How To Propagate Cactus Plants

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Just like other succulent species, cactus plants are fairly easy to propagate in a variety of different ways. This allows enthusiastic cactus growers to increase their collection and is also helpful in protecting some species that may be in danger of decline in their natural habitat.

We’re going to look at different cactus propagation methods that you can use successfully.

#1. Using Stem Cuttings

Cacti species, such as Opuntia, Columnar, Pincushion, or Globular cacti, that produce multiple stems from the main stem, can easily be propagated by cutting off some of these stems.

It’s important to take care when procuring these cactus cuttings because most of these species have sharp spines that can easily cause injury. Therefore, always make sure that you wear gloves when handling any species of cactus.

Here are some step-by-step instructions for propagation using stem cutting depending on the type of cactus that you have.

How To Propagate New Cacti Using The Pads Found On The Opuntia Species

Opuntia cacti, like the prickly pear, produce multiple flat round stems that are commonly referred to as pads. These cactus pads can be cut to produce new plants. 

Here’s what to do:

  • Using a clean, sharp knife, sever a few pads from the main plant. You can also use tongs to handle the pads as this will protect your fingers. Make sure that you’ve disinfected your knife using alcohol wipes to avoid introducing bacteria into the plant. Make the cut as clean as you can close to the main part of the plant. You might even find that some pads will break off cleanly if you give them a little tug with a clean pair of tongs.
  • Once you’ve removed the pads from the main plant, place them in a warm, dry spot for a number of days or even up to one week. This allows the cut part to form a callus to protect the cutting from bacteria. Avoid placing your cuttings in direct sunlight, though.
  • Prepare a few pots or seedling trays by filling them with cactus or succulent mix.
  • When the cuttings are showing signs of a callus on the cut end, you can dip this end into rooting hormone as this will help to speed up the rooting process. You can skip this step if you don’t have any rooting hormone on hand.
  • Plant your cuttings into the prepared pots or seedling trays. Just stick the cut end of each pad into the mix making sure that around one-third of the pad is buried. Firm the soil around each cutting to ensure that it stays upright.
  • Alternatively, you can just place the pads on top of the mix and wait until you see tiny roots starting to form. Once there are visible signs of roots, you can then plant each pad into its own small pot filled with the same type of cactus mix.
  • While waiting for the pads to produce roots, keep the soil moist by misting every few days. Once roots have appeared, let the soil dry out completely before adding any more water.
  • The cuttings should be placed in a bright spot but kept out of direct sunlight. It will take a few weeks for roots to start forming and a few months before you’ll start to see new growth.

How To Propagate Columnar Cacti

Columnar cacti species, such as Cereus peruvianus and Euphorbia ammak, can be propagated by cutting off the tops of some of the columnar stems. When selecting stem sections, choose stems that are no more than 4 inches in diameter as the thinner stems will propagate easier.

Here’s what to do:

  • Using a sharp, clean knife that has been sterilized, take cuttings that are around 4 inches long. Ensure that you make a clean cut to limit the surface area of the wound.
  • Place your cut stems in a warm, dry spot and wait for the cut ends to form a callus.
  • Meanwhile, prepare your pots or seedling trays by filling them with a succulent or cactus mix.
  • Once the cuttings are dry and the ends have developed a callus, dip these ends into some rooting hormone if you have some. Rooting hormone is usually available in a powder or liquid form and can be purchased from a garden center.
  • Plant your cuttings into the prepared seedling trays or pots, ensuring that around one-third of the cutting is below the level of the soil. Firm the soil around each cutting to ensure that the stems will not fall over.
  • Mist the soil every couple of days to ensure that it stays moist. Once the cuttings have formed roots, stop the misting and only water again when the soil is completely dry.
  • Keep your cuttings in a bright spot out of direct sunlight. You’ll have to be patient because it can take several months before you will see evidence of new growth.

#2. Using Offsets To Propagate New Plants

Some species of cacti, such as Echinopsis and Mammillaria, will readily produce offsets that you can easily use to propagate new plants.

