Cacti, perhaps due to their reputation for being extremely hardy plants, sometimes receive less care than they really need. And it is true that they are very strong plants, but even they have weaknesses and problems that should be paid attention to. Many of these problems and many doubts come when transplanting one of these beautiful and resistant plants.
That is why, in Succulent Alley, we have decided to prepare this article, in which we will talk about transplanting cactuses at the right time, the right way.
When is the best time to transplant a cactus?
There are a number of reasons to transplant a cactus. The most common of them is because the plant has grown and the pot it has has become too small, something that will happen approximately every two to four years. We know that a cactus pot is too small when:
- The roots of the plant are visible through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
- The cactus crown has reached the edge of the pot, especially if it is a low and somewhat wide one.
In addition, it will also be necessary to transplant the cactus if you have just purchased it in a nursery or store, since it most likely does not carry a suitable substrate for cactus, or when we simply want to renew the plant’s soil. Likewise, a cactus can be transplanted when suckers appear and we want to separate them so they develop well.
In any of these cases, and regardless of the reason, it will always be much better to carry out the transplant in summer or a dry season, in which the small injuries that the plant may suffer will be much less likely to be problematic. In addition, it should be done whenever the soil is rather dry, not after having recently watered.
Transplanting Cactuses: Step-by-step Guide
Once the above is clear, if you think it is time to change your cactus pot, follow these steps to transplant a cactus correctly:
- The first thing is to loosen the soil from the pot in order to extract the cactus without causing damage. If it is a plastic pot, you can press the pot around its perimeter. If not, use a dull tool to run it around the inner edges of the pot, removing the soil at the edges.
- Before picking the cactus you should put on thick gardening gloves or leather to avoid damaging yourself with the thorns. Additionally, and making sure that the soil is dry, you can surround the cactus with several sheets of newspaper before lifting it up.
- The peat and soil must then be removed from the roots, cleaning them with the hands very carefully or with some water, always with very little pressure.
- Look for roots in poor condition to prune them with disinfected pruning shears. In the same way, if the roots suffer from fungi or pests, apply the cactus fungicide or pesticide.
- This step is optional. If you want to stimulate the growth of the cactus, you can prune its roots. If you do, it will be enough to cut the longest roots to half their size.
- The roots may have been damaged in extraction even if you haven’t pruned them. For this reason, let your cactus dry in the sun for up to 4 days before continuing or, apply a fungicide on them, either specific for cacti or a little cinnamon powder.
- Prepare the base of the pot with gravel or other drainage material and some cactus substrate, as can be seen in the pots in the cover image of this article.
- Then place the cactus in the center carefully and, without pressing it, again holding it with gloves and / or newspaper.
- It only remains to fill the pot completely hiding the roots, and you will have finished the transplant.
Transplanting Cactus Babies: Step-by-step Guide
The steps of starting another cactus from a shoot or sucker of the same plant are practically the same as when transplanting a cactus, although there are a few differences.
- Carefully remove the child cactus from the parent cactus. Sometimes the suckers fall or separate on their own. If not, you can separate them very carefully with the help of a fork. Normally, it is best to wait for it to have some somewhat long roots, as in the image below.
- Make a small hole with your finger, or with any fine tool, in the soil of the pot where you are going to plant it, and place the cactus in it, always with gloves or, if it is a very young child, with tweezers.
- Put soil around the new plant. If the cactus is too loose, you can compact it slightly with your own fingers or tweezers.
- Moisten the cactus soil with a few drops of water. This should not be done when transplanting adult cacti, and you should make sure it is after placing the pot in a dry area and where it receives sunlight, although not directly.
In this other Succulent Alley article we show you how to reproduce cacti by cuttings and suckers.
Apart from all the indications already mentioned, it should be remembered that cacti, especially some species, are especially sensitive to excess humidity. To prevent their roots from rotting due to accumulations of water, it is very important not to water them in the following weeks after transplanting (except in the case of transplanting cactus babies, which we recommend slightly moistening after moving them).
In addition, and also to avoid diseases or rot due to excess humidity, it is vital to prepare a suitable substrate for cacti. You can buy it in any store, or prepare it yourself with two parts of peat, two parts of earth, one part of silica or river sand and one part of volcanic rock. For the pot to offer good drainage, it helps a lot to place coarse gravel at the base of it, and another layer of the same or volcanic rock on the surface, on the ground.
Finally, we always recommend not placing a plate as a base under the drain of the pot and, if necessary, always remove the excess water after watering or place some legs or support on the pot so that it is raised above the plate and not above this.
