Tips & How To’s

How to Propagate Cactus Quickly and Easily at Home

Tim Parry


Are you wondering how to propagate cactus? Here are practical methods of successfully propagating cacti for free with or without roots.

Do you enjoy growing succulents, and you can't get enough of them? Then, learn how to propagate cactus and have as many cacti as possible for your home aesthetics. Cactus propagation can be done for leisure or business, depending on the grower. Ideally, you don't have to spend money while propagating cactus.

On this account, we have prepared a guide on different ways of cactus propagation. Not to worry, the different methods of cactus propagation are easy for beginners and with practice, it gets simpler. However, before learning the process, we must understand the concept of propagation. Eventually, a holistic understanding of this process will help to propagate a healthy brand new baby plant successfully.

What is Propagation?

Ideally, propagation is a method of achieving new growth from existing plants. As such, propagation is a common means through which wild plants achieve new growth. Some of the common propagation methods include pollination, seed formation, flowering and fertilization. But, primarily, the possibility of a new plant coming up from an existing one is simply a survival method for plants, including cactus and other succulents.

Specifically, cactus propagation also happens in the wild through offsets and seeds, depending on the species. In the natural habitat, cactus propagation is a slow-growing process. However, for a houseplant to decorate a small space, you can propagate a cactus plant faster. Fortunately, there are more ways to propagate a cactus domestically than those possible in the natural habitat.

Other cactus propagation processes include using cactus cuttings or cactus pads and grafting. Notably, certain species work for the different domestic cactus propagation methods. Before you start propagating a new cactus plant, timing is of the essence.

When to Propagate Cactus

Besides knowing how to propagate cactus domestically, you should know when it's ideal to do so. In particular, it's best to propagate a cactus plant during summer or late spring, when the existing plants are actively growing. Such timing for cactus propagation ensures you have greater success, especially when propagating cactus cuttings. Regarding seeds and offsets, you can propagate when they are produced.

Inappropriate Time to Propagate Cactus

To further help you know the right time to propagate cactus, it would also help to know when not to.

1. During Dormancy

During dormant periods, the cactus is not actively growing, such as during cold and freezing temperatures. Besides starting off to a slow or unsuccessful start, such periods are inappropriate to expand your cactus collection since your new plants will be more prone to rot and diseases. In addition, for most cactus species, the root system will most likely die during cold seasons due to rot and diseases. Therefore, you can wait for the warm seasons to propagate a cactus plant for optimal survival.

2. During Extreme Hot Conditions

For instance, propagating succulents such as cactus should not be done during a heatwave. In essence, any living organism, including human beings, is stressed under extremely hot conditions. As such, obtaining leaf cuttings for propagation means you will be stressing cacti even more. Therefore, it will have to refocus its survival energy to regrowing ad healing, thus thining its survival chances.

Methods of Propagating Cactus

Method 1: Cactus Cuttings

A common way of propagating most cacti is by using their stem cuttings or leaf cuttings. Primarily, you can propagate cacti from stems with segments like the prickly, pears, blue candles, globular, Christmas, and columnar cacti. Even before you know how to propagate cactus cuttings, ensure you wear gloves or use tongs to handle spiny cacti. Also, ensure you use a disinfected knife while taking cuttings from existing cacti to avoid infecting the plant.

Step 1: Obtaining cactus cuttings

Start propagating cactus by cutting a cactus pad or a stem chunk from the main plant. While at this initial step, ensure you cut healthy pads or stems to increase your chances of success. As such, avoid cutting parts with signs of discoloration or disease.

In most cases, use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut parts from the top of the mother plant. Also, choose mature pads or thin stems for columnar cacti, which develop roots faster and are easily propagated than chunky cuts. Always aim to make clean and straight fresh cuts to avoid crushing the stems of the mother plant. For pads, you can wiggle them while wearing gloves to cut them loose.

Step 2: Cure Your Cutting Before Planting

Before inserting your fresh cactus cuttings into the prepared potting soil, dry the cut wounds. You can lay your select cactus cutting on a dry surface away from direct sunlight. Leaving it for a few days ensures your stem cuttings develop callous to reduce the chances of fungus or bacteria infections.

The scabbing over the cuts also ensure you don't end up with rotting leaves or roots. Using a sterilized knife and allowing callous to form will help achieve a healthy new plant. Like any plant growth, new growth for your cactus is prone at the early stages. As you propagate a cactus among other succulents, we don't recommend covering it with a plastic bag or placing them in a propagator.

Step 3: Potting your Cured Cuttings

Once your obtained cut is dry, go ahead and propagate cacti by planting the cured cacti. First, ensure you have a potting mix with good drainage. Moreover, before planting your cutting, dip it in a rooting hormone to stimulate root growth. In as much as such as the rooting hormone will help you propagate cactus faster, it's optional.

