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Full Guide on Cactus Propagation From Pups, Seeds, Cuttings

Cacti are amazing plants and most of them grow slowly and are long-living. However, many cactus hobbyists come to the point when they want to start propagating their cacti. It can be either to expand the cactus collection, start growing fresh cactus due to a disease, or just to share it with friends and family. In this post, we will give you the full guide on cactus propagation from seeds, stem and leaf cuttings, offsets and share tips. You will be able to learn new secrets on how to successfully propagate a cactus.

Propagating cacti by dividing offsets – the easiest way

Propagating cacti by diving the offsets is a vegetative form of propagation. Vegetative propagation means that a parent cactus produces an offset asexually, and it doesn’t include transferring of seeds.

A parent plant produces an identical offset, which is usually a small clump, that you can divide and grow a new cactus. This way of propagation is the easiest way to propagate cacti.

Most of the time, it’s very easy to divide an offset and it will grow its roots and settle rather quickly and often successfully. Many small offsets already have small roots when you separate them from a mother plant.

Note the offsets on the sides

While many cacti can produce offsets, not all species can. If all cacti could propagate with offsets, it would be very easy to propagate them without the need to use seeds. Some cacti can produce offsets, but it’s not recommended that you separate them because the plant is too small and delicate. These cacti grow and look better with small offsets.

You shouldn’t divide/cut offset from the following cacti:
  • Lobivia silvestrii, or peanut cactus
  • small (note that you can cut offsets for big species) Gymnocalycium species
  • Tephrocactus
  • larger, shrub cacti in the genus of Echinocereus, such as Echinocereus engelmannii
  • miniature Rebutia cacti

This is Rebutia heliosa – one of the plants that you avoid propagating with offsets

Generally, it is better to propagate these cacti in other ways as it can interfere with growth and integrity of the cactus.

You can propagate cacti from offsets with these cacti:
  • Cacti that you want to propagate with offsets should be large, round and clump producing. The main parent cactus should be large and offsets should be at least size of a small ball. These are cacti that grow ‘separately’ and pups on them don’t look aesthetically pleasing.
  • For example, large Echinopsis eyriesii or most Mammillaria are completely suitable. Many other species are also suitable. If you are unsure, please check our separate care sheets.
Cacti that don’t produce offsets/pups:

Many cacti naturally don’t produce offsets, or pups. These are, for example:

  • large barrel shaped cacti such as those in genus of Ferocactus.
  • Others include cacti in genus of Astrophytum,
  • Parodia,
  • Chin cacti and many others.

These cacti don’t normally produce offsets. However, they are still capable to produce offsets to save themselves, in case of wounds, damages to root system, frostbite etc. This is how some people propagate rare cacti. But in general, most cacti produce offsets and it’s not hard to separate them for new growth.

How to propagate cacti using offsets/pups:
  • Cut the offsets from the main parent plant in late spring or summer.
  • The offset should at least 1.5-2 inches long. Offsets that are higher on the parent cactus tend to be healthier and stronger.
  • To remove the pup/offset from the parent plant, you will need to either disconnect it with a hand, or use a knife.
  • Remove the soil from top of the offset to see the connection point between a parent plant and a pup.
  • Disconnecting the offset manually might be easier – just take a pup, twist it around and break it gently until it comes off.
  • If it doesn’t work, you can use a knife. Disinfect a knife (with boiling water or alcohol) and cut it at the connection point.
  • If there is any of the parent plant on the pup, cut it off with a sterile knife. Otherwise, it will rot and affect the pup.
  • After this, you will need to dry your pup for around 3 days before planting it. The best way to dry the pup is to place it vertically in an empty container with drainage holes. Drying the offset will make sure that any wounds heal before planting, which otherwise will cause rot in the soil.
  • Some cacti offsets will naturally have roots when you separate them from a parent plant (most Echinopsis cacti, for example).
  • If a cactus pup doesn’t have roots, you can place it in a dry soil with some gravel for few days and up to a week before it grows some. Or you can alternatively place your cactus in a pot with sand, some ground charcoal and perlite for it to grow roots. Skip this step with offsets that have small roots.
  • Prepare the container and the soil for your new cactus. Don’t forget to use correct containers and drainage before adding soil. Read about making cactus soil and choosing right container here.
  • Place a pup in the soil, and don’t push it inside the soil too much. Only 1/4 of the stem should be under the soil.
  • Some parent cacti produce very small pups deep under the stem. These pups will be often small and get less light. In order to separate these pups, dry them for few days, and plant them. And then, leave them in a shade for days, before gradually moving to a lighter spot.
  • Don’t water the cactus straight after planting! Wait for 5-7 days before watering. This way you will minimize any chances of rotting and infections.