These little offshoots are just like baby plants and are ideal for propagating as many will have already produced roots while they’re connected to the parent plant.

Here’s what to do:

  • Using a sharp, clean knife, sever the offshoots from the parent plant carefully making sure that you don’t damage the main plant. If possible, try to select offsets that already have a few tiny roots as these will be the easiest to propagate. If you can’t find any offshoots that have already rooted, you can cut unrooted ones but these will take a little longer to grow.
  • You can easily separate the offshoot from the mother plant by inserting the knife between the two and down into the soil. You’ll also need to sever any connecting roots between the baby and the mother.
  • Use a small trowel to carefully dig the offset out of the soil ensuring that you keep as many roots intact as possible.
  • Prepare a small pot by filling it with some cactus mix.
  • Plant the offshoot into the mix and firm the soil around the plant to keep it secure.
  • Keep the soil moist by misting every few days until the roots have become firmly established, then back off on the watering until the soil is completely dry.
  • Keep your offset cuttings in a bright spot but make sure that they’re out of direct sunlight.

Some cactus species will also produce offsets on their stems rather than around the base of the plant. These can be cut from the main plant using a sharp knife. Once cut, you need to leave them to dry for a few days so that the ends form a callus. After this happens, you can propagate them the same as stem cuttings.

Are There Any Cacti Species That You Shouldn’t Propagate From Offsets?

Interestingly, there are a few species of cacti that you should not take offsets from to propagate. The reason for this is that it can interfere with the integrity and growth of the parent plant. These species include:

  • Lobivia silvestrii (Peanut cactus)
  • Small Gymnocalycium species
  • Tephrocactus
  • Large shrub cacti that belong to the Echinocereus genera like Echinocereus engelmannii
  • Miniature Rebutia cacti

#3. Propagating Cacti From Seeds

Almost every species of cacti can be propagated from seed but the process can be quite lengthy as most of these plants are slow-growing. However, it can be immensely rewarding to watch a healthy cactus grow from a tiny seed. You just need some patience if you want to try this method.

This is also a good way to grow some of the rarer species that are not readily available as nursery plants. You can either collect your own seeds from a cactus that has just flowered and produced fruits and seed pods or you can buy a variety of different cactus seeds from many different online stores. Just take care to purchase from reputable sellers that specialize in cacti and succulents.

Once you get your seeds, you’ll need to stratify them before they will successfully germinate. Stratification simply tricks the seeds into believing that they’ve been exposed to winter conditions because this exposure to cold conditions triggers germination.

To stratify your seeds, simply place them in some moist coconut coir and then put this in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Check the seeds after about a week or two to see if they’ve cracked open. Once the seeds have cracked, they’re ready to be planted.

Here’s what to do:

  • Fill a seedling tray with a good quality cactus or succulent mix.
  • Scatter the tiny seeds over the mix and press down a little to ensure that they make contact with the mix. There’s usually no need to cover them but if you do, make sure that it’s only very lightly. Mist the soil to ensure that it’s moist.
  • Cover the pot or seedling tray with a plastic bag or cloche until you start to see the plant break through the surface. This will generally take a few weeks. The plastic helps to create a humid environment that is conducive to seed germination.
  • You can remove the plastic bag or cloche once the tiny plants have emerged. Continue to mist the soil daily.
  • Keep your seedlings in a warm and bright spot out of direct sunlight.
  • Only water when the soil is dry once the tiny seedlings start to look like normal cacti.
  • It will take quite a few months or even a year before your seedlings will be large enough to be potted up into their own containers.

#4. How To Propagate A Cactus Using Grafting

The process of grafting involves joining the top of one cactus onto the bottom of another cactus. The top part of the graft is referred to as the “scion” and the base part is known as the “rootstock”. When using grafting, it’s important to use a hardy species for the rootstock and to ensure that the scion is compatible with the rootstock.

