How to Propagate a Cactus in 5 Easy Steps

cactus in pot

When you have a cactus that you absolutely adore and want to replicate, you can simply propagate it to get a nearly identical copy of the original. Although propagating may seem like an intimidating process that should be saved for experienced agriculturists and horticulturists, anyone can do it!

Cactus are typically propagated in two ways: via seeds or cuttings. Cactus seeds are harder to propagate, and the preferred method is through cuttings. Cactus cuttings can be offshoots, pads, or columnar cuttings. Regardless of the type of cutting, it can be propagated in 5 easy steps.

Since there are different ways to propagate your cactus, let’s find out what will work best for you!

What is Plant Propagation?

Propagation refers to the reproductive process of plants whether through the natural dispersing of seeds via wind or animal or the man-made distribution of seeds, cuttings, or other regenerating plant parts.

Plant propagation can be split into four parts: sexual, asexual (vegetative reproduction), layering, and grafting.

Sexual Propagation

Sexual propagation is when a plant has produced seeds or spores to reproduce. When a plant will produce seeds and spores is entirely dependent on the type of plant, its maturity, and its health. Not all plants produce seeds or spores, and some plants that do produce them do not produce fertile ones. This is not the only way that a cactus can reproduce though.

Asexual or Vegetative Propagation

Asexual and vegetative propagation are grouped together because both processes only use the genetic material of the single parent plant to make another.

Asexual propagation happens when a seed is produced that does not require fertilization, thus containing only the parent plant’s genetic material.

Vegetative propagation, more commonly referred to as vegetative reproduction, uses the roots, stems, or leaves of a parent plant to produce nearly identical offspring.

Layering Propagation

Layering occurs when a stem or branch from the parent plant dips back into the ground and begins to sprout its own roots. Eventually, the stem or branch with its new roots will be detached from the parent plant and become a completely separate plant.

This process can happen naturally or through human intervention.

Grafting Propagation

Grafting is a process by which two or more plants’ tissues are joined together to fuse as one plant. This can be initiated for a plethora of reasons.

Grafting can also occur naturally with trees. Occasionally the roots of neighboring trees will graft together, forming a large root mass that shares nutrients between the connected trees, increases wind resilience, and promotes fire resistance. However, this is also a way that trees can spread diseases and parasites to each other.

Propagating Your Cactus Via Seeds

We can replicate cacti’s natural propagation using seeds in our own yards and gardens. However, propagating with seeds is much more fickle than using cuttings (which is the most popular way to propagate a cactus). In fact, depending on the type of cactus, it may take years after planting before your cactus begins to grow. But it certainly is not impossible to do.

To increase the likelihood of your seed successfully growing within a reasonable amount of time, start by removing the seed’s dormancy.

What is Seed Dormancy and Why do Cactus Seeds Have it?

Seed dormancy is the state of seed when it is unable to germinate. This can occur even with ideal growing conditions. It is a type of survival adaptation to ensure the seed will only germinate when it is most likely to flourish and thrive.

There are two categories of seed dormancy: exogenous and endogenous.

Exogenous dormancy is due to conditions outside of the seed’s embryo and endogenous dormancy is when there are chemical changes inside the seed’s embryo.

In cactus, the seeds have developed dormancy due to the harsh conditions in which most cacti live. Dormancy can protect the seeds from the hot desert weather and dry ground. An example of cactus seeds with exogenous dormancy is when a seed’s coat is too thick for moisture to infiltrate.

This will prevent the seed from germinating until an excess amount of moisture is present to infiltrate the coat, ensuring the seed will have enough moisture to survive.

A cactus seed can be dormant from endogenous factors because the embryo has not fully developed, there are chemical inhibitors suppressing the embryo, or specific seasonal cues have not been introduced.

If a cactus seed is dormant due to exogenous reasons, that factor can potentially be removed. However, if the seed is not germinating due to endogenous factors, there is not much you can do. The only thing that you can try is introducing specific seasonal cues that could activate germination.

How to Remove a Cactus Seed’s Exogenous Dormancy

(These steps are a general guideline for most types of cactus. Before you start, check to see what your specific cactus seeds need, because the process can change depending on the species.)

Step One: Scarify The Seed.

Make a small opening in the seed with either your fingernail, a knife, or using sandpaper to sand down the seed’s coat.

Step Two: Soak The Seed.

Place the seed in lukewarm water for a couple of days. Make sure to change the water each day for the best results.

Step Three: Stratify The Seed.

Cover the seed or place it in a container and then put it in either your refrigerator or outside (if the weather is cold enough) for four to six weeks.

Planting Your Cactus Seed

Step One:

Fill a pot with moist, well-draining seed starting soil.

Step Two:

Gently lay your seed on the soil and lightly dust it with soil. Again, check your specific seed species to know how much soil is needed. Regardless, no cactus seed should be planted deeper than 1/8 inch into the soil.

Step Three:

Cactus seeds need a high consistent humidity. Cover the pot with plastic wrap and put it in an area where it can receive filtered sunlight. Leave it there until the seedlings are visible. This can take a couple of weeks to a few months depending on the seed. Don’t give up!

