How to Regrow a Broken Cactus

How to Regrow a Broken Cactus

With all of the craziness of life between kids, pets, and other challenges, it is so easy for a beloved cactus to take the fall accidentally. Especially in the case of long-standing plants that have grown to exceptional size, it can be heartbreaking to see them broken on the ground or a table. Fortunately, there are a few ways to help fix or replant your green companion.

If your cactus has broken, you can graft the two pieces together by creating a clean slice on the two broken ends and connecting the two pieces. Then use string to wrap around the two ends, tying them tightly together. Leave the string until the cactus begins to grow around it, then cut it off to minimize scarring.

There are many different kinds of cacti and several things you can do if your cactus has broken. Read on to learn more detailed instructions on how to regrow and fix your cactus.

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Why Cacti Break Off

All of the reasons mentioned above can be common instances where a cactus might break, but there are several natural reasons for a cactus to break. Especially if it is a larger or older plant with many arms, growths may break off if they grow weakly.

Two of the most prevalent reasons for a cactus to break off are over or under-watering. While overwatering, in particular, is not always apparent right away, it will usually present itself through a mushy feel to the plant as well as a foul smell coming from the roots.

The latter symptom is usually also an indication of root rot, which can be a very challenging problem to overcome, and it is generally too late to save the main plant at that point. This situation is one where you may want to break your cactus intentionally to give yourself the chance to propagate it.

Propagating Your Broken Cactus

Whatever the reason for propagating your cactus, whether it was broken intentionally or due to an unfortunate accident, there are several steps you can take to give it the best chance of survival. The spot in which your cactus has broken will partially determine its chances of success. If you’re working with a cactus that has broken accidentally, this may be more challenging than an intentionally cut one, but you may be able to trim it further to get to that result.

Cactus Cutting

The first step to a successful cutting and propagation is selecting a part of the plant that is mature and healthy. If you are making an intentional cutting, try to use a mature and healthy plant, and if possible, select a mature pad or arm that has been on the plant for a while, even if it has its own pads or arms growing from it. 

Once you have selected the proper spot on your main cactus or have the broken piece to work from, it’s time to begin the steps to ensure a good cut.

  1. Begin by selecting a very sharp knife, and disinfect it thoroughly. Many unsuccessful cuttings begin with bacteria introduced through an unclean knife. 
  2. Make the cut at an angle to ensure that the parent plant does not have a flat top on the slice. Especially if your cacti live outside, the angular cut will prevent your cactus from suffering due to rainwater collecting on a flat surface, which inevitably leads to rot. If your cactus was broken accidentally, use this as a chance to make a straight clean cut on the broken piece, as that will help it develop the callous mentioned in the next section.

The next step in propagating your cactus is letting it callous correctly. If you attempt to plant the cactus immediately in the soil, it will introduce moisture, stopping your propagation from working before it even gets started. 

Try to keep the cutting upright to ensure that it grows roots in the right direction, and leave it for a couple of days to allow the callous to form. This process helps prevent your new cactus piece from bacterial or fungal intruders that can easily be introduced through a raw edge.

Rooting Your New Cactus

Once you have allowed sufficient time for your new cactus to callous properly, you need to begin the process of rooting it. The process differs slightly depending on whether you root your new cactus in a pot or the ground. Both methods are outlined below, so read on to see the best option for you.

Rooting In A Pot

The first consideration you need to make when planting your new cactus into a pot is the container’s size. You don’t need the container to be massive, but it should be able to fit your cactus comfortably without appearing too small. Additionally, your cactus pot should have suitable drainage holes, as cactus need excellent drainage in their soil to prevent overwatering.

The next step you need to make is deciding what kind of potting mix you will be putting in your cactus pot. Just as the pot itself needs to have excellent drainage, so does the soil you use to fill the container. The best way to accomplish this is by either purchasing cactus-specific potting soil from your local garden center or taking regular potting soil and introducing sand or perlite to improve its draining properties.

Once you have selected your potting mix and container, follow the steps outlined below.

  1. Fill the new growing container with potting mix until it is close to the brim.
  2. Carefully place your cutting into the center of the pot. If your cutting is around six inches or less in length, only push it around two inches into the soil. If it is longer than six inches in length, insert it about three or four inches into the earth.
  3. If the cactus struggles to maintain an upright position, use sticks, string, or any method you have available to prop it upright until its roots can develop and take hold of the soil. 
  4. Place your new cactus in a location away from direct sunlight. It can be in a well-lit area, but direct sunlight should be avoided until the root structure begins to take form.

Rooting In The Ground

Rooting your new cactus in the ground of your garden is not a complex process, but it does require a few more accommodations to be made to ensure a successful rooting.

  1. Start by loosening the soil in the location that you want to plant your new cactus cutting. Rooting a plant in the ground means that you have less control over the conditions that present themselves, so this is the method to allow for good water drainage in its early stages of life.
  2. After you have loosened the soil, dig out a spot about three inches deep in the middle of the upturned section. Then replace the ground around it, ensuring that you don’t pack the earth down as you go. 
  3. If your cactus is a tall columnar variety, you may need to stack small stones around the cutting base to ensure that it stays upright. Once your cactus develops its root system, you can remove the rocks.

Watering Your Newly Planted Cactus

Since cactuses are so temperamental when it comes to their moisture conditions, you may be feeling uncertain whether or not you should water your newly planted cactus. The best option at this point is to water the ground around your new cactus thoroughly when you first plant it. After that point, you should be able to ignore it for a couple of weeks, as the roots will have plenty of water to utilize. 

