cactus collection, cactus and succulents cactus and succulents

Propagation of Cacti & Succulents

Many cacti and succulents are easily propagated. There are many possible methods of propagation and we will delve into them below.

Jump to the method that interests you:

Succulents by Seed     Succulents by Cuttings

Succulents by Leaves     

Succulents by Tissue Culture    

Cacti by Seed      Cacti by Cuttings

Cacti by Tissue Culture

Grafting

Propagation of Succulents by Seed:
Some succulents, such as Kalanchoe longiflora, and Kalanchoe blossfeldiana are self-fertile (not needing another plant to produce seed). The swollen area that forms at the base of the flower after flowering is called the "fruit" and contains the seed. Other succulents can be cross-pollinated (requiring 2 plants, and where the pollen of one plant is used to pollinate another flower on another flower (known as "cross-pollination"). Usually this is accomplished by bees or other insects, but a curious owner can purchase a small sable hair paint brush and try his or her hand at producing seed to create new plants! For many succulents, the seed is a minute cinnamon-colored "dust". Germination of the seed requires a sterile, fine particle soil mix, heat (approximately 75 to 80°F), reduced light and maintenance of even moisture without being soggy ~ in other words, somewhat analogous to an incubator. A pot is prepared with the fine particle soil mix and is watered thoroughly. The succulent seed is then dispersed on top of the soil, allowing spaces between the seed so that the seedling will have room to grow. (Succulent seedlings are tiny at first, usually less than an 1/8" of an inch in diameter, and, depending upon the species, remain that small for months). The seed is then covered very lightly with a fine particle "top dressing" (such as the same soil but sifted). The seed pan should be watered daily with a very fine mist, making sure that only the top surface is allowed to dry somewhat in 24 hour intervals. Seed should begin to germinate within two weeks, but will appear as tiny bright green dots. As the seedlings approach 6 weeks of age, they can be gradually "weaned" from the water. At this time, the seedlings can be watered every other day except in very hot weather. Depending upon the variety, the seedlings can be "pricked" out at 6 months to a year of age and put in small pots.

Propagation of Succulents by Cuttings:

Use a sharp, sterile knife to prevent tissue damage to the plant, but be careful not to damage your own tissue!

For succulents, it is best to cut the stem to create a cutting that is 2"-3" in height (very small cuttings can often desiccate before rooting).

Allow the cutting to callous for several days to a week (depending upon ambient climate). During this time, a "callus" will form at the cut area. This "callus" is very analogous to the scab that the human body produces for cuts and scrapes. This "callus" or scab provides a two-fold barrier to protect the plant or animal. Fluid cannot leak out (which could lead to desiccation) and bacteria and fungus cannot enter (which could lead to serious disease). After the callus has formed, plant the cutting in a soil mix with extra perlite. The extra perlite will allow the aeration necessary to enable production of healthy roots. Sometimes, if you wait a bit too long before planting your cutting, it may produce "aerial" roots, which are actually capable of absorbing water! This is merely the plant letting you know that it is time to plant it!

 

Propagation of Succulents by Leaves:

Another way to propagate some succulents is by leaf cuttings. This procedure will not work for all succulents, but will be very successful with many. It is necessary to very carefully detach a leaf from the stem, making sure the leaf is detached very cleanly, and not torn away. The leaf should be placed in a cool, shady place for several weeks to a month until a tiny "plantlet" begins to form at the base of the leaf. The leaf can then be carefully planted in a porous soil, and should not be allowed to dry completely while the roots form. This may take a few weeks. When the leaf feels "anchored" into the soil, and the "plantlet" begins to grow, the plant can gradually be given normal watering.

There are some plants in the Kalanchoe family that have a fascinating strategy whereby they produce their own "plantlets". Kalanchoe tubiflora, Kalanchoe delagoense, Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi and others produce "plantlets" along the margins of their leaves. When these "plantlets" grow a bit heavy, they begin detaching from the leaves and fall to the ground whereupon they root and produce new plants!

 

Propagation of Succulents by Tissue Culture:

This method is only for those with access to a laboratory, but it is a method of producing many plants fairly rapidly from the cells of just one plant. In this process, cells are isolated from plant tissue. Research is done to determine what percentages of various hormones and nutritive elements are required by that particular type of plant. The cells are then placed on agar in petri dishes, and are "transfused" with the hormone and nutrition liquids. The environment must be extremely sanitary and must be kept at a constant humidity and warm temperature (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit). The single cells begin to divide, and produce more cells which become "specialized" to perform various functions, leading to the formation of a new, complete, fully functioning plant from a single cell. Tissue culture propagation is very akin to "cloning".