Generally, there’s a high chance of compatibility when both the scion and the rootstock are from the same or related species. The most common type of grafted cactus that you’ll often find is the moon cactus. These colorful cacti are often sold at garden centers and even in department stores.

The scion is usually a very bright color like yellow or red, but the rootstock is just a plain green, columnar type of cactus. The reason that these two species are grafted together is that the scion lacks chlorophyll and, therefore, cannot photosynthesize. Therefore, if grown on its own, it wouldn’t survive very long. 

Grafting these scions onto a hardy rootstock, allows them to flourish as the rootstock takes care of the photosynthesis in order to feed and nourish the entire plant.

Another reason that you might want to graft a scion onto a different rootstock is to replace a stem that is starting to rot or one that may be damaged in some other way.

Although grafting is often regarded as an advanced method of propagation, it’s actually quite simple when it comes to propagating cactus plants.

Here’s what to do:

  • Choose a scion and rootstock that are compatible. In general, you want a rootstock that is hardy and fast-growing while the scion should be slow-growing. Cactus species that are commonly used as rootstock include:
    • Cereus peruvianus
    • Hylocereus trigonus 
    • Hylocereus undatus
    • Trichocereus spachianus

In general, the scion and the rootstock should have as close a relationship as possible in the cactus family tree to achieve the best success.

  • Using a sharp knife that has been sterilized, prepare the rootstock by cutting off the top of the stem and leaving just a few inches. Make the cut horizontal and as straight and even as you can.
  • Do the same with the scion cactus by cutting off the top of the cactus in exactly the same way.
  • Carefully position the scion on top of the rootstock ensuring that the vascular cambium of both is touching each other. The vascular cambium is the center ring that you can see when you cut each cactus. This is why it’s important to make straight and even cuts so that you get good contact between the two sections.
  • Secure the scion on top of the rootstock by using either some rubber bands or electrical tape. The two sections need to be pressed together to ensure continuous contact.
  • After about a month or so, very gently check to see whether the scion has become attached to the rootstock. If there is a firm attachment, you can now remove the rubber bands or tape as the graft is complete and you have just created a new plant.

#5. Propagating A Piece Of Cactus That Has Broken Off

If you’ve accidentally knocked one of your cactus plants and a piece has broken off, don’t panic because you can actually propagate a new plant from the broken piece.

Here’s what to do:

  • Take a close look at the piece of cactus that has broken off to see whether the break was even or uneven. If there are jagged edges, use a clean, sharp knife to make the cut nice and even.
  • Leave the piece of cactus in a warm, dry spot to allow a callus to form on the cut or broken section.
  • Meanwhile, prepare a small pot by filling it with some cactus or succulent mix.
  • Once you see that a callus has formed on the piece of cactus, dip the callused end into some rooting hormone if you have it on hand.
  • Place the cactus piece, cut end down, into the prepared pot, making sure that around one-third of the piece is buried in the mix. Firm the soil around the plant and place the pot in a nice bright spot out of direct sunlight.
  • Don’t water the cactus for around two weeks. Just moisten the soil slightly with a spray bottle.
  • Once the plant has taken root, you can care for it just like any other cactus that you have.

When Is The Best Time To Propagate Cactus Plants?

The absolute best time to propagate cacti is during their growing season, especially in summer and early fall. It’s best to avoid propagating in winter because most cacti are dormant during this period and your success rate will be much lower.

It’s also wise not to consider propagating during a heatwave because the plants will be under stress and more focused on survival rather than reproduction. However, if you keep your cacti indoors in a more controlled environment, then there’s no reason not to consider propagating during extremely hot weather conditions outside.

Conclusion

Cactus plants are relatively easy to propagate using offsets, stem cuttings, or seeds. We’ve even given you some instructions on how you can graft a new cactus onto an existing one. 

The simplest way to create new cactus plants is by using offsets or pups, as they’re sometimes called. However, not all cacti species produce these offsets which is why there are other methods that you can use to propagate new plants and increase your collection.

See more cactus care tips on our website.