Cacti are easy to propagate
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