Propagation of Cacti by Seed:

Cacti can be propagated by seed. Some are self-fertile (not needing another plant to produce seed). The swollen area at the base of the flower after flowering is known as the "fruit" and contains the seed. Other cacti can be cross-pollinated (requiring 2 plants, and where the pollen of one plant is used to pollinate another flower on another flower (known as "cross-pollination"). Usually this is accomplished by bees or other insects, but a curious owner can purchase a small sable hair paint brush and try his or her hand at producing seed to create new plants! The seed of cacti differs greatly; some have seed that is so small that one thousand seeds fill a thimble and others, such as the Pachycereus pringlei, have seed that require a sandwich-sized baggie for 10,000 seeds. Germination of the seed requires a sterile, fine particle soil mix, heat (approximately 75 to 80°F), reduced light and maintenance of even moisture without being soggy ~ in other words, somewhat analogous to an incubator. A pot or flat is prepared with the fine particle soil mix and is watered thoroughly. The cactus seed is then dispersed on top of the soil, allowing spaces between the seed so that the seedling will have room to grow. (Cacti seedlings are tiny at first, usually less than an 1/8" of an inch in diameter, and, depending upon the species, remain that small for months). The seed is then covered very lightly with a fine particle "top dressing" (such as the same soil but sifted). The seed pan should be watered daily with a very fine mist, making sure that only the top surface is allowed to dry somewhat in 24 hour intervals. Seed should begin to germinate within two weeks, but will appear as tiny bright green dots. As the seedlings approach 6 weeks of age, they can be gradually "weaned" from the water. At this time, the seedlings can be watered every other day except in very hot weather. Depending upon the variety, the seedlings can be "pricked" out at 6 months to a year of age and put in small pots.

 

Propagation of Cacti by Cuttings:

Cacti can be a bit more problematic as they can be more susceptible to various bacteria and fungi. Some cactus, such a Chamaecereus species and hybrids (commonly known as "Peanut Cactus"), are easily propagated as the joints of these plants detach very readily, leaving very small "open" or susceptible areas. Other examples of cacti that are rather easy to propagate are the Lobivias and Echinopsis, which also have offsets or "pups" that can be easily detached, and Opuntias, which have "ears" or segments that are easily detached. Other cacti, which do not have natural "detachment points", such as a Cereus or other columnars, will require a larger cut with a knife, thereby leaving a larger area susceptible to bacteria and fungi. It is advisable to allow any larger cut, depending upon the girth of the cut, more time to "callous" and form the callus tissue that is similar to a "scab". A week to 10 days should be sufficient. A further preventative measure requires dipping the newly cut cutting in a rooting hormone powder (available at garden centers). These rooting hormones often contain a fungicide which will help to prevent rot. After time necessary to "callous" has elapsed, plant the cutting in a porous soil mix and water lightly in about a week. Water occasionally until signs that the plant has begun to root are apparent ( such as roots at the base or some new growth at the tip. After the plant has rooted, regular watering can be resumed.

 

Propagation of Cacti by Tissue Culture:

Cacti can also be propagated successfully by tissue culture. This method is only for those with access to a laboratory, but it is a method of producing many plants fairly rapidly from the cells of just one plant. In this process, cells are isolated from plant tissue. Research is done to determine what percentages of various hormones and nutritive elements are required by that particular type of plant. The cells are then placed on agar in petri dishes, and are "transfused" with the hormone and nutrition liquids. The environment must be extremely sanitary and must be kept at a constant humidity and warm temperature (around 70°F). The single cells begin to divide, and produce more cells which begin to become "specialized" to perform various functions, and a new, complete, fully functioning plant is formed from a single cell. Tissue culture propagation is very akin to "cloning".

 

Propagation of Cacti and Succulents by Grafting:

One other method that is used for propagation is grafting. Grafting is a process that unites one cactus with another cactus (usually one that grows faster or is less problematic). This process is often utilized in the nursery industry to quickly increment numbers of a newly created or discovered plant. The plant that sits on top of the other plant is known as the "scion", and is connected vascularly ( in other words, all water and nutrients ascend the vascular system of the lower plant into the vascular system of the upper plant at the point of unification. The lower plant, known as the "stock" is always the strongest and fastest growing plant, has its roots into the ground, where it absorbs nutrients for both plants. The upper plant benefits greatly from this unification; it grows faster, is now immune to such diseases as root rots that previously may have plagued the plant when it was on its own roots, and oftentimes offsets more readily than when on its own roots. One last unique benefit of grafting concerns those plants born without chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the material in the plant that enables photosynthesis (the process by which plants create the energy necessary for new growth and other processes). Chlorophyll also contributes to the green color of plants. But occasionally, a plant is born without chlorophyll (and is known as achlorophyllus) or is born with very small amounts of chlorophyll. These plants can survive for a while on their own roots, but eventually will succumb as they lack the chlorophyll necessary to create the energy for growth and other life processes. One well-known example of this occurrence involves the cacti known as "Moon Cactus" ( actually Gymnocalycium mihanovichii "Rubra' and cultivars). It was noticed that many of these tiny seedlings were very beautiful, occurring in an array of colors including oranges, pinks, yellows, reds, and multicolored combinations. It was discovered that when these tiny seedlings were grafted onto strong plants, such as the epiphyte Hylocereus, that these seedlings not only survived but began to grow quickly and thrive!

