How to Propagate and Grow Flowering Cactus/Cacti Plants

Updated on January 29, 2018
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Lady Rain works as a daytime stock trader and writes about crafts and hobbies. She likes travelling and making papercraft models.

Cactus plants are appealing not only to humans but also to pets and other wildlife. That's my beloved Birdie admiring the potted plants.
Cactus plants are appealing not only to humans but also to pets and other wildlife. That's my beloved Birdie admiring the potted plants. | Source

Cacti are popular plants that are grown in many countries. There are many collectors of cacti all over the world. These hardy plants can be grown indoors, outdoors, in greenhouses, and under glass. They are relatively easy to grow when conditions are right. People often say, "You can never kill a cactus plant," and that is true if the cultivation conditions are right. I have known people who had killed heaps of cactus plants despite all the tender loving care they gave looking after those plants. That also includes myself, even though I have successfully nurtured hundreds of cacti all my life. Sometimes, plants just succumb or give up when only one condition does not suit them.

Pots and Containers

Most cactus plants grow best in containers. Small plastic and ceramic pots are suitable for small plants. Shallow containers are suitable for large clumping plants which spread sideways. Plants with long taproots may prefer to be planted in long toms. Larger cacti require full-depth pots with good drainage. Larger containers take much longer to dry out between watering than smaller containers.

Echinopsis cactus bearing apricot colored flowers after three years of planting.
Echinopsis cactus bearing apricot colored flowers after three years of planting. | Source

Life is like a cactus: full of pricks but also very beautiful.

— Anon
Source

Click on the link in the table of contents below to go to the following topics.

Table of Contents

  1. Soil
  2. Watering
  3. Repotting
  4. Propagation Methods
  5. Basic Cactus Care Tips
  6. More on Gardening and Plants

Flower of the epiphytic cactus. The bloom normally opens at night and lasts 24 hours only.
Flower of the epiphytic cactus. The bloom normally opens at night and lasts 24 hours only. | Source

Soil

Cacti can be grown in peat-based composts and soil-based composts. Peat-based soils are suitable for epiphytic cacti like Epiphyllums and Schlumbergeras. Other cacti prefer soil-based composts which are mixed with coarse sand and gravel to produce a free-draining mix. As a rule of the thumb, cacti are likely to survive in well-drained soil than waterlogged medium.

Ground pumice and perlite are also used in soil-based composts. Slow-release fertilisers are added to the compost for the plants to absorb slowly for up to 18 months. Most cactus plants are happy to be planted in the same container for many years.

My Old Lady Cactus a.k.a Mammillaria Hahniana has a baby offset and carries a ring of small flowers around the top of her head.
My Old Lady Cactus a.k.a Mammillaria Hahniana has a baby offset and carries a ring of small flowers around the top of her head. | Source

Watering

Cactus plants are best left to almost dry out completely between waterings. Always remember that most cacti are found in natural desert environment where water is scarce and infrequent. It is still preferable to give a cactus plant less water than to overwater it.

However, the different conditions need to be considered when watering these plants. Plants in smaller pots should be watered more frequently as they tend to dry out faster than larger ones. Porous pots like terracotta tend to dry out more quickly than plastic or glazed pots. Plants grown in hot areas with low humidity dry out more quickly than plants grown in humid areas. Plants grown in cold countries do not need to be watered frequently in winter because the plants tend to go dormant in cold temperatures.

Gymnocalycium damsii with lovely dark pink flowers in early spring.
Gymnocalycium damsii with lovely dark pink flowers in early spring. | Source
A small species of rebutia cactus with yellow flowers.
A small species of rebutia cactus with yellow flowers. | Source

Light

Most plants, if not all, thrive when there is light. Cacti are no different from other plants. Eventhough they might go through a period of dormancy in winter, they still need light to survive and grow. Potted cacti do best when they are exposed to sunlight for several hours per day. Most plants are fine with direct sunlight but some do suffer sunburnt in extreme hot weather. Dark patches start to form on the surface of the areas exposed to the sun. Sometimes, the plants continue to survive with scars but other times, the damaged areas start to rot and kill the whole plant.

