Guide on how to transplant cacti

Many people believe that caring for cacti requires minimal effort. In some ways, this is true. However, even with this seemingly low-maintenance plant, there are important considerations to keep in mind. When properly cared for, a cactus can live for many years, and successful transplanting plays a crucial role in its well-being.

Transplanting cacti has its own peculiarities. Unlike other indoor plants, cacti do not need to be transplanted annually. They have a slower growth rate, especially in their root system, which can be sensitive during transplanting. Older cacti, in particular, may find the process more challenging. For larger specimens, it may be more advisable to replace the top layer of soil instead of fully transplanting them.
Note: If a mature plant does require a pot change, it is recommended to opt for a method called transplanting, which minimizes root disturbance and reduces the stress of the transplanting process.

The process of transplanting cacti involves several steps:
  • Selecting a container: Choose a container based on the type of cactus and its root structure. Tall and deep pots are suitable for cacti with long taproots (desert varieties), while low and wide containers work well for cacti with shallow root systems (forest cacti) or cushion-shaped cacti.
  • Handling the tools and container: Ensure that your tools and the new container are clean and free from any contaminants. This helps prevent the spread of diseases or pests to the newly transplanted cactus.
  • Preparing the plant: Carefully remove the cactus from its current pot, gently loosening the roots if necessary. Inspect the roots for any signs of damage or rot, and trim them if needed.
  • Replanting: Place a layer of well-draining soil at the bottom of the new container and position the cactus, making sure it is centered. Fill the remaining space with the appropriate soil mixture for cacti, ensuring that the roots are covered but not excessively buried. Firmly press the soil around the base of the cactus to provide stability.
  • Supervision and care: After transplanting, allow the cactus to settle in its new environment. Avoid watering for a few days to allow any root damage to heal. Gradually reintroduce watering, taking care not to overwater. Provide adequate sunlight and monitor the plant for any signs of stress or disease.

Choosing a container for cacti

Selecting an appropriate container for your cactus is crucial, and it should be based on the type of root system your plant has. Cacti with long, rod-shaped rhizomes (such as desert varieties) thrive in taller and deeper pots. On the other hand, cacti with a shallow root system (like forest cacti) or cushion-shaped cacti prefer low and wide containers.
When determining the pot size for your cactus, prioritize the root system rather than focusing solely on the above-ground part. Even if your cactus has a large stem but small roots, avoid using an unnecessarily bulky pot.
The container should be well-suited to your plant, with the new pot being approximately 1 inch larger than the previous one. This ensures proper drainage and prevents overwatering, which can harm your cactus.

In terms of material, it is recommended to choose plastic pots over clay ones. Plastic pots offer several advantages, including:
  • Minimal evaporation through the walls;
  • Even development of roots, effectively intertwining with the soil;
  • Better heat retention;
  • Ease of handling and maintenance;
  • Lightweight construction.

Preparing and transplanting the cactus

To successfully transplant a healthy, mature cactus, it is advisable to do so as a preventive measure every three years. The optimal time for transplanting is a subject of debate among enthusiasts, but late winter or early spring is generally considered the best period. During this time, the cactus can adjust more easily due to the increasing daylight hours. However, in exceptional cases, transplanting can also be carried out in the fall or winter. It is important to avoid transplanting during the budding and flowering stages.

What do you need for cactus transplantation:
  • Pot;
  • Drainage and soil mix;
  • Scissors or a sharp knife (garden or office knife can suffice);
  • Hand protection such as gloves or foam rubber;
  • Narrow scoop or spoon for filling the soil.

Proper pot filling:

Start by placing a layer of drainage stones (such as expanded clay or gravel) at the bottom of the pot. This layer should account for approximately a quarter or a third of the pot's inner volume.
Next, add the soil mix. The soil mixture for cacti should be loose enough to ensure adequate air circulation and water drainage. You can find pre-made soil mixes specifically designed for cacti at most gardening stores. If you prefer to make your own, combine equal parts of leafy soil, grass sod (without the roots), coarse sand, and a small amount of peat.
Finally, place a layer of pebbles or decorative stones on top. This layer adds an extra touch and further aids in drainage.

How to transplant cacti

Transplanting small cacti is a relatively straightforward process:
  • Begin by removing the cactus from its container. If the pot is made of plastic, you can gently squeeze it to loosen the soil from the walls.
  • Once extracted, carefully remove the old soil from the roots. You can pick off any clumps by hand, but if that poses a risk of damaging the roots, soaking them in water can help. Afterward, ensure the cactus is left to air dry for a couple of days. Cleaning the roots allows you to assess their condition.
  • While the cactus is drying, prepare the new pot by adding some drainage material and soil to the bottom. Then, place the cactus in the pot, ensuring that the neck is about a centimeter below the pot's edge. Fill the remaining space with soil and optionally add pebbles or sand on top.
  • After transplanting, refrain from watering the cactus for a week.

For larger cacti, the procedure is more complex, and the risk of injury to the plant increases:
  • Place the pot with the plant on its side, taking care not to crush the spines or leaves. You can use foam rubber or a soft cloth as a protective layer.
  • Tap or gently lift the container with chopsticks to loosen it, and then carefully remove it without disturbing the cactus.
  • Proceed to free the roots. Some suggest that for mature cacti, it is acceptable to transplant them with a significant portion of the soil clump intact if there are no apparent issues or previous transplanting problems.
  • Position the plant in the new pot. If the cactus is large, it can be challenging, so it's helpful to have assistance or follow the method used for small cacti. Alternatively, partially fill the pot with drainage material and soil, tilt it, and carefully slide the cactus into place. Level out any soil slide, distribute the roots, and add more soil mixture as needed. Finally, place the pot in an upright position and fill it to the desired level.

In both cases, ensuring a smooth transplanting process and minimizing any harm to the cactus is crucial. By following these guidelines, you can give your cactus the best chance to thrive in its new pot.

Safety precautions

Given that cacti are known for their prickly nature, it's essential to take precautions to protect your hands from punctures. Fortunately, there are various tools and methods available to ensure your safety during cactus care. Consider using tweezers, foam rubber, multiple layers of fabric, or silicone kitchen mitts as protective measures. Additionally, specialized tongs designed for transplanting cacti are readily available for purchase. These tongs are equipped with bristles on the end, ensuring they won't damage the cactus. With their convenient handles, they also make the task easier and more efficient.

By following these essential tips and guidelines, you can confidently care for your cacti and enjoy their unique beauty for years to come. Remember that while cacti may seem low-maintenance, they still require proper attention and consideration. From understanding the peculiarities of transplanting to selecting the right containers and providing suitable care, you'll be well-equipped to create a thriving environment for your beloved cacti. So go ahead, embrace the charm of these resilient plants, and let them bring a touch of desert beauty into your home.