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How to Propagate Cacti
Wondering how to propagate cacti plants properly? Cacti are some of the most beautiful plants found in nature. Fortunately, they are also some of the easiest to propagate, with their seeds being so tiny and numerous.
Nevertheless, for many years, these plants have been a source of fascination across various cultures for multiple reasons. This goes from their beauty to their seemingly endless childbearing capabilities.
This article will show you how to propagate cacti from seed, cuttings, and layering. Then, depending on your desired outcomes – whether a new plant or simply more cacti – you can choose which method would be best for you.
We will also briefly mention grafting a bit further down in case you’re curious about that option as well. It is important to note here that any form of propagation other than direct seeding will typically take up to a year or so before you see the resulting plant.
What is a cactus, and what does it need to survive?
Cacti are desert-dwelling plants that share the exact needs of other succulents, such as well-draining soil, lots of sun and heat, and protection from cold temperatures. In addition to those requirements, cacti have a few special needs:
How to Propagate Cacti
In this section, we will show you the steps and ways on how you can propagate cacti. Cacti are easy to propagate from cuttings. You can call the method for propagating cacti a “division.” The division divides a plant into two or more parts, each with its roots and some part of the parent plant’s stem.
You can do division by separating plants from their roots. But, you can also do this by cutting off a cactus section that you already separated from its root system. Here is how you can divide your cactus:
1. Take a sharp, sterilized knife and cut it into the cacti. Where you have just cut with the sharp knife, turn your hand to face palm up. You can then slide your thumb along where you’ve just cut on top of the cacti. This will separate the cutting from its roots.
2. Using a pair of tweezers or some other kind of gripping utensil, pull apart any remaining tissues attached to each part until they are entirely separated.
3. To minimize shock, it is essential to be as gentle as possible when separating parts of a plant. This artificially separates them from their root systems. In addition, if there are any damaged or soft spots at either end that were previously attached to the roots, you should cut them off with a pair of sterilized scissors. Do this before you re-plant the division.
4. Once separated, make sure to keep each part moist to prevent it from dying. You can do this by covering them with plastic or putting them in a sealed Ziplock bag overnight. Although cacti are durable plants that can survive long periods without water, propagation is different. They will need some moisture at least once or twice daily for up to two weeks to reduce shock during repotting.
How to propagate cacti from seed
Seeds can be sown in autumn and winter, although some species will germinate at other times too. A cover should keep the moisture in and the seeds warm, but still allow airflow. In spring, remove any surface that you used. When planting your seeds, add a little bit of grit to the potting mix. This is necessary for proper drainage while your seedlings are young. You can also sprinkle a small amount of slow-release fertilizer over the top of the soil if you wish before covering it with a thin layer of dirt or sand.
How to propagate cacti from cuttings
Cuttings are also easy to propagate through layering, which involves burying part of the stem of a plant in soil with the tip above ground. Although it may seem counterintuitive to bury part of your cacti instead of exposing the entire thing, this process helps propagate epiphytic (tree-dwelling) cacti that do not have much root connection with their soil. This process also encourages propagation without cutting or digging up any part of the original plant.
Place the cutting in a warm place so that the roots have time to grow strong before winter sets in if you take your cuttings during late autumn or early winter. Cacti require something to push their hearts through, such as soil, sand, potting mix (with peat moss added), or finely chopped bark mixed with sand at a 1:5 ratio. Keep an eye on your new cacti and make sure they don’t dry out; this will ensure the successful establishment of your plant’s root system.
Here are the steps on how you can propagate cacti from cuttings:
1. Plant the seed on top of moistened potting mix and cover it lightly (if using sand). Water gently until damp but not soaking.
2. Place in an area where it will receive sunlight and be around 20 degrees Celsius (ideally).
3. Check for germination in 1-3 weeks by looking at the root development of your seedlings. If any seeds don’t grow roots after two weeks, you may want to think about chucking the batch and trying again with fresh new seeds.
4. When rooting cuttings or layering a branch, make sure not to bury your plant under the soil – only leave a little bit of the tip sticking out from below ground.
5. It’s also essential that you keep all leaves above ground because this gives your cacti energy from photosynthesis, which helps strengthen your plant while it’s establishing its roots.
How to propagate cacti via cuttings
Cuttings are simple to propagate and you can do it at any time of the year. The best way to get started is to select a healthy branch with stem tissue that seems firm without being too soft or brittle. Once you’ve found your candidate, cut it off at the stem (just below where it meets the plant). Use sharp scissors or shears and ensure to leave yourself with several inches on which there are no stems.
Cacti secrete sap to heal wounds; this sap can cause skin irritation in some people (although not everyone). Therefore, it’s essential when rooting that you take care not to touch any exposed areas of the plant while doing so. Although if this does happen, you should wash your hands afterward.
You should plant cuttings in a tray filled with potting mix, much like when planting seeds. During the first few weeks after planting the cuttings, give them enough water to keep them moist. But ensure not soaking to induce root growth. After a couple of weeks in a warm place (ideally 20 degrees Celsius), new roots should have grown. By then, you can transplant your cacti into pots filled with gritty garden soil.
How to propagate cacti through layering
Layering is also simple and you can do it at any time of year. Although, it’s easiest during summer or early autumn before many plants go dormant for winter. The best way to do this is to take a branch that looks like it has enough growth for rooting to occur. You can encourage root development by covering the exposed end of the stem with moist potting mix or soil. You must keep it damp at all times, so you may wish to protect your branch in plastic.
After several weeks roots will begin to form. Once this happens, you can cut off the unrooted part of the plant, leaving just a few centimeters. Again, layering is best used when propagating slow-growing species. They need time to grow new branches for cutting material.