10 Final Tips on Transplanting Cactuses
Tip 1: The best time to repot and transplant is from March to May
Every move to a new planter or to another location is a burden for cactuses. Immediately after the hibernation, the stress of moving is at the lowest level. For the hardy cactuses in the bed, of course, a transplant is possible when the soil is completely thawed.
Tip 2: A cactus is more uncomplicated to pot if the substrate is completely dry
The largely dry substrate also speaks for a transplant in spring. Even roots that have been established for years loosen themselves from the planter as well as from the garden bed soil.
Tip 3: Root hooks or chopsticks remove stubborn potting soil
A cactus grows faster in fresh substrate, the less the roots are hindered by old potting soil. A root hook from the tool case for bonsai cultivation or simply a Japanese chopstick serve as an aid. Experienced hobby gardeners should take a close look at the exposed root ball in order to cut out obviously sick or rotten root strands with sharp, disinfected scissors.
Tip 4: The ideal substrate consists of an organic-mineral mixture
A high-quality cactus soil offers the plant support, is easy to root and airy. If watering is done after a long hibernation, the substrate should hold water for some time without waterlogging. As a result, cactuses depend on a mixture that contains both organic and mineral components. The following combinations have proven their worth in practice:
- 60% commercial cactus soil + 20% lava granulate + 20% pumice balls
- 30% peat culture substrate + 30% ripe compost + 20% pumice + 20% lava granulate
The soil in the bed determines the extent to which aggregates are beneficial. In the first place, the soil should already be loamy-sandy and not too moist. Compacted soil is improved using quartz sand, perlite, pumice and peat. Enrich explicitly sandy soil with 3 to 4 year old compost, leaf soil, granulated cattle dung or loam. Potting soil from the supermarket is unsuitable for cactuses because its high humus content causes a risk of rot.
Tip 5: Sterilize the pot substrate in the oven or microwave before use
No matter how full-bodied the manufacturer’s promises are, they promise the sterile nature of a substrate. As long as there are organic components in it, it is still advisable to disinfect it yourself. How to do it:
- Put the substrate in a refractory bowl
- Put the lid on loosely
- Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius
- Disinfect in it for 30 minutes and let cool
Alternatively, place the vessel in the microwave at 800 watts for 10 minutes. Now you can be sure that there is no longer any pathogen in the substrate.
Tip 6: The pot diameter corresponds to a third of the height
Simply choosing the new planter a few centimeters larger by eye does not really meet the requirements of successful cactus care. You are on the safe side when you decide in favor of a pot with a diameter equal to a third of the height. If the cactus grows higher than 100 centimeters, the value drops to a quarter, but not less than a sixth.
The shape of the container also takes root growth into account. Shallow-rooters feel more comfortable in wide bowls, while taprooters are happy about a deep pot. Read our article on cactus root systems to find out what type of root your cactus have.
Tip 7: Drainage above the floor opening prevents waterlogging
While rain and irrigation water seeps away after a while in the properly tended garden soil, cactuses in the planter are threatened by waterlogging. If the excess moisture cannot drain off, the water collects in the root ball. The root strands are literally drowning and the cactus cannot be saved. You can effectively prevent this deficiency with the help of drainage. Spread coarse-grained, inorganic material such as crushed potsherds, pebbles or chippings over the bottom opening in the pot. To prevent the soil from getting stuck in between, insert an air and water permeable fleece between the drainage and the substrate.
Tip 8: Thick work gloves, several layers of newspaper or styrofoam sheets protect against the thorns
The longer the thorns on a cactus, the greater the gardener’s discomfort. If you are confronted with the glochidia on opuntia, protective measures are essential. These thorns have barbs that are very painful to remove from the skin.
Tip 9: Water cacti after repotting and transplanting only after a few days
To help the battered cactus to recover, water for the first time after a week at the earliest. Cactuses in the pot should spend this time in a partially shaded place. Shade those in the garden bed with an umbrella in sunny weather.
Tip 10: Smash up old clay pots and use them as material for drainage
Protection against waterlogging in the form of drainage layer above the drainage hole is not only useful for cactuses. Before you dispose of an old clay pot in the trash, make sure you can reuse it in this way. Even if the vessel is destroyed, cunning fungal spores, tiny insect eggs or lurking viruses could still be hidden in the pores or crumbs of earth. Careful hobby gardeners should therefore thoroughly clean the pot again before it is smashed.