Cacti come in interesting shapes and sizes.
Cacti come in interesting shapes and sizes. | Source
Like most flowering cacti, the Peruvian Apple Cactus blooms only once a year. The flowers are good for twenty-four hours only and they wilt the next day. Many Peruvian Apple cactus plants can live for many years without producing a single bloom.
Like most flowering cacti, the Peruvian Apple Cactus blooms only once a year. The flowers are good for twenty-four hours only and they wilt the next day. Many Peruvian Apple cactus plants can live for many years without producing a single bloom. | Source

Repotting

Cacti grow very slowly and only need to be repotted every two to three years. When the plant has outgrown its container or the clumps look a bit overcrowded, it is time to repot to another bigger container. Remove some of the old soil and transfer your plant to a bigger pot with new potting medium. Sometimes, some of the stray roots can be trimmed off a little bit. The main root ball of the cactus should be left as it is. Watch out for spines when handling the plant. Use gloves and tongs when handling cacti plants.

A healthy collection of cactus and succulent plants.
A healthy collection of cactus and succulent plants. | Source

Propagation Methods

There are three ways to propagate cactus plants - seeds, cuttings and grafting.

  1. Seeds

    Cactus seeds are available from many specialist suppliers. To germinate cactus seeds, sow the seeds thinly on the surface of the cacti compost and then cover the seeds with a thin layer of grit. Remeber to label the containers if you are growing different varieties of cacti. The optimum temperature for seed germination is around 21°C. It is necessary to maintain a fairly humid atmosphere for the seeds to germinate. The best way is to cover the pots with plastic bags or sheets of glass. Once germinated, the seedlings can be exposed to more light and air but they have to be kept moist at all times.

  2. Cuttings

    Cacti propagate readily by cuttings. This method is easier than the above when propagating cacti plants. Use a sharp knife to cut a piece of the cactus for propagating. It is important to keep the cut surface of the cutting clean. The cutting also needs to be left in the shade for three to four days to allow a dry callous to form over the cut area. Once the callous has formed the cutting can be planted into moist well-drained soil. Rooting powder is not really necessary for propagating cuttings but it may be helpful. It may take several weeks or months before the roots appear. Do not water the newly planted cuttings until they start to form roots.

  3. Grafting

    Another way of propagating cacti is by grafting. This method is usually used on cacti species that are difficult to propagate or weak growing species. A vigorous rootstock is required for this grafting method. The cutting is placed on top of the rootstock and then secured with rubber bands. This grafted plant is then left in a warm place out of direct sunlight for several weeks. The rootstock helps to provide nutrients to the cutting that is attached on top and keeps it alive.

Echinopsis with a display of flower in spring.
Echinopsis with a display of flower in spring. | Source
Cacti grow well on a sunny window sill and will flower when the temperature and soil conditions are right.
Cacti grow well on a sunny window sill and will flower when the temperature and soil conditions are right. | Source

Basic Cactus Care Tips

Below are some quick and easy tips on how to look after a cactus plant. Follow the guidelines and you will be rewarded with blooming flowers from your cacti collection every year.

  1. Use a good quality cacti/succulent potting mix.
  2. Water the plant thoroughly when it is watering time.
  3. Do not overwater or allow plant to stand in water.
  4. Have sufficient sunlight for your plant.
  5. Place your plant in a well ventilated area.
  6. Let the soil dry up before the next watering.
  7. Feed with mild liquid fertiliser during growing season.
  8. Minimal or avoid watering when plant is dormant in winter.
  9. Pot up every 2-3 years depending on growth.

Insects are attracted to cactus flowers and these little critters also help to pollinate the flowers. Flowers that are pollinated will produce seeds that can be germinated later on.
Insects are attracted to cactus flowers and these little critters also help to pollinate the flowers. Flowers that are pollinated will produce seeds that can be germinated later on. | Source
Gymnocalycium horstii is a lovely and easy plant to care for.
Gymnocalycium horstii is a lovely and easy plant to care for. | Source

Thorny on the outside, soft on the inside.

It will take 30-40 years for a barrel cactus to grow to a diameter of one metre. These cacti do not flower until around 10 years old.
It will take 30-40 years for a barrel cactus to grow to a diameter of one metre. These cacti do not flower until around 10 years old. | Source

Questions & Answers

  • What is the best time to pollinate day flowering cactus?

    The best time to pollinate a cactus flower by hand is when the flower stigma is fully open to receive the pollens.

  • Should the spent cactus flowers be cut or left to dry?

    It is best to leave the spent flowers on the plant for several weeks. Most mature plants produce seeds that can be sown for seedlings.

  • Can rebutia grow in a hot tropical climate like Kolkata where temperatures can get up to 40 degrees centigrade and night temps can stay above 27 degrees day after day?

    Yes, rebutia can grow in a tropical climate, but it is best to protect the plant and put it in a shaded area during the day to prevent sunburns that will cause permanent damage to the plant.

© 2011 lady rain

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