How to Propagate Cacti and Succulents

How to Propagate Cacti and Succulents
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Propagating plants is the process of growing new plants from seeds, cuttings, or pieces of other plants. Learning how to propagate cacti and succulents is actually pretty easy. They are excellent candidates for propagation, because they’re hardy and many species regrow well from cuttings. If you want to create a new garden, there are a few ways you can propagate cacti and succulents.

How to Propagate Cacti and Succulents Using Cuttings

Using cuttings is one of the simplest ways to grow new succulents and cacti. Some species will root more easily than others, but most of them can be propagated this way easily. Taking a cutting is as simple as twisting a leaf off a succulent or slicing a pad from a cactus. For columnar cacti, simply slice off the top of a stem and grow a new plant with the cut section.

When handling your plants and making your cuts, clean 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’s 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. Alternatively, you can purchase a variety of succulent cuttings.

Planting the Leaves and Stems

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. Don’t water them until roots appear. 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, 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. You probably won’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.

Pups

Some species of succulents and cacti make propagation easy for you by producing their own pups. Pups are little plants that grow off the parent plant. When these grow to 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, you can pot them in the same pot as the parent. Alternatively, you can repot them into a new pot of their own.

Whether in a new pot or with the parent, give them some fresh soil and a generous amount of water. You may also want to give them a little encouragement with succulent fertilizer, to help them grow bigger. Also, make sure they are getting plenty of sun. Succulents that grow too quickly without ample sunlight are likely to grow into an elongated shape.

Division

Like propagating with pups, division is a way to create a new garden from the growth of your original plant. For any species that grow in clusters and don’t have a single stem, you can separate them at the root. And they can be separated into as many plants as there are individual stems. The process isn’t too traumatic for the plant, but be gentle with the roots and not damage them.

To divide the plant at the root ball, you’ll need to remove it from the pot. Pull the stems and roots apart where you want to divide the plant. If the roots are not coming apart easily, submerge them in a tub of warm water. This will loosen the dirt and help you tug them apart gently. If your plant is rootbound, or roots are being stubborn, cut through the root ball with a sharp garden knife. This is preferable to yanking and tearing the roots, potentially causing too much damage for the plant to bear.

Once separated, put each section into its own pot with fresh soil and ample drainage. Give it a good watering and keep it out of direct sunlight or cold drafts for the first few days. Treat your divided plants gently until they’ve completely settled in and are used to their new surroundings.

How to Propagate Cacti and Succulents with Seeds

Growing cacti and succulents from a seed can be rewarding, but it takes patience with some species. Propagating with cuttings, pups, and division will generally give you a plant identical or very similar to the parent plant. With succulent seeds, you can get plants with different variations and unique characteristics. 

Starting Your Seeds

To start your seeds, you’ll need a small, shallow pan, no more than 4 inches deep and 6 inches across. Fill this to about ½ inch below the rim with a potting mix designed 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. For very small seeds, you can simply sprinkle a little soil over top just to keep them in place.

Cover your pans with glass or plastic to create a mini greenhouse. Put them in a bright area, but not in direct sunlight. They need to be kept moist but not actually wet. Mist them lightly every now and then, just enough to prevent the soil from drying out. Most cacti and succulents take about 1-3 weeks to germinate, but sometimes they can be stubborn and take much longer. However, not all seeds are viable. If they haven’t germinated after a couple months it’s likely they aren’t going to.

Repot the Grown Plants

Once the seedlings have sprouted, remove the cover, or prop it open, to give the plants some air. Every species has its own ideal transplant time. You can repot most into a new succulent container when they’re about 2 inches in height or width. You may need to be patient. Sometimes they need 6 months to a year before they’re ready to be transplanted. Be gentle when placing the plants in their new pots. Give them some water and keep them out of direct sunlight for the first few days in their new home.

Grafting

Grafting is one of the most interesting ways to create new cacti and succulents. 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 beautiful Moon Cactus that needs the chlorophyll from another species 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, and cutting them at the stems. They are then secured together with the vascular tissues of both plants touching. The idea is that the scion will grow into the stock plant. It will then use its beneficial features (sturdy root system or ability to produce chlorophyll) to survive and hopefully flourish.

Keep it Clean

To give your plants a better chance at a successful grafting, always keep your hands, tools, and plant parts clean. You can use lightweight rubber bands to keep the pieces secured together as tightly as possible. Using plants that are compatible, like those within the same species, genus, or family, will yield a higher success rate. Grafting in the growing season will also typically give you better results. Keep them out of direct sunlight so their cut sections don’t dry out too quickly. But don’t water directly onto those areas, or you could risk infection and disease.

Ultimately, it’s a trial and error process. Your plants will decide if they want to accept the grafting or not. After the plants appear to have grafted together successfully, leave the rubber bands on for a few more weeks. Be sure the pieces have firmly fused together before disturbing them. With any luck, you’ll be rewarded with a unique new succulent or cactus.

How to Propagate Cacti and Succulents - The Wrap-up

It’s easy to grow cacti and succulents, whether it’s propagating new plants or just caring for them in general. And learning how to propagate cacti and succulents is rewarding. They’re perfect plants for novice gardeners or anyone who doesn’t have 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.

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