warm water. This should come in handy to avoid the risk and spreading diseases to the new and existing plants.
Carefully inspect the broken piece. If you notice any jagged or uneven part, cut it off with your knife. Jagged cuts tend to rot off easily, thus making rooting a challenge.
Set your piece aside for some time to heal and callous over. The time taken for this to happen will highly depend on the size and variety of your cactus. The weather conditions will also contribute to the same, and this may anywhere from a couple of days to even weeks. The piece should be kept in a bright spot but should not face direct sunlight.
Prepare your pot by filling it with the right potting soil for cactus. Your pot should have proper drainage holes to help drain any excess water during your watering regimes.
Deep your cutting in rooting hormone to help catalyze the development of roots. This step is, however, optional.
Plant your piece by inserting the broken, dried end into your potting mix. The piece should get in about a third into the soil. Keep the piece erect and pack some soil around to secure it. You can then place your pot in a bright area but avoid direct sunlight.
Do not water your new plant immediately. Give it a timeline of about 2 to 4 weeks. Once the soil is completely dry, you may start your watering regime.
As the roots start to form, introduce your plant to sunlight, albeit in bits. Roots should form within two to six weeks. To check for root development, try pulling the plant gently. If you feel some resistance, then it is a sign that roots are already developed. Increase the intensity of sunlight as the roots develop even further.
When not to propagate a cactus
Cacti have become popular in homes and gardens thanks to their ease of propagation. Even for a beginner, rooting and propagating a cactus should be a walk in the park as long as you follow the basic guidelines.
This said, it is not always that you can propagate a cactus. There are certain conditions and seasons under which it may not be a good idea to cut or propagate your cactus. To increase the success of your propagation, avoid these conditions and seasons:
During a Heatwave
During a heatwave, most plants are usually stressed up and would be focusing on survival. As such, they may not be in the best condition to multiply. The plant will face many challenges to develop new roots due to the stress at this point. As such, it pays to be patient until the heatwave passes or a milder condition sets it.
However, in cases where your cacti are kept indoors, the heatwave may not be too harsh compared to the outside environment. In such cases, you may consider propagating from the comfort of your room. Alternatively, you can keep your cactus in a temperature-controlled environment away from the effects of the heatwave experienced outdoors.
During freezing temperatures
During winter, cacti go dormant thanks to the frost and freezing temperatures. As such, they will not be actively growing until the conditions are right. This will not be the best time to propagate your cactus due to the slow growth experienced. With slow growth comes the risk of rot and attack by diseases.
Additionally, this is not the best time to cut or prune your cactus as it will face a hard time trying to grow back and thrive. This is also the reason it is not advisable to fertilize or feed your cactus in any way during the cold season.
Factors to consider when propagating a cactus
- Always ensure that you get your cutting, pads or offsets from a healthy plant. This should help improve the success of your propagation and led to a healthy, thriving new plant.
- Water your main plant a few days before you take out its cuttings. This will ensure that the cuttings are well fed and not flaccid. Flaccid cuttings may not root as easily, and some never do.
- Always ensure you take out the cuttings, offsets or pads from different parts of the plant. This helps retain the shape and overall look of the parent plant.
- Ensure your cuts are clean, devoid of any jagged parts. Slight tears on the cutting decrease the chances of the plant ever developing roots.
- Always wear heavy hand gloves when breaking off your offsets or pads from the parent plant. This helps avoid injuries from cactus spines.
Can Cacti be propagated from seed?
Talk of cactus propagation, and what comes to mind immediately is cuttings, pads and offsets. So can cactus be grown from seeds? The fact is, as much as this may not be a popular form of propagating cactus, some varieties do well when grown from seeds.
Unlike propagation from cuttings, the success rate of using seeds for cactus is lower, and the plant may take much longer to grow and mature. Nevertheless, using seedlings is an ideal way to grow rare cacti species that may not do well with propagation from cuttings or those that do not produce pups of offsets.
The best thing about growing cacti from seeds is that they get acquainted with the climatic conditions from day one. This helps in adaptation to the region and will thus grow much healthier.
Notably, some cacti species can produce seeds through self-pollination. These include such species as mammillaria, Echinocacti and Cereus. However, some cacti species may need some help for pollination to happen. This can be done by shaking the stamens to enable pollen to get into the pestle.
While most cacti species would flower, few end up producing seeds due to challenges in pollination.
When growing cacti through seeds, take the following into consideration:
- Cacti seeds perform best when sown in early spring
- Cacti seeds can be pretty tiny, and there are chances of losing a good number. To avoid this, use a white cloth or other material when working on them for better visibility.
- The best way to find good quality cacti seeds is by buying them from certified dealers. However, you can also collect them from fruits if working on a tight budget.
Propagation of cactus cannot be possible without the right tools and expertise. It all starts with mastering the art of cutting the pieces into ready specimens for planting. Whether you are looking to propagate your cactus through cuttings, pads or offsets, always set the piece aside to callous over before planting. This helps improve the chances, speed and rate of rooting.
The option you choose when propagating your cactus will be largely dependent on the cactus variety and its age. Ensure you have the right information about your cactus species before cutting or propagating the plant.