After that point, you should only need to give the cactus a light watering every week or so. The trick is to avoid making the earth surrounding your cactus wet, as you only want it to be somewhat damp. It will likely take between four and six weeks for your newly planted cactus to develop its root system, but if your cutting is on the smaller side, it will take less time to establish its roots. 

Use The Right Tools For The Job

Propagating cactuses is a deceptively challenging task. While the process itself is straightforward, many types of cactus are as prickly as their name would suggest, and can be difficult to handle because of that fact. Many gardeners recommend wearing gardening gloves like the kind that rose farmers wear when working with the many varieties of cacti. These kinds of gloves can be purchased at most hardware and gardening stores, and are well worth the investment. 

Be aware that even while wearing gloves, many cactus spines will be capable of penetrating through the material of the gloves, though it should be significantly fewer than it would be otherwise. Hold the cactus with a light grip while you’re working with it as squeezing tightly will be more likely to drive the needles into your hands.

Some other gardeners recommend the use of tongs instead of gloves if you have sensitive hands or if you are cleaning up dead leaves as you will need to apply some force to separate the dying components from the greater plant. If you choose to go the tongs route, only use tongs that have plastic ends as they are less likely to puncture the plant while you’re working with it. If you find yourself stuck using metal tongs due to limited resources, consider wrapping the ends of the tongs in duct tape or similar material to “soften” their grip and reduce the chance of puncturing.

Caring For Different Cactus Varieties

It is vital to note that you should research your specific cactus species. There are thousands of different kinds of succulents, and many of them require slightly different watering schedules and propagating steps. Additionally, keep a close watch on your cactus after you have planted it, as your plant will indicate if it is succeeding in its propagation by how strong and healthy it looks.

We have established at this point that caring for your cactus depends at least partially on the type of cactus that it is. While cacti are a subgroup of the larger succulent category of plants, and while they share many commonalities with their parent group, they have a few thousand varieties even just within the name of cactus. Despite the enormous variety of cactus that exist in the world, some are more popular to have indoors than others.

To help provide more specifics to assist with your broken cactus, we have compiled a list of some of the more popular varieties of indoor cacti with the specific needs of each species. 

Christmas Cactus

Of the many common varieties of cactus, Christmas cactuses are one of the more popular kinds thanks to their vibrant colors and relatively easy care. It is essential to note that christmas cactuses require less direct sunlight and more water than the vast majority of other cactuses, and lightly misting them with water periodically is optimal to ensure good growth.

Barrel Cactus

One of the most stereotypical looking types of cactus, barrel cactuses live up to their species with a few specific needs. This type of cactus only needs watering every one to two months, and this is a species that needs especially well draining soil. Soak the soil thoroughly when you water, and then let it drain away with each watering. 

Saguaro Cactus

This cactus is actually the state flower of Arizona, and it benefits enormously from the climate that state provides. Saguaro cacti can live for around two centuries, and grow extremely slowly, sometimes only an inch over the course of a year. As such, you are more likely to inherit a saguaro cactus than grow one from seed, but caring for this plant requires that you only water it infrequently and only in the summer. 

Old Lady Cactus

These cacti are a popular choice for beginners due to their easy care. The fluffy looking material covering their surface acts as a type of camouflage for their extremely pointy spines, so be careful when handling. Additionally, old lady cactuses grow well in groups with others of their own species or other kinds of succulents which makes them ideal for succulent gardens.

Note that there are many other kinds of cactus that are popular for growing indoors, and this is a small sample of some of the more popular varieties. Nevertheless, ensure that you research your species of cactus before you attempt to propagate it from a broken piece, as the techniques that will work well for one species may in fact damage or even kill another species.

Grafting Your Broken Cactus

The other primary option if you have a broken cactus is to repair it by a process known as grafting. Grafting is a method commonly done to allow a cut piece of one plant species to grow on top of another species. In the case of your broken cactus, however, you will be using the process of grafting to reattach your broken cactus piece and allow the two halves to heal together.

Before jumping into the steps to begin your new graft, you need to assess how dry the plant’s broken parts are. If they feel dry to the touch, you will need to use a sharp knife to cut about a quarter of an inch off the end of each broken section. Ensure that your cuts are straight and flat to allow the pieces to connect correctly. If you have already completed this step, or the two broken halves have not dried out yet, move on to the numbered instructions below.

  1. Line up the broken pieces of the cactus, and place them together. You must line up the center rings of each piece together, as these are referred to as the cambium and are necessary to be linked to allow proper growth.
  2. Use a string to tie the two pieces together. You can accomplish this by carefully winding the cord up and over the end of the cactus, securing it underneath the broken part below. Ensure that you cross the line back and forth over itself as you complete this process to ensure that the two ends are held together tightly and that they will not slide apart.
  3. The healing process for your newly grafted cactus may take up to two months to complete. Once it has healed sufficiently, carefully cut the string and remove it from the cactus. 

Once your grafted cactus has healed from its injury, you do not need to treat it any differently than you would a typical plant. It should heal to be as strong as it was before it was broken. 

As Good As New

Whether you choose to go the grafting or the propagating route, you can rest easy in the knowledge that a broken cactus is not the end. These two methods should ensure that you have happy and healthy cactuses that will grow for many years to come.

Kate Inskeep

Kate Inskeep is a mom of three from Illinois who loves growing things. She fell in love with houseplants after a friend gifted her some succulents. Before long, her windowsills were full of plants, and she was hooked.

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