Go mul­ti­ply

Cacti are easy to prop­a­gate

The Guardian - Weekend - - Gardens -

This sum­mer has been kind to cacti and they’ve re­sponded with new growth. My bunny ears cac­tus, Opun­tia mi­cro­dasys (pic­tured left and cen­tre), put out three new pads in a mat­ter of weeks. That is un­til I de­cided to clean the win­dow be­hind it and with one slightly clumsy move all three new pads were stuck to the clean­ing cloth in­stead.

Not such a mishap, though, as cacti are sur­pris­ingly easy things to prop­a­gate. The best time to take cut­tings is sum­mer, but I’ve had good re­sults as late as now, and if life gives you un­ex­pected bunny ears to prop­a­gate, or the bot­tom of your cac­tus starts to rot, then emer­gency cut­tings are the best way to res­cue the plant.

With prickly pear, bunny ears or any cac­tus with seg­ments, you just have to re­move a seg­ment to cre­ate a new plant. These are some of the eas­i­est to prop­a­gate: us­ing ei­ther kitchen tongs or wear­ing thick gloves (never as­sume any cac­tus spine is go­ing to be kind, how­ever small) gen­tly pick off a sec­tion. If you have a mound-form­ing cac­tus, a mam­mil­laria (pic­tured bot­tom) or echinop­sis say, then you can cut off or di­vide an in­di­vid­ual head at soil level. Make a straight, clean cut with a sharp knife. If it’s a colum­nar cac­tus, slice off a good sec­tion of the head. This is the same trick for rot­ting bases, slice off the healthy part to save and dis­card the rest.

On a saucer lie the cut­ting care­fully on its side. The ex­posed flesh needs to cal­lus over be­fore it can root, and this hap­pens when it is ex­posed to air. This can take a day with a small spec­i­men, but up to a week for a larger sur­face area.

Once a hard cal­lus has formed you can put it into a small pot. Cacti need very free-drain­ing con­di­tions to root into.

As we are go­ing into the dor­mant pe­riod of growth, I sug­gest five-part grit and hor­ti­cul­tural sand to one-part com­post. You can test the mix­ture by run­ning wa­ter through the pot to en­sure it drains quickly.

Pads or seg­ments can ei­ther sit on the soil or be placed up­right. Erect cacti should re­main up­right in the pot. Wa­ter im­me­di­ately af­ter plant­ing and again when the soil is com­pletely dry; in win­ter this may mean wa­ter­ing just once, till spring. Leave the plant some­where bright, but not in di­rect sun­light.

In sum­mer, cut­tings can take in 24 hours; in win­ter it can take as long as three or four months. You can tell if the cut­ting is root­ing be­cause ei­ther roots will ap­pear through the drainage holes or the cut­ting will feel firm in the pot. And in spring new spines will ap­pear

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