Your Go-To Guide for Transplanting Large Cactus Plants

Cacti make an ideal addition to any xeriscaped or drought-resistant garden. They’re attractive, easy to care for, and there are endless varieties to choose from to spice up your landscaping. 

When it comes to moving cacti around the garden, however, many homeowners are understandably apprehensive. Transplanting a mature cactus can pose not only a danger to the plant but also to yourself. Many species boast thick spines or thorns that can easily pierce the skin.

By taking proper precautions, you can safely rearrange your landscaping and move cacti wherever you need for a more dramatic look. Here, we’re going to go over how to transplant a large cactus in your garden and ensure that it thrives afterward.

The Best Time to Transplant

You can transplant a mature cactus at just about any time of year, especially if you live in a warmer climate. Large, mature cacti are more resistant to changes in temperature and irrigation, so they are more likely to survive a transplant than small or young cactus plants.

It’s best to avoid moving cacti when it’s too cold out. You should aim to move cacti when temperatures climb above 60°F. Anything colder may inhibit the growth of new roots, causing the plant to wither and die.

Before Moving Your Cactus

You may not want to transplant just any cactus around your yard. Those that are weak or sickly have a far lower chance of surviving a move than a healthy, hardy plant. 

It’s best to look for a cactus with no apparent signs of stress or disease, such as blemishes or abrasions. You should also avoid any cacti that show yellowing, which is a common sign of sun damage, or that look gnawed on by pests.

When you’ve chosen your plant, make sure to mark one side and note the orientation. When you move your cactus, it’s vital that the sun hits it in the same way as before. This can help you to avoid exposing more sensitive parts of the plant to UV rays, minimizing sunburn during the day.

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Before moving the plant, you may want to wrap it in an old blanket or pad the flesh to avoid getting pricked. Covering the cactus will also help to protect it from bruises and puncture wounds during transport. 

Choosing the right transplant site is just as important a consideration as picking the right cactus. Try to plant the cactus in an area of your yard that’s similar to its original home. Soil conditions, sun exposure, water levels, and temperature should all be near identical.

If the planting site is dramatically different from the original site, you may need to spend some time preparing the area. If necessary, add extra irrigation in dry spots and shading in areas with too much sun. If the soil is sandy, add around 25% compost. On the other hand, if it has too much clay, add pumice or perlite to help with drainage.

Steps to Transplanting Your Cactus

Once you’re ready to transplant your cactus, you can do so in just a few simple steps. If you’re working with a particularly large or heavy plant, you may need a few extra sets of hands to help you. You can also hire professional assistance to ensure that the entire transplanting process goes smoothly. This step-by-step guide will show you how to transplant a large cactus with or without help.

Dig a Trench

The first step before moving your cactus is to dig it out of its current position safely. You need to do this with minimal damage to the root system, which can be a challenge with mature or large plant specimens. Cacti tend to have fleshy, fragile roots, and so you have to be gentle during the transplanting process.

Dig a trench about one to two feet out from the plant to avoid cutting into the root system. Most cactus roots are close to the soil’s surface, so you don’t have to dig too deep. Usually, around 18 inches is enough to get under the cactus’s root ball.

Remove the Plant

Once you’ve dug your trench, gently pry up around the plant with a shovel to loosen it. You don’t need to get the cactus all the way loose. Instead, aim to separate the root system from the soil as much as possible without causing any damage.

When the plant is loose, you can safely pull it up out of the hole. It’s generally not a good idea to do this by hand, especially with large cactus varieties. Even thick leather gloves may not be enough to protect you from some species’ spines.

The best way to get the cactus out of the ground without damaging the plant or yourself is by using a hose for leverage. Wrap a thick garden hose just below the plant’s midsection, making sure it fits snugly without cutting into the plant base. If you’re working with a particularly heavy cactus, you may want to use two hoses and employ a partner’s help.

Use the hose (or hoses) to gently lift the cactus out of the ground. You can either lift it onto its side or place it directly into a cart or dolly for easy transport. Make sure to take care that the roots don’t get squished or damaged during this step.

Dry the Roots

After digging up a live cactus, you can’t move it immediately to its new location. You have to ensure that the roots are healthy and free from any pests or pathogens that might hamper growth.

It’s best to remove any damaged roots, as they can decompose and attract disease that may kill your plant. Allow the remaining healthy roots to air dry and scab over for two or more days. Doing this helps to prevent issues such as root rot later.

Plant Your Cactus

If you haven’t already prepared your transplant site, it’s good to do so while the roots are drying. You should dig a wide, shallow hole and make sure that the soil around the area has plenty of drainage.

Gently lift the cactus into the hole root first. Use your markings from before to ensure that you’re placing it in the right orientation. Once you’re done, backfill around the roots with healthy, loose soil and tamp down. If you have a cactus that’s more than five feet tall, you may want to consider staking.

After Moving Your Cactus

Even if you know how to transplant a large cactus flawlessly, there’s still aftercare to consider. Without proper TLC, a newly transplanted cactus can easily die. It’s a stressful process for any plant, and you need to keep a close eye on the situation for at least a month before returning to your regular care schedule.

Make sure to water your plant twice per week in warm weather for at least a month. However, if it’s below 60°F, avoid watering for at least four months so long as there’s precipitation. In sunny weather, cover the cactus for the first month or so until the plant is established. With the right care, you can safely move any large cactus to redecorate your garden.