HOW TO: Propagating Cactus 101

 

 

Cacti are all the rage right now and what most people don't know is how easy they are to propagate. One plant can yield pups that can carry on for generations or simply to share with a friend. Propagating is also a great way to maintain and keep your cacti healthy and looking their best. Share the love, multiply your collection or just give your cactus a little haircut, it's simple and easy. In this tutorial I will show you several varieties of cacti propagation, that you can easily transfer to your own personal collection. 

 

WHAT IS PROPAGATING?:

Propagating is when you create new plants from an already existing plant by cuttings. There is no seeds, it is healthy for your plants and is a great inexpensive way to make new plants. Not all plants can be reproduced by cuttings, however cacti, succulents and many house plants can. 

 

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:

 

TOOLS: 

-Sharp Knife

-Rubber Coated Gardening Gloves

-Rubber Spatula 

-Plastic or Metal Tongs

-Tweezers *optional, but may be needed :P

 

SUPPLIES: 

-Overgrown or pupping cacti

-Stone Pebbles

-Potting Soil

-Sand

-Clove Oil/Bleach/Rubbing Alcohol 

-Metal Pan/Cookie Sheet

-Water

SHARP KNIFE: Key word here, sharp! Make sure it is a very sharp knife, the sharper the better to create a clean cut. You can also use any other type of sharp blade like clippers, scissors, or straight razor if you'd like. I find that a knife is the easiest blade to get into different nooks and crannys and can be found in just about every household. 

 

RUBBER COATED GARDENING GLOVES: While cacti spines can still penetrate most types of gloves, they are still a great back up for slips and can be use to lightly hold some cactus without penetration. Some of the more spiny or hairy type cacti, should only be held with tongs. The thicker the rubber and the more that it coats around the gloves the more protection you will have. Thicker leather gloves will work as well. THESE are what I used and worked really nicely to keep the spiney buggers out and my hands nice a safe.

 

RUBBER SPATULA: Any kind will work, this will be used to push down dirt around the edges of your pot and keep you prick free. 

 

PLASTIC OR METAL TONGS: Now these guys are what will really save you from the prickly spines. I picked up THESE plastic nesting tongs and loved how they came in different sizes for different applications. 

 

 

TWEEZERS: So here is my words of CAUTION!!! I'm not going to lie, cactus are full of spiky, nasty and painful spines.  I was prepared and set aside a pair of nice tweezers just in case. Unfortunately I did end up using them several times. Different cactus have different types of spines, the larger Opuntia aka Prickly Pear are the worst. However some smaller types can even be lightly held bare handed. Cactus spines go in straight and most are barbed, which means they typically are very hard to remove. I have found if you try pulling them out by hand, they often break off and cause more pain. A good pair of tweezers fully removes the spines without them breaking and less pain. I strongly suggest if you do use a Opuntia, to do it outside and do your very best to not handle or brush up with anything besides the tongs. These suckers get in the air and the smaller slivers are like fiberglass that can embed even through rubber gloves and even your jeans. I would also suggest to propagate these types outdoors to prevent the sheddings from spreading in your home and in your clothes. These suckers are no joke and I would suggest trying these as an advanced propagation project. Even though Opuntia are my favorite, they can be nasty! Sorry for the scare, but the truth is in the puddin' here and you may have to find out the hard way like I did. The bigger spined cacti are actually easier to handle, so if you are doing this for the first time they are great for beginners. 

 

 

 

STEP ONE:

SOIL PREP

First you will need to create the ideal cactus planting soil mix with The 3 S's:

                                                        Soil     Sand    Stone 

 

Cacti are in the succulent family which retains and conserves water in harsh, drought-like environments. Therefore they require a special potting mix that promotes substantial drainage. Succulents and cacti live in the dessert naturally and are adapted to a dry sandy substrate. It is important to use the correct materials to create a drier soil to prevent rot. Both succulents and cac are very easy to take care of, in fact they need very little care. The most common problems occur due to poor drainage or over watering that results in rot and the death of a plant. So dryness is key!!

