Caring for Cacti

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Lawn & Garden

How to Propagate Cacti


There are various methods for propagating succulents.

You can easily increase your collection of cacti and succulents by propagating them.

Propagation can be done through division, cutting, seed starting, and grafting, depending on the plant type. This section provides information on different propagation methods.

Cacti and succulents are simple to propagate. Even slight encouragement can initiate new growth. It’s important to keep in mind that these plants are accustomed to dry conditions, so excessive watering or humidity can lead to rot.

For successful propagation, it’s necessary to:

  • Develop mechanical and technical skills. Practice is key, and fortunately, these plants are fairly resilient.
  • Understand plant structures and growth patterns. This can be learned by working with plants, taking courses, or reading about them. A good understanding of plant growth can make propagation easier and help manage unexpected issues.
  • Be familiar with different plant types and the appropriate propagation methods for each.

Division

Division is the simplest form of propagation. It’s easy for both the plant and the gardener. Division is ideal for obtaining a small number of plants or when the plant is overcrowded.


Preparing the root ball for division.

Division is a mild form of reproduction. It is only slightly more traumatic than transplanting if done gently.

Although there is some trauma involved in separating the root ball and potting up a portion instead of the whole plant, there are still roots, a stem, and leaves (or shoots to produce them). All that is required is to encourage each part to continue growing and protect it until it recovers from the separation.

Some plants divide easily, while others require careful attention to take advantage of the possibilities.

Indoor plants can be divided at any time, but it is more successful for the plant if done during the winter when it is dormant. Indoor gardeners are also less busy during this time.

Dividing plants in winter can be frustrating for indoor gardeners because the plants will remain inactive until they come out of dormancy and start growing again.

Many succulents, especially those with thick mats of sprawling growth, can be divided easily and do well, particularly if the division occurs at the start of their growing season.

What You’ll Need

Before beginning to divide a plant, gather the necessary materials:

Dividing Plants and Propagating by Cuttings

  • Plant to be divided
  • Newspapers
  • Bucket of warm water
  • Clean pots
  • Fresh, clean soil
  • Drainage aids
  • Sterile knife
  • Plenty of time

1. Lay out newspapers to make cleaning up easier after dividing the plant.

2. Gently remove the plant from its pot, breaking the pot if necessary.

3. Determine how many plants the division will produce.

4. Gently separate the root ball with a clean, sharp knife or hatchet, being careful not to damage or tear the roots. If unsure of the plant’s structure, put the root ball in warm water to tease the parts apart.

5. Ensure each division has roots, stem, and leaves before potting in a clean, properly sized pot with good drainage. Use fresh, sterile soil.

6. Plant each division at the same depth it was previously growing and press soil firmly around the plant. Water with warm water.

7. Place the separated plants in a protected location for a few days before introducing to a collection or indoor garden.

Most succulents can be propagated easily from a piece of the plant or leaves. Allow the piece to dry before planting and place in warm, dry conditions to encourage root growth. For plants that can be propagated this way, it is an inexpensive and relatively fast method.

Although home may not always be the perfect environment for propagating plants, some plants have such a high success rate that it’s hard not to try growing more.

For succulent leaf cuttings like hens and chickens or burro tails, it’s best to select mature leaves that aren’t dying. When removing them, pull them sideways to avoid damaging the plant and increase the chance of a small stem being attached. Having a bit of stem attached increases the chances of growing a new plant instead of just a rooted leaf. Once removed, place the leaf on potting soil or in a cardboard box in a convenient location like on top of the fridge. Don’t water until the roots appear.

Once the new plant and roots appear, keep the mix moist and place them in a brighter light. If you water them too early, the leaves may start to rot.

For Sansevieria cuttings, cut a leaf into sections three to four inches long, marking the top of each section with a small notch. Plant the notch side up.

From Seed

Starting plants from seeds can be incredibly rewarding, especially if you hybridize them yourself. Each seed is a unique combination of the parents’ heredity characteristics, so plants grown from seeds can vary significantly. Succulents grow easily from fresh seed, but they may take a while to germinate.

Some seeds may take years to germinate, while others will start in just two days. However, succulents are cautious plants and may only germinate a few seeds at a time. Seeds vary in terms of their longevity and viability, and many may not survive beyond germination. Start seeds in a well-drained, sterile mix and water sparingly, making sure not to let the seedlings dry out.

Starting seedlings in an artificial mix is usually best to avoid the problems of seeds dying in the soil or seedlings dying after germination.

