Propagating plants is the process of growing new plants from seeds, cuttings, or pieces of other plants. Cacti and succulents are excellent candidates for propagation because they’re pretty hardy and many species regrow quite willingly from cuttings. Whether you want to grow a larger number of plants or create the beginnings of a new garden for a friend, there are a few ways you can go about propagating your cacti and succulents.
Cuttings are one of the simplest and cheapest ways to grow new succulents and cacti. Some species will root more easily than others but the majority of them can be propagated this way with very little difficulty. Taking a cutting can be as simple as twisting a leaf off an Echeveria succulent or slicing a pad from a prickly pear cactus. In the case of columnar cacti, you can slice off the top of a stem from one plant and regrow a new plant with the lopped off section.
When handling your plants and making your cuts, cleans hands and sterile tools are a must. Your plants are susceptible to infections just like human tissue. If you’re handling a cactus with spines it can be safer and easier to wear thick gloves to avoid any nasty pokes. For succulents, gently pull off healthy, mature leaves or use a sharp, sterile knife to take your cutting.
The leaves or stem pieces need to dry out and form a callus before being replanted. Lay the cuttings on some potting mix and place them in a warm area. They should not be watered until roots appear and if watered too soon they could rot. Once little roots start appearing you can pot them into fresh soil and give them a good watering. They should be treated gently for the first little while as they settle in. When new growth starts to appear you can place them in a bright area with plenty of sun.
Some propagation attempts may fail and the leaves may never grow roots. This is normal, so just be prepared for it and don’t be too disappointed if you can’t get a new plant out of every leaf. Trying with a few leaves at a time is usually a good idea to ensure a better chance of success.
Some species of succulents and cacti can make propagation really easy for you by producing their own pups, which are little plants that grow off the parent plant. When these grow to about about an inch in diameter and have started to develop a root system they can be removed from the parent plant. If your container has enough space they can be potted in the same pot as the parent or they can be repotted into a new pot of their own.
Whether potting into a new pot or leaving them with the parent it’s a good idea to give them some fresh soil and a generous amount of water. You may even want to give them a little encouragement with some fertilizer to help them grow bigger but make sure they are also getting plenty of sun. Succulents that grow too quickly without ample sunlight are likely to get leggy and grow into an elongated shape.
Like propagating with pups, division is another way to create a new garden from the natural growth of your original plant. For any species that grow in clusters and do not have a single stem, you can separate them at the root into as many plants as there are individual stems. The process isn’t usually too traumatic for the plant but you need to be gentle with the roots and not damage them too drastically.
To divide the plant at the root ball you’ll need to remove it from the pot and pull the stems and roots apart where you want the plant to be divided. If the roots are not coming apart easily you can submerge them in a tub of warm water to loosen the dirt and help you tug them apart more gently. If your plant was very rootbound or if the roots are just being overly stubborn it’s better to just cut through the root ball with a clean, sharp knife rather than yanking and tearing the roots, potentially causing too much damage for the plant to bear.
Once separated, put each divided section into its own pot with fresh soil and ample drainage. Give it a good watering and keep it out of direct sunlight or any cold drafts for the first few days. Your divided plants will need to be treated gently until they’ve completely settled in and have grown accustomed to their new surroundings.
Growing cacti and succulents from a seed can be very rewarding but it can sometimes take a little patience, depending on the species. Propagating with cuttings, pups, and division is almost always going to give you a plant that’s identical or very similar to the parent plant. With seeds, you can get plants with different variations and unique characteristics.
To start your seeds you’ll need a small, shallow pan no more than about 4 inches deep and 6 inches across. Fill this to about ½ inch below the rim with coarse, well draining potting soil or a potting mix designed specifically for cacti and succulents. Every species has different spacing preferences but this info will often come with the seeds you’ve purchased. Plant the seeds deep enough into the soil to just cover them and for very small seeds you can simply sprinkle a little soil over top just to keep them in place.
Cover you pans with glass or plastic to create a mini greenhouse and put them in a bright area but not direct sunlight. They need to be kept moist but not actually wet so mist them lightly every now and then, just enough to prevent the soil from drying out. Most cacti and succulents should take about 1-3 weeks to germinate but sometimes they can be pretty stubborn and take much longer. However, not all seeds are viable so if they haven’t germinated after a couple months it’s possible that they just aren’t going to.
Once the seedlings have sprouted you can remove the glass or plastic cover or prop it open just enough to give these little guys some air. Every species has their own ideal transplant time but typically they can be repotted into their new container when they’re about 2 inches in height and/or width. You may need to be patient because sometimes they need 6 months to a year before they’re ready to be transplanted. When placing them in their new pots be gentle, give them some water, and keep them out of direct sunlight for the first few days as they adjust to their new home.
Grafting is one of the most interesting ways to create new cacti and succulents because you might sometimes get a failed attempt or you may be rewarded with strange and unexpected results. The grafting method is typically used for a few different reasons. You may want to grow a delicate yet gorgeous plant and need a stronger root system to help it thrive. You might want to grow a bright and beautiful Moon Cactus that needs the chlorophyll from another species in order to feed itself. Or you may want to create interesting shapes and sizes using the characteristics of two different plants.
Grafting is done by taking two plants, one scion and one stock plant, cutting them at the stems, and securing them together with the vascular tissues of both plants touching. The idea is that the scion will grow into the stock plant and use it’s beneficial features, like a sturdy root system or the ability to produce chlorophyll, in order to survive and hopefully flourish.
To give your plants a better chance at a successful grafting you should always keep your hands, tools, and plant parts as sterile as possible. You can use lightweight rubber bands to keep the pieces secured together as tightly as possible. Using plants that are compatible, such as those within the same species, genus, or family, will provide a higher success rate. Grafting in the growing season will also typically give you better results. You’ll want to keep them out of direct sunlight so their cut sections don’t dry out too quickly but you also don’t want to water directly onto those areas or you could risk infection and disease.
Ultimately, it’s a bit of a trial and error process and your plants are going to decide if they want to accept the grafting or not. After the plants appear to have grafted together successfully you should leave the rubber bands on for a few more weeks, even up to a month. You want to be sure the pieces have firmly fused together before disturbing them. With any luck, you’ll be rewarded with a very unique new succulent or cactus.
Cacti and succulents are pretty easy to grow, whether it’s propagating new plants or just caring for them in general. They’re the perfect plant for novice gardeners or for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time to spend babying their indoor garden. They look incredible in large clusters, especially with a variety of different species, so don’t be shy about growing new plants and displaying them all together in one big gorgeous arrangement.