 

 

 

STONE: You can use pebbles, smaller rocks both smooth or rough. The size, shape and type of stone isn't too important, here we used a rough white crushed rock. The rock is to be placed into the bottom of you pot or container, about 1-2 inches from the bottom. This is one of the most important steps in planting a cactus and is the best way to drain water away from the cactus if there is no hole in your container and prevent rot. If you do have a hole and a saucer, then you can skip this step. A pot with a hole will be acquitted drainage, just make sure whenever you water there is no standing water in your saucer.  

 

SOIL: You can actually purchase pre-made cactus/succulent mix, however I prefer to make my own. Not only will this save you some money, but it also insures the correct types of substrate and the ratios of sand to soil depending on your climate. I look for a soil that contains perlite and peat moss these are both very helpful and great for drainage. 

 

SAND: Again same rules with the stone, the size, shape, color of sand doesn't matter too much. A mid-grade horticulture sand that you can find at your local hardware store or nursery is perfect. 

 

MIXTURE: Do a 3 parts soil to 1 part sand for most climates. If you live in a very damp area then add more sand, if you live in a very dry area add more soil. 

 

Set mixture aside and fill a metal pan or cookie sheet with pure sand about 2 inches deep.

 

 

 STEP TWO:

Use clove oil and a paper towel to sanitize your knife. Clove oil is a natural antimicrobial, anti-fungal, antiseptic, and antiviral, it's some seriously great stuff! Short story is it helps prevent rot and disease in multiple ways. You can also use a bleach water mix or rubbing alcohol to clean your blade if you do not have clove oil. First wipe blade with your choice of cleaner, then followed by a clean paper towel and leave to fully dry. If you cut right away with a wet blade with any cleaning option, it can compromise the cuttings and even kill the starts. This is strictly to clean your blade of any disease causing elements or contamination. 

 

 

 

STEP THREE: 

 

You will need to determine which kind of propagation is needed. 

Is you cactus leggy and out of control? Does it have many little babies, also called pups growing off the sides? Or is it growing in a strange, unsightly direction. Even if you cactus has a little rot forming at the base, you can save your friends by propagating and creating new cactus plants. These can all be fixed and are the perfect reason to do some propagating.

 

 

 

STEP FOUR

Put your gloves on and use the tongs in one hand and the knife in the other. Carefully and cleanly remove pups or paddles off mainly plant. You want to cut right where the connection or joints are, with a straight clean cut. Some pups can be easily pulled off by hand and are already shooting out new roots and there is no need to cut. If your pups are already growing roots, then you can skip the drying stage and plant right away. For larger Opuntia type, don't touch even with gloves, make sure to hold using tongs and avoid spreading the hair like spines into the air or onto clothing. I know I sound paranoid with these warnings, but it'll save you some grief, trust me! 

 

 

 

STEP FIVE:

Once your new cactus has a nice clean cut, place in the pan filled with sand. Then place the pan in a bright, inside window in indirect sunlight for 3-5 days to form a callus. DO NOT WATER! Watering can and most likely will create rot. Once your cuttings have formed a callus, that is hardened and dried out they are ready to plant. The drier and warmer the weather, the quicker this will happen. 

 

 

 

STEP SIX:

Prep containers with a 1-2 inch layer of stone then fill the remainder with soil/sand mixture. 

 

 

STEP SEVEN:

Form a small pocket in the center, by pushing and compacting the soil mixture to the sides of your container. You will want to make this pocket from 2-3 inches deep and the width of the cactus you are planting. Make sure you have your gloves and tongs ready to go. Gently grasp paddles/pups at the tops with the tongs and place in the center pocket.

 

 

STEP EIGHT:

While holding with the tongs in one hand, gently use a rubber spatula to bury and secure the cactus in place. Compact the top layer using the spatula and pressing down on soil mixture. This step will insure that the cactus doesn't tip over or fall out of your container. Dampening the soil mixture with water will make it easier to push the soil mixture to the sides and stay in place. 