Grafting

Grafting is used for several purposes like speeding up the propagation of known varieties, providing plants with a stronger root system, and maintaining “sports” or monsters that can’t survive on their own. It can also be used to produce a shape or effect that wouldn’t be possible with one plant alone, like producing dwarfed plants by using a dwarfing rootstock or inserting a dwarfing section in a stem.

To create tree-like effects, one can graft vining or sprawling plants onto a tall, upright base. The process is simple, but it requires a steady hand, a keen eye, and lots of practice to be successful. The key to avoiding failure is to work quickly and keep the plants, tools, and hands clean. Grafting is typically done with compatible plants, meaning those in the same species, genus, or family. However, since the plants are the final judge of compatibility, the process often involves trial and error. When grafting, it is important to ensure that as many of the actively growing cells of both pieces are in contact. A flat graft is the easiest to make, but a cleft or wedge graft is necessary when the scion is very narrow or flat. A side graft is also an option, which involves a slanting or diagonal cut on both the stock and scion. When grafting cacti and succulents, rubber bands or spines can be used to keep the pieces together. Grafting is most successful during the active growing period, usually from spring through fall, and it is important to keep the stock plant healthy and not neglected during the grafting process. After grafting, plants should be kept in a shaded spot for a while to prevent cuts from drying out too quickly. Water should also be kept off the cuts to prevent disease. The rubber bands or spines should not be removed until a month after the graft appears to have taken. Like with any skill, practice makes perfect, and keeping plants, tools, and fingers clean will result in better-looking and more successful grafts. In the next section, readers can learn how to arrange their indoor cacti or succulent gardens for maximum success.

FAQ

1. What are some common mistakes people make when caring for cacti?

One common mistake is overwatering. Cacti are adapted to survive in dry conditions, so they don’t need frequent watering. Another mistake is placing them in areas with insufficient sunlight. Cacti need plenty of direct sunlight to thrive. Lastly, many people think that cacti don’t need any fertilizer, but this isn’t true. Using a balanced fertilizer during the growing season can help your cactus grow and bloom.

2. How often should I water my cactus?

Cacti should only be watered when the soil is completely dry. This could be anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending on the climate and humidity levels in your home. During winter months, when cacti are dormant, they need even less water and can go longer periods without being watered.

3. Can I use regular potting soil to plant my cactus?

No, regular potting soil is too dense and retains too much moisture for cacti. It’s best to use a special cactus mix that contains sand, perlite, and other materials that promote drainage and prevent root rot.

4. How much sunlight do cacti need?

Cacti need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive. Place them in a south-facing window or outdoors in a sunny location. Be careful not to expose them to too much direct sunlight during the hottest parts of the day, as this can scorch their skin.

5. How often should I fertilize my cactus?

Cacti should be fertilized once a month during the growing season, which is typically spring and summer. Use a balanced fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. During the winter months, when cacti are dormant, they don’t need any fertilizer.

6. Can I propagate my cactus by cuttings?

Yes, many cacti can be propagated by cuttings. Allow the cutting to dry out for a few days before planting it in cactus mix. Keep the soil moist but not too wet until the cutting has established roots.

7. What should I do if my cactus is turning yellow?

If your cactus is turning yellow, it’s a sign of overwatering or root rot. Stop watering your cactus and allow the soil to dry out completely. If the problem persists, you may need to repot your cactus in fresh soil and prune away any damaged roots.

8. Can I keep my cactus outdoors year-round?

It depends on your climate. Many cacti are cold-hardy and can survive outdoors year-round in mild climates. However, if you live in an area with harsh winters, you’ll need to bring your cactus indoors during the colder months.

9. Should I prune my cactus?

Yes, you can prune your cactus to control its shape and size. Use sharp, clean scissors or shears to make clean cuts. Be careful not to remove too much of the cactus at once, as this can shock the plant.

10. How do I repot my cactus?

To repot your cactus, gently remove it from its current pot and shake off any excess soil. Inspect the roots and remove any dead or damaged ones. Place the cactus in a new pot with fresh cactus mix and water it lightly. Avoid watering your cactus for a few days to allow it to recover from the shock of being repotted.

11. Can I keep my cactus in a terrarium?

It’s not recommended to keep cacti in a terrarium, as the enclosed environment can trap moisture and lead to root rot. Cacti need plenty of air circulation and dry soil to thrive.

12. What should I do if my cactus is flowering?

If your cactus is flowering, congratulations! Continue to care for it as usual, and enjoy the beautiful blooms. Once the flowers have wilted, you can prune them away to encourage more growth.

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