1. To propagate cacti by layering, choose a branch on your cactus where you want to start creating new roots. Cut off the bottom portion and leave about 3 inches attached to its parent plant.
2. You can then dig up enough soil underneath where you will lay down your cacti’s branch to support it. You may also find a container that can hold the ground for you.
3. Once you’ve reached the correct depth, use some string to tie down your cacti branch. This way, it remains parallel with the ground and does not droop over. Next, make sure there is a small part of your cacti’s branch poking upwards from the ground. That way, when new roots have grown in, they will be able to reach air and sunlight.
4. Once secured, add more soil around the buried stem. It should have about an inch of soil around it. In addition, water everything once every day for up to two weeks until new growth shows up at the top end of your cutting.
5. It may take anywhere from three days up to three months for new roots to appear. Once they do, cut off the string and gently pull apart your cacti’s branch to separate it from its parent plant.
How to propagate cacti via grafting
One last option is grafting. This is most effective when using one plant as rootstock and a different species as the scion. Grafting is complex, however, and only recommended for advanced growers. In addition, you cannot do it with all cacti since not all of them can grow compatible parts to graft onto. Thus, research your plant before trying this method.
To properly propagate cacti from cuttings or seeds, you must first purchase a few more cacti of the same kind as the ones you have. You will need 5-8 beings for a successful rooting process. Keep in mind that even though there are exceptions, some cacti require more than others to achieve a 100% success rate.
If you use dried-out seeds, soak them in water overnight. This will hydrate the root, which is essential as it stimulates to germinate. When the source gets hydrated, it will swell up and show signs of growth.
How to Care Newly Propagated Cactus
Congrats! You have successfully propagated your cacti.
However, your job is not done yet. It has just begun. Now that you have a couple of extra cacti, check on them every week and make sure the soil is moist but not wet or too dry. If they are in pots, then stay away from water for at least a few weeks since the roots are still delicate. They do not require much hydration, to begin with.
When buying new cacti, make sure you wash all the soil off them before re-planting them in a clean pot with fresh ground. Planting it in its permanent spot since dried-out insect eggs can be present in the soil. This will hatch later, leaving behind holes in your plants’ skin.
While allowing your new cacti to recover and grow, make sure they get at least 12 hours of sunlight every day. Ensure to use fertilizer only when the plant has left on it since they can only benefit from the nutrients.
Caring for newly propagated cacti is not tricky. However, you should have no trouble raising healthy plants if you follow all these steps. If anything does arise, do some research first before acting on anything. This will prevent any mishaps and may even save the life of your plant.
If you ever find yourself with no luck in growing your new baby cactus simply purchase another one. Or, better yet, buy another batch and try again! Who knows? Maybe the second time will be the charm.
What will happen if I don’t take care of my new cactus propagation?
If you don’t care for your new propagation or any other cacti for that matter, it will die. There are a few exceptions to this rule. But in most cases, if you do not provide them with enough water (or none at all), sunlight (too much is also harmful), and fertilizers when required, they will shrivel up and pass away.
Even worse than death is the thought of transplanting your dead cactus soil into another pot, potentially killing your existing plants if not sterile. This is because there might be parasite eggs present in the ground left behind by the dead plant’s roots. To ensure this doesn’t happen, keep every bit of soil out of contact with other plants until sterilized using an insecticide solution.
FAQS on Propagating Cacti
When and how often should I water my cactus?
If all the roots get exposed, it is essential to be careful not to water too much or else they will rot. You can slowly increase your watering schedule as new roots begin forming. An excellent idea is to wait until the soil has dried out a bit before adding more water. Remember to use a cactus potting mix instead of regular soil to retain moisture longer. This way, you don’t have to water as often.
What pH should I use?
A broad pH range for cacti would be between 5-7. This is slightly acidic since most species grow in naturally alkaline desert soils. If you are unsure of your native soil’s pH level, research how to test it yourself. You may also test it at your local garden nursery.
If I overwater my cactus, will it die?
Too much water can kill your cacti, so if you water every day, try only watering every other day or once a week. If your soil stays damp for more than two weeks, stop watering altogether until the top few inches of soil are dry again. After this test out how often you should be watering in order to avoid too much moisture from accumulating.
What do I need to know about temperature?
Cacti are adaptable, but still have their limits! It’s best not to let them drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.7 Celsius). It is not recommended to let them get any warmer than 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius). This might kill your cacti or cause damage. If you are unsure where to keep your plant, try to research how wide the temperature fluctuations can go throughout the week.
How do I water my cactus?
Even though soil retains moisture for more extended periods, it’s still important to remember that overwatering will rot out your roots! Instead, use a spray bottle filled with water and spritz the topsoil until it becomes evenly moist but not soaking wet. Let this happen once often rather than on a schedule, so you don’t want to over-water accidentally.
Other notes to keep in mind
You can take the cuttings at any time if you maintain proper conditions for rooting. However, winter cuttings seem to root easiest because more minor issues with high or low temperatures might affect the cutting. You can also layer anytime during the year. But summer works best when it’s easy to keep your branches from drying out while waiting on roots to grow.
On the other hand, grafting requires a compatible plant that bears buds that match the desired plant receiving their offshoots. Consult your local nursery on graft compatibility before trying this method, as not all cacti work well together in grafts. Cacti can be easily propagated from a combination of cuttings and seeds.
After a successful propagation process, make sure to give your new cacti enough food (10-10-10 fertilizer every two weeks), enough water (not overwatering, but make sure they stay damp), and perfect sun exposure for them to thrive properly.
Now that you know how to propagate cacti, this is a great way to make more plants for free or at minimal cost! The process for propagating cacti doesn’t require much effort on your part, since nature has everything it needs to create new features of the plant. So long as you are patient with your propagation efforts, your hard work will be worth it when you have all the cacti you want in return!
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