Although cactuses are among the most resilient plants in the world, they’re not maintenance-free. Meaning, there will be a time when your small and adorable cactus grows into an intimidating and magnificent specimen. When this happens, it won’t fit the pot it grew up in, so you will probably need to get it a new one. Here’s where learning how to repot a cactus comes in handy.
Repotting a cactus is not as easy as it seems, though. Despite cacti sturdiness, they require proper care to prevent any damage during the repotting process and after. Below, we’ll teach you everything about that.
So, eager to give your growing cactus more space to grow? Then check this guide further!
When to Repot a Cactus?
The general rule is to do it as soon as the roots start growing out of the pot. For example, when the roots begin to be visible from below or side aerating holes, it is time to take it out and put it in a new one.
You shouldn’t care only about the size of the cactus, though. The season is also essential. Remember cacti are resistant to drought, so they thrive in hot seasons. On top of that, they grow the most in spring-like most plants. That’s the perfect season to repot them, just before the hot summer arrives.
It is also crucial to mention that cacti grow slowly. In contrast with other plants, they may last between 2 to 4 years in a single pot before needing any repotting. There’s a high chance you will only need to repot a cactus once or twice in a decade.
What Kind of Pot to Use for a Cactus?
The pot’s choice depends entirely on the cactus’s size, its species, and the place you want to put it. Here are a few general tips to consider when choosing a pot for the cactus:
Most cacti grow in any container. If you have to pick between different pots, we recommend the one that best meets your decorative needs. For the best experience, however, choose terracotta. The porous surface of this material lets moisture escape, which prevents rot and mold.
Whether it is a terracotta, concrete, plastic, metal, glass, or wooden pot – you’ll want it to have ideal drainage. Because cacti require dry soil, they won’t thrive unless the pot has a way to drain extra moisture. Also, moisture makes them more likely to grow fungus, attract pests, and rot over time.
A growing cactus needs a larger pot than before. But it won’t thrive if you pick something way too large either. That’s why it is often recommended to pick a container that allows enough space to grow, but only about one or two sizes larger than the previous pot. They thrive in cozy pots.
- Growing Speed
Although cactuses grow super-slowly, some of them can grow exponentially in just a few years. The Echinocactus and Ferocactus, for example, can grow up to 1 inch per year. In 4 years, they can grow over 4 inches in both height and diameter. Other large species like the Saguaro Cactus can grow over 8 inches per year.
In these cases, you’ll want to make sure the pot is large enough for the cactus. Otherwise, you will fall short sooner than later.
What Is the Best Soil for a Cactus?
Now, the pot won’t be enough to ensure sustained growth for the cactus. We could go as far as to say that soil is more important. You need to choose the ideal one to prevent any unwanted results later on.
For that, we recommend nutrient-rich soil. This includes a compost mix that does the job well. And more importantly, it needs to be easy-to-drain soil, as cacti thrive more in dryness than in moisture.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can always find mixes specially made for cactuses. These mixes include a third of potting soil and two-thirds of combined perlite, peat moss, rock dust, and sand. In the right quantities, these would be enough to make a quality soil mix for cacti.
How to Repot a Cactus in 7 Steps?
With a better idea of what’s necessary for the job, let’s get your hands dirty. We’re going to repot that growing cactus in just 7 steps:
1. Loosen the Old Soil
First and foremost, try to loosen up the old pot’s soil before taking the cactus out. If enough time has passed since you got the cactus, there’s a high chance soil is tightly gripped into the old pot.
That’s why we recommend using a dull knife, stick, or spatula and softly saw the dirt away from the cactus. Be careful not to damage the plant in the process. At the same time, please don’t go too deep as you may cause harm to its roots as well.
Another way to soften up the soil is to put the pot on the side and roll it on the floor. This should separate the dirt from the sides.
Once you feel the soil is loosened and you could easily take the cactus out in a soft motion, then you can do so. Otherwise, try not to, as you could damage the plant irreversibly.
2. Release the Cactus
Removing the cactus should be a straightforward process. You could do this by just placing the pot upside down, and the cactus should fall right out. Otherwise, lifting it softly should be enough.
You should take it out of the pot and release the roots from the dirt that’s attached. As you will be repotting it, this also means you’ll be adding new soil – so the old one is not useful anymore.
While you do this, you will see how the roots will be tightly packed into the dirt. To not cause any damage while removing the soil, you should use chopsticks or small pieces of unedged wood. The focus is to release the dirt without damaging the roots.
3. Check its Health
After releasing the roots from the thickly-packed soil, you will have direct access to its health. Here, you should check whether it is ready to be transplanted or whether you should fix it.
What do you need to look for? Three things stand out.
First, see that the roots look alive and sturdy. Otherwise, they may look overly moist. This typically includes some fungus or undesirable spongy aspect. That’s a sign of disease or rot.
Another sign the roots aren’t healthy is dehydration. This should be clear almost at first sight. They will look dry and lifeless. You will probably be able to pull them out with little effort.
Lastly, they may have pests like worms or small bugs. While these may not necessarily mean the cactus will die, there’s a high chance they will affect it long-term.
If you don’t see any sign of a root problem, then you may proceed to repot. Otherwise, you’ll need to fix it first.
4. Fix Roots as Needed
They are fixing any plant’s roots when it has issues can be an immense amount of work. Luckily, cactuses are somewhat resilient and don’t need that much. Still, you should proceed carefully depending on the issue at hand.
If there are pests, use a pesticide. Be aware that too much pesticide added directly into the roots may cause damage. This is not always, but it’s possible. Add just enough. Read the product specifications first, if possible.
In the case of dehydration, the best solution is to cut the roots. Pulling them out is often enough. But if you can use clippers or shears only to cut the ones that look dry and lifeless, that would be better.
For rot or fungi damage, you should spray some fungicide on the roots. However, when the fungi are too advanced, it becomes a more complicated problem with a different solution. Typically, it involves cutting and letting the roots to dry for a few days under the sun.
Cactus rarely have these issues, though. There’s a high chance you will only need to do the light cutting, and that’s it.
5. Prepare the New Container
With the cactus out of the pot and cured, you are ready to prepare for its new home. Here’s when you should have already picked an ideal container for the plant.
If you did, then proceed to fill the pot with soil. As said before, it should be the right soil for cacti, preferably rich in dryness-inducing materials.
The amount you need to add will depend on the height of the cactus, though. In some cases, you only want to cover the roots. But for some small and fragile species, you may need to cover a small part of the bottom as well.
Either way, start by pouring only two-thirds of the pot first. You’ll add the rest later on.
6. Repot the Cactus
Now that the pot is more-than-half filled with soil, you should place the plant in. After that, you can gently add the rest of the soil.
In some cases, you will need to loosen up the soil before placing the cactus. This is especially useful if the roots were damaged, as you would prevent any further damage from trying to tuck it in too harshly.
7. Compact the Top
It’s now time to finish the job. Here, it’s all about preparing the top for the cactus to thrive later on without affecting how the water flows down.
Generally, you need to add a little more soil. As to how much to add, it’s up to you. As said before, it depends on the species of cactus and how you’d want it to look. Generally, though, be sure to cover all the roots.
Then you need to compact the soil well. This should ensure the cactus can absorb