Grafting is not a difficult process, but requires excellent sanitation and quick motions to succeed. The materials necessary are two plants, a very sharp utensil such as an exacto knife, isopropyl alcohol, paper towels or clean rag, and some item that will physically unite the two cacti(such as rubber bands), and maintain pressure on the cut portions to enable the fusion of the two cacti. The first consideration is that both plants are in excellent health, with "pumped up" tissues, and are growing actively. The plants should not be old enough that the tissue is lignified (woody). As sanitation is very important, the knife or utensil to be used to make the slices must sterilized, such as by dipping into isopropyl alcohol. The blade should be dipped after each cut, and wiped with a clean rag or paper towel. It is important to work as quickly as possible. Once the cuts have been made, the cut surfaces should be joined together as quickly as possible, to prevent entry of bacteria or fungi and to prevent the open tissue from desiccating. Grafting is usually more successful when done on warm, but not excessively hot or bright days. Some humidity in the air is preferable (to prevent premature drying of the cut surfaces), but it is best not to graft after many days of overcast, humid weather as there may be many fungus spores present in the air.

The actual process entails cutting the plant that will be the "stock" (this is the plant that is securely rooted into a pot, and is the faster-growing of the two plants) with a sharp utensil that can make the slice in one motion as to prevent "sawing back an forth" (which can cause tissue damage to the plant). The tips of the ribs at the cut portion should be trimmed downward ¼" or so, to prevent the center of the "stock" from atrophying away from point of attachment. A very thin slice should be removed from the flat tip. This slice should immediately be replaced over the cut surface, to prevent desiccation of the plant below. The next step is to cut the plant that is to be the "scion" or upper plant. This plant should be cut at the base of the plant. The base should be similarly trimmed, with small upward cuts at the bases of the ribs. At this point, quickly remove the thin slice that is on top of the base, and place the "scion" on top of the other plant, in such a way that the vascular "bundles" are aligned. It is usually only necessary to have a portion of the "scion" aligned with the vascular "bundles"; it is not necessary to have all vascular bundles perfectly aligned. One word of caution at this point; the fluid inside cacti is often very "slimy". Trying to unite these two "slippery devils" and then applying pressure from a rubber band can have very "interesting" consequences. Unless you have some prior experience, it is not unusual to apply the rubber band, sit back to contemplate your deft skills, only to notice that the "scion" is "missing" (sometimes halfway across the room)! For this reason, it is often wise to "practice" on some "extra" plants before trying to graft that "favorite plant". Quickly place the rubber band or other elastic retaining band over the top of the "scion" and secure under the pot. This will gently apply pressure to the two pieces, causing them to “fuse” more readily. Certain alternate methods are sometimes used, such as tape or bands with small weights on either side, but these do not provide the necessary elasticity. Some have even claimed to join the two plants with long cactus spines or super glue, but this is not the recommended procedure. The newly joined graft should be carefully placed warm, shady location for several weeks. Do not "spray" graft with water. A few days after the graft has been joined, it is OK to carefully water the soil only, avoiding splashing on the plant. Constant air circulation will be beneficial to prevent rotting. After a few weeks, if it is apparent that the graft is a success, the rubber band or other retaining band can be carefully removed. If the graft has been a success, the "scion" will have noticeable "plumped" and there should be evidence of shiny new growth at the tip of the "scion". If the graft is not successful, the "scion" will be "rejected" by the "stock" and will usually fall off. If the plant is to be moved, do so very carefully as the fusion is rather tenuous at this point. Continue to water the plant by watering the soil only. After a few more weeks, the graft can be watered normally.

Hybridizing

Hybridizing is a technique that is used to manipulate the genetics of two plants with the goal to imbue the newly created plant with enhanced characteristics, such as larger flowers, increased quantity of flowers, increased number of offsets, or other such improvements. Often, an added bonus when combining the genetics of two individuals with outstanding characteristics includes increased robustness, faster growth or more resistance to certain diseases, insects or viruses. Hybridizers will observe thousands of seedlings, noting various characteristics and will "select" or "hi-grade" those with the most outstanding characteristics. These will be used to produce future plants of a superior quality.

The exciting part of hybridizing is that one never completely knows what might happen. Although on the first level of genetics, it is fairly predictable what characteristics the progeny will have, there can always be surprises, especially when dealing with complex combinations of hybrids cross-pollinated with true species. Many times, a recessive gene from several generations in the past can recombine with a newly created gene, causing an unpredictable and often fascinating characteristic in the new hybrid.

Home | Care and Info | Published Articles | GardenLife.com (Retail Store) | CactusShop.com (Wholesale Store)
FAQ's | Plant Library | Contact Us | Desktop Downloads | Site Map

© 2010 ALTMAN PLANTS