Now, you can proceed to put 1/3 of your cutting into the soil or more part of the plant if you're working with a columnar cactus. Then, pack soil around the cutting or pad to prevent it from tipping over. Alternatively, you can lay the cut pads flat above the potting mix until they develop roots. Once a good root system is formed, you can now put the pads into the soil. Notably, before the roots are developed, the cuttings will use the stored water and nutrients.

Step 4: Caring For Your Propagated Cuttings

Avoid keeping your prospective plants in direct sunlight as you wait for roots to develop. Before the roots develop, the direct sun might strain and even kill your cuttings due to dehydration. Preferably, set your pot where there is indirect sunlight, like on a warm windowsill. However, ensure the indirect light is adequately bright for growth while avoiding scorching.

When it comes to watering your pot, do it when the soil is almost completely dry to keep it barely moist. By nature, the cactus is highly drought-resistant and therefore, too much water can cause rot, thus cutting back on watering. Also, to encourage root growth, keep your soil moist through light watering to keep the soil damp. Even more, a good draining soil helps avoid water-logging and unfavorable dampness.

Furthermore, the speed of root growth depends on the cactus variety, size of the cutting and watering frequency. Ideally, smaller cuttings tend to grow faster than large ones, while consistent light watering causes faster results. With proper care, a cutting or pad can take a month or slightly more to have roots and a year for stem growth, depending on the variety. Once roots develop, you can progressively expose your cactus to more sunlight and regular watering.

Method 2: Grafting

Grafted Cactus with an Ornamental Head

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Another but a less common method to propagate a cactus is grafting. If your cactus variety doesn't propagate well from cuttings, you can choose to graft it. Moreso, grafting is effective while saving a dying cactus or adding complementary traits like disease repellence or ornamental values to your cacti collection. For example, instead of using fake palm trees, you can have colored cacti to glam up your living space.

To graft cactus, you primarily need a rootstock (plant rooted in the soil) and the piece to be grafted, also known as the scion. In essence, a rootstock needs to be very healthy to support the scion adequately. For compatibility, look for cacti varieties that are closely related and are of the same size. Moreover, use a sharp knife to make diagonal or v-shaped cuts on both parts to be grafted-ensure the cuts match.

While placing the scion on the rootstock, ensure there are no gaps for effective nutrient transportation through the vascular cambium of each of the parts. Matching vascular cambium on each piece will ensure the scion thrives and you end up with a single plant. As you learn how to propagate cactus through grafting, ensure you have rubber bands or tape to prevent the scion from falling off. Also, avoid direct sunlight for your grafted cactus, and when the connection point is properly cured, you can remove the rubber bands or tape.

Method 3: Propagating Using Offsets

Succulents produce pups which are like the younglings of a mother cactus plant. You can obtain new cactus offsets by twisting them from the mother plant or by cutting them. Remember, any cut on a cactus should be made carefully with a sterile sharp knife. Unlike the method of using cuttings, pups or offsets with a root system can be potted or put in the soil right away.

Removing pups from a parent plant ensures that energy is refocused on the main plant's growth and production of more baby plants. Moreover, unlike stem cutting, offsets grow roots faster since they come with their root system. Therefore, avoid removing pups from the soil until they develop roots. Also, while removing pups, ensure you dig up the ones rooted in soil or break off the ones attached to the parent plant.

Fortunately, most common cacti produce offsets capable of growing roots. Using offsets while learning how to propagate cactus is a faster process with a higher growth success. While picking offsets, choose those with the size of a small ball since such are stronger and healthier for successful cacti propagation. For pups cut or broken off from the parent plant, they should be let to dry for the same reason as cuttings before being inserted in the soil.

Additionally, you can use a rooting hormone (but optional) to stimulate the growth of roots in cut pups. After planting your pups, ensure you keep them from scorching direct sun. Also, to avoid your cut offsets from rotting, wait for about a week before watering them. Eventually, when the offsets develop root systems into their new soil environment, you can progressively expose them to more light and the standard watering schedule.

Method 4: Propagating from Seeds

Lastly on how to grow cacti, you can use cacti seeds. This process, however, requires patience since you will have slow-growing cacti. Nonetheless, this method is good for growing cacti of specific species, not overshadowing that most cacti can grow from seeds. Cutting to the chase, you can obtain cacti seeds from cacti flowers and fruits, often dust-like, small and black.

Accordingly, the cacti seeds need to be provided with the right growth conditions. Ensure the soil is well-drained and contains a compost mix to foster the cacti growth. Also, you can create a mini greenhouse to mimick areas with high humidity. Alternatively, you can frequently water your cacti seeds to increase shooting chances. If you will plant cacti seeds in a pot, ensure the pot has adequate drainage holes at the bottom.

Frequently Asked Questions on How to Propagate Cactus

1. Can you propagate cacti without roots?

Yes, you can replant cactus without roots but ensure you follow the right steps to facilitate healthy root growth. For instance, you can use cactus cuttings/pads or cactus pups to propagate cactus. Nonetheless, some cactus pups come with roots of their own. Eventually, with care, you can replant rootless cactus but using offsets with roots guarantees more growth success.

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Tim Parry

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