This pup/offset already has a root

That is pretty much it on how to divide and grow cacti from offsets. This is the easiest way to propagate cacti, and you shouldn’t have many issues if your decide to do it in late spring/summer. Make sure to dry pups before planting.

Propagating cacti with stem and leaf cuttings – the second best way

Propagating cacti with stem and leaf cuttings is the second best way to propagate cacti. This form of propagation is also vegetative, simply by division. Propagation with cuttings is similar to the method using pups/offsets. This way of propagation is very useful when a cactus is getting too big and unappealing, or if for example, is starting to rot. Stem/leaf cuttings can also be a good way to share your cactus with friends or family.

  • Take cuttings in summer or spring, around 7 days after watering your cactus.
  • The first step is to choose healthy parts of the cactus that are not dry or infected.
  • Disinfect a knife or a blade with rubbing alcohol like this, to minimize any chances of infection.
  • Cut the leaf or stem part across the connecting point with a knife.
  • You can skip using a knife to take a cutting, if comes off loosely from the cactus. Pull a leaf gently from side to side and try to take it out with a base.

This is a cactus in genus Epiphyllum – leaf cutting

  • To prevent infection of the plant and the cutting, apply some horticultural charcoal like this on the base of the cutting and on a cut section of a cactus. You can even cover your cactus with a cloth or paper to prevent drying of the cut section.
  • A very important thing now is to ‘sharpen’ the end of the cutting base with a knife. Use a disinfected knife and cut the edges of the base on the cutting. Sharpen the edge same as you would with a pencil, with slow slicing motions on the base of the cutting. This is important, because when the cutting will be left for drying, its roots will retract and pull in inside the skin at the cut point. And even though cutting that wasn’t sharpened will grow quicker, its roots will be growing from one side and will be too weak to hold the plant’s stem for a long period. That’s because there will be no root growth from the central part of the plant.
  • But if you sharpen the edge of the cutting, this will cause roots to start growing from the central part of the plant, creating a stronger root system for a long term success.

You need to ‘sharpen’ the base of a cuttings, just like a pencil

  • Leave the cutting to dry. This will help them to grow better once your pot them. Dry small cuttings for 5-7 days, and thick/large ones for 10-14 days, in a vertical position only. Hang it or place it upwards in an empty container. If you lay your cutting on a table (horizontally), it will start growing small roots on that side on the cutting, causing the irreversible damage. This cutting won’t be suitable for potting as it will have the roots coming out of the side, and not the base. So, dry them vertically only. If you have a flat cutting, you can place it on few rocks on top of the pot.

Sign of a successful propagation – new growing segment

  • If you see that the base is getting covered with callus (dried wound) or after general drying period, place it in the temporary substrate so that it can start growing roots. Temporary substrate should mainly consist of sand, and then some charcoal and peat.

One of the ways to grow cuttings. The top white layer is sand and charcoal, then goes soil and then drainage level.

  • After two weeks or so, roots should appear. This is when you can repot a cactus into a normal substrate, such as this cactus and succulent mix. You can also read more on making cactus soil here.

If any part of a cactus is rotting or is infected, you can cut the healthy top part and grow a new cactus. This will be a stem cutting to save a dying cactus. Cut with a sterilized knife and sharpen the edges of the cutting as we discussed above.

Propagating cactus with seeds

You can also grow a cactus from a seed, but the success rate here is lower and it will take much longer for the plant to grow. Sowing cacti seeds is a good way to grow rare species of cacti that don’t produce pups, or ones that you can’t find for sale.

If you successfully grow cacti from seeds – they will be strong and healthy, because they will get used to your environment and climate from day 1. But don’t raise cacti from seeds if you want quick results – it will take many years for your cacti to reach mature size, if at all. Young cactus won’t bloom for few years as well – most will take 1-3 years before they reach maturity and can flower.

Some cacti are able to produce seeds without cross-pollination (which means by themselves). These are most Rebutia species, some Echinocacti, Mammilaria and Cereus cacti.