Step Four:

Keep the soil moist the whole time. Moist is the keyword. If the soil becomes oversaturated and soggy, your seed may drown.

Step Five:

Once your seedlings are visible, move your cactus to your desired location and begin to care for it as you would any normal cactus of that species.

Propagating Your Cactus Via Cuttings

Offshoots

Many species of cacti will produce offshoots, like little baby cactus, from the parent plant. These can be taken and replanted to become their own cactus. By doing this, the parent plant is more likely to succeed because it is no longer sharing vital nutrients with the offshoots.

Step One: Preparation.

Disinfect a sharp knife with warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol. The knife should be disinfected each time you make a cut.

Use hand protection as well. Whenever you are handling a cactus, you should be wearing thick gloves and have tongs. Those spines are sharp after all!

Step Two: Check The Offshoot You Will Be Removing.

Offshoots that are ready to be removed will already have roots growing. Although you can remove an offshoot without roots and they will eventually develop their own after planting, it is much riskier and not recommended.

Step Three: Remove The Offshoot.

Occasionally offshoots can be removed just by gently pulling the offshoot away from the parent plant. However, most situations call for you to use your disinfected knife to carefully cut the offshoot away.

Slide your knife in between the parent and offshoot, slowly severing the shared connection point and any connected roots if applicable.

Use your knife to make a two-inch radius in the soil around the base of the offshoot. Dig a few inches down your drawn circle and, at an angle, use a spade to gently lift the offshoot from the soil.

Step Four: Plant The Offshoot.

Place the offshoot into a pot with a well-drained potting mix. Securely plant the offshoot by lightly packing the soil around it.

Step Five: Keep The Offshoot Alive.

Wait a couple of days after planting before watering. Anytime the soil feels dry, typically every couple of days, mist the soil until it’s moist. After the offshoot has established its roots, only water it when the soil has dried out.

Place the offshoot in filtered sunlight until the roots are established. After the offshoot’s roots have been established, you can slowly increase the plant’s access to direct sunlight. This introduction needs to be gradual or else the offshoot can burn. When it has been acclimated to sunlight, move your new cactus to your desired location.

Cactus Pads

Step One: Preparation.

Disinfect a sharp knife with warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol. The knife should be disinfected each time you make a cut.

Get hand protection. Whenever you are handling a cactus you should be wearing thick gloves and have tongs.

Step Two: Remove Your Selected Pad.

You want to remove a pad that has a good coloration and no visible signs of damage.

Occasionally pads can be broken off with just your (gloved) hands or tongs, but most likely you will need to use your disinfected knife. Using a knife is also beneficial to ensure you have a nice, clean, straight cut.

Step Three: Dry The Wound.

After you have removed the pad, the wound needs to be dried out so it will heal. You will know when the pad is sufficiently dry when the wound has calloused. Do not let the pad lay in direct sunlight.

Step Four: Plant The Pad.

Place the pad, wound-side down, into a pot with well-draining potting mix. Securely plant the pad by burying a third of it into the soil and lightly packing around it.

Or

You can plant the pad by first, laying the pad flat until roots develop. Then, after you have roots, plant the pad into a pot with a well-draining potting mix and lightly pack it in.

Step Five: Keep The Pad Alive.

Wait a couple of days after planting before watering. Anytime the soil feels dry, typically every couple of days, mist the soil until moist. After the pad has established its roots, only water it when the soil has dried out.

Place the pad in filtered sunlight until the roots are established. After the roots have been established, you can slowly increase the plant’s access to direct sunlight. This introduction needs to be gradual or else the pad can burn. When it has been acclimated to sunlight, move your new cactus to your desired location.

Columnar Cuttings

Step One: Preparation.

Disinfect a sharp knife with warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol. The knife should be disinfected each time you make a cut.

Get hand protection. Whenever you are handling a cactus you should be wearing thick gloves and have tongs.

Step Two: Remove Your Selected Columnar Cutting.

You want to cut a columnar cutting that is at least four inches long and no wider than four inches in diameter.

Make a clean cut with your disinfected knife.

Step Three: Dry The Wound.

After you have removed the column, the wound needs to be dried out so it will heal. You will know when the wound is sufficiently dry when it has calloused. Do not let the cutting lay in direct sunlight.

Step Four: Plant The Column.

Place the columnar cutting, wound-side down, into a pot with a well-drained potting mix. Securely plant the cutting by burying a third of it into the soil and lightly packing around it.

Step Five: Keep The Cutting Alive.

Wait a couple of days after planting before watering. Anytime the soil feels dry, typically every couple of days, mist the soil until moist. After the cutting has established its roots, only water it when the soil has dried out.

Place the cutting in filtered sunlight until the roots are established. After the roots have been established, you can slowly increase the plant’s access to direct sunlight. This introduction needs to be gradual or else the cutting can burn. When it has been acclimated to sunlight, move your new cactus to your desired location.

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