 

STEP EIGHT:

 

Since we don't water during the callus stage, it is very important to give your cactus a good drink once potted. Avoid getting the actual cactus wet, water around base. You can place decorative rocks around the base to hide the soil and help keep the area around you cactus dry. However this is more for the look, it is not a necessary step. 

 

 

STEP NINE:

Place your newly propagated cactus in a bright indirect sunlit window or room. Depending on the type and size of the cactus, roots will begin to form and firmly secure into your container and soil in 2-4 weeks.

 

 

STEP TEN:

Enjoy, decorate and have fun! Thanks for following along and make sure to check out our cactus care, tips and tricks below.

 

CACTUS CARE: Just a couple tips and tricks for keeping your spiky friends healthy and happy.

 

LIGHTING: Cacti like warm, well lit, but indirect sunlight. Some cacti like more sun than others, but as a rule of thumb a nice warm spot that doesn't get full direct sunlight is best. You may think, well cacti grow in the desert and get plenty of super hot direct sunlight, why wouldn't they in my home? Well there are two reasons for this. Number 1 is windows, windows act like a magnify glass and can scorch your houseplants. The same goes with coolness, and if your plant is too close to a cold window, it can freeze your plant. Number 2, is that since these plants aren't in the natural dessert environment they are in a home, they are not as dry or hardy as natural grown cacti in the desert. When the weather is warmer 65+, you can place your cactus outside for some much appreciated natural light. 

 

ROTATION: Rotating your cactus is very important, especially indoor cacti. Cacti will begin to grow towards the light typically in an indoor environment. This can lead to some really funky looking dudes. Both cacti and succulents can get "Leggy" where the paddles or leaves start to get vary sparse and unhealthily long. This leggy look is mainly caused by poor lighting and lack of rotation. Sometimes you cannot prevent this from happening due to the indoor environment. This may be a good time to do some propagation or cutting to get them back into shape or harvest some healthy pups to continue on. However, rotating your container can help keep them growing in the right direction indoors, especially when the lighting isn't ideal. 

 

TEMPERATURE: Warmth and dryness is key for good cacti health, however most cacti can withstand colder temperatures as well. But if they get too cold, the water that they hold in their paddles can freeze and kill a plant. Indoor temperatures between 65-90 degrees are perfect for cacti. Some cacti can get down to freezing temperatures, others cannot. If you do leave your cacti outside, it's a good idea to bring them inside once temperatures get below 65 degrees. Warmer is typically better and your cactus will thrive and be healthier in warmer temperatures. Over 90 degrees will typically be just fine, however direct sunlight especially in windows can scorch a cactus. 

 

WATERING: Over watering can be extremely detrimental to a cactus. The number one killer is rot, you never want water to stand around the base of a cactus. Good drainage is very important to insure the water doesn't create rot. Always check to make sure the soil in completely dry before you water, if it's damp it doesn't need more water. A good way to tell if you cactus needs watering, is to stick your finger or a pencil 1-2 inches down and check to see if the soil is damp or dry. Watering should be dependent on seasons. There are two different seasons for cacti spring/summer growing season, and fall/winter dormant season.  In growing seasons (April-September) water more often, between once a week to every other week. If the cactus is in a smaller container it may need more watering often, again use the dryness test to determine if it's time to water. Between October-March they need much less water, about once a month. When watering, water at the base and try not to water on top of the cactus. If your cactus seems to be shrinking and getting wrinkles, often times it may even yellow, this means they need more water. If your cactus starts to turn brown or blacken at the bottom or create splits or scabs then it is being over watered. Under watering can typically be fixed by just watering, however over watering typically is detrimental to a cactus. If you do over water, you can sometimes save your plant by allowing to air dry out, or if it is really bad and the upper paddles or sections can be saved, do some propagating.

 

FERTILIZING: During growing season you can use a fertilizer to promote growth and flowering. I really like Hinterland Trading's Succulent Fertilizer   that is a 2-7-7 formula. You can use this in addition to every other watering during the months of April-September. Some cactus have amazingly beautiful flowers and fertilizing will help promote budding and eventually flowers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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