But some cacti can also be pollinated with their pollen, by shaking own stamen to get some pollen onto the pestle. Some cacti might not be receptive to pollen and won’t produce seeds, and this is especially true with cacti that have been grown from the same plant (cuttings for example).

Zygocacti, for example, don’t produce seeds easily. You can also get seeds from cactus fruits. Cacti seeds are small, often black and dust like.

There are some important rules for growing cacti from seeds:
  • Sow cacti seeds in early spring.
  • When you start working with seeds, make sure you place a white cloth or tissue on the table. This is because seeds are very small and will get lost if you can’t see them.
  • The most popular way to get seeds is to buy them. But you can also collect them from fruits (for example dragon fruits).
How to sow cacti seeds. Step by step instructions:
  • Choose a seedling container, (or trays without holes), drainage holes are not too important as they will need high humidity. Or you can buy a germination kit like this– because you will need to heat the seeds. Germination kit comes with a tray, heating mat and a dome. If you are using your own containers, you will need to create a heating container. Trays are good because they will help divide different types of cacti that you are growing (if you are not using a mix of seeds). Also, if any seedling becomes infected, it won’t affect others because it’s separated.
  • Fill the bottom of the pot with gravel and charcoal up to 1 inch high – this will be a drainage level. On top, add small gravel and coarse sand.
  • Add the compost next. Compost should consist of coarse sand, ground charcoal, and cactus compost, in 1:1:1 proportions. On top of the compost you can add more small rocks/gravel. Don’t use just the compost by itself, because seedlings don’t need a rich substrate at this point.
  • Divide the surface of compost into equal portions, so that seeds have space.
  • If you are using a mix of seeds from the pack, then you won’t know what exact species you are growing. But if you are sowing specific species, then you need to make a label and insert it in a pot, so you know which seeds are what cacti.
  • Tap your finger on the compost and use a small toothpick or tweezers to pick up seeds and insert them in the spaces that you have made. Don’t cover the seeds as they will suffocate.
  • Spray some water on the seeds.
  • Now, you will need to heat the pots for the germination to be successful. You will need temperatures of around 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and no lower than 70 at night. Humidity should be rather high and the compost should not be too dry or too wet.
  • Heating the pots (or trays) will be easy with a germination kit, which is essentially a mini-greenhouse. But if you can’t afford one, use your own pots or tray, insert them in a container or a plastic Ziploc bag and provide heat with a heating pad or other heating source.
  • Check on the germination container once-twice a day – if there is any condensation, remove the lid for an air exchange. Spray little water on compost once a day.
  • Keep the germination container out of direct sunlight. You should notice seedlings after around 1-8 weeks, and it will differ. Fresh seeds will grow quicker. At this point, you can remove them from the germination container/kit. At this point, your seedlings will need indirect sunlight, otherwise they won’t grow.
  • Indirect light is very important from day one of sowing, but it is especially important when your seedlings start growing through the spring and summer. This is when they really need indirect light. Please remember that direct light is likely to kill them. Place them on shelves or in the office – that should be fine. But you can also use artificial lighting – you can get low wattage compact fluorescent or daylight bulb and attach close to the seedlings (few inches), for 10 hours a day. Otherwise, seedlings will start ‘stretching’ and leaning.
  • Repot cacti to new containers that have drainage holes around 1-2 months after sowing. But this will depend – do this when seedling has two lobes and some spines. This time, use normal cactus soil mix.

One month after sowing

To prevent any mold/algae/pest formation on the seedlings, disinfect all compost ingredients by either microwaving/oven baking them (read more on disinfecting soil here). Clean the containers thoroughly, too (boiling water, bleach etc.).

If you notice any white mold or even green/bluish algae growth on the soil, act immediately. Use a toothpick or something thin and remove the top part of the soil.

After this, add more sand and charcoal mixed together on top. This will prevent future growth of mold and will help keep the soil clean and fresh. If any seedlings are affected, remove them immediately and get rid of them.

Cactus Propagation: How To Propagate Cactus Plants and Cactus Pups

Many people start out with cactus as a gift plant and don’t think much about cactus propagation.

However, when they see how easy it is to care for these interesting plants, they quickly become collectors. Soon the “How to propagate cactus” or “How do I start new plants” question gets asked.

It’s easy to grow cactus from grafts, seeds or cuttings if you know how.

The propagation method of cactus you choose depends on the type of cactus you are dealing with. Each type has its own special quirks.

In this article, we provide guidelines to help you choose your cactus propagation method and share advice for propagating cactus. Read on to learn more.

Cactus Propagation: How To Graft Cactus?

There are three ways to graft cactus propagate.

The Flat Graft:

If you are grafting round or globular cactus (also the Desert Rose plants), they should be melded face-to-face. This sort of graft is often called a flat graft.

To do this, you would use two globular cacti of the same size. Use a very sharp, clean blade to cut them in such a way that each has a flat surface.

The surfaces should be exactly the same size in order to fit together perfectly, face-to-face. Grafted moon cactus (moon cactus babies) is a good example.

You must fit them together immediately. Don’t allow them to dry out at all. Secure them together with a strong rubber band.

The Side Graft:

For this type of grafting the cuts are at an angle. This is a good way to graft cylindrical cacti.

Follow the same instructions for flat grafting to carry out this operation.

Cleft Grafting:

If you are trying to graft a hanging cactus onto a sturdy base or parent plant, you must insert the stem of the grafted cactus into the base.

Make a V-shaped cut or cleft in the base and create a matching cut in the grafted plant.

Fit them together carefully. This process will encourage the grafted, trailing plant to grow in a more upright manner.

Cactus grafting techniques. You can easily do it yourself!

Grafting is a very interesting way to propagate cactus and other plants. It is also very challenging.

Nonetheless, it’s a good choice for cactus that may have a hard time surviving on their own immature roots.

Grafting is a good choice for the types of cactus that do not produce pups or offsets. [source]

Grafting can also give a more attractive appearance to some forms of cactus.

For example, those growing from hanging stems can take on a more upright new growth habit when properly matched and grafted with another type of cactus.

You can graft a trailing cactus onto a more chunky type to create a very interesting visual appeal.

The main idea of grafting is that the selected base or mother plant are grafted to grow simultaneously. This produces a “chimera” effect as the tissues of both plants meld.

For best results, always undertake grafting cactus during both plants’ growing season when both plants are active. Grafting during the dormant season is sure to fail.

Both plants used in grafting must be healthy and strong.

For the base stock, Myrtillocactus and Hylocereus are good choices as they are robust and easy to grow.

The base and the grafted stock should be about the same size.

Propagating Cactus Cuttings?

To grow cactus and succulents like Echeveria plants from cuttings is by far the easiest and most popular method of cactus propagation. Take cuttings from any sort of cactus to quickly and easily expand your collection.

This includes cactus pups, cactus pads (like the prickly pear cactus plant) and offsets.

You can get cuttings from friends and fellow enthusiasts. Sometimes you can just pick up cuttings from the floor of nurseries or home centers or along the walkway when out for a stroll.

If your favorite cactus has succumbed to root rot or pest infestation, you can collect viable cuttings, toss out the dead cactus and start over again.

Just as with grafting, you should start cuttings during the growing season.

April through June are the best months as cactus are waking up from winter and getting ready to put on new growth.

What Are The Best Types Of Cactus To Grow From Cuttings?

Opuntia cactus are some of the best candidates. They produce pads or stems that are easy to cut and easy to start.

Cactus that grow in clusters with lots of baby plants (offsets) are also good candidates. Some fine choices include Mammillaria cactus species, Rebutia cacti, and Echinopsis species.

If you want to try your hand at growing tall column cactus from cuttings, you would cut off the top of the parent plant and use it as your start.

How To Prepare The Cactus Cutting?

Unlike grafting, you can start cactus and succulent plants from cuttings that have dried well before being planted. Do not plant cuttings in soil right away.

Instead, allow the cactus cutting or succulent leaves to dry out a little bit before introducing it to potting medium.

If you pot the cactus cutting or pad too soon, its watery sap is likely to become contaminated with bacteria.

Wait until the surface of the cactus is dry (three or four days not weeks). You shouldn’t leave it so long that it begins to shrivel as this may mean the cutting has died.

What Kind Of Soil Should You Use For Cuttings?

A commercially prepared cactus potting mix is a good choice. You can make your own that will hold just the right amount of moisture along with other ingredients will allow for good drainage.

Tips For Success:

Dampen the soil thoroughly, but don’t get it too soggy. Very wet soil encourages fungal growth. Before introducing a cacti cutting to the soil, dip them in hormone rooting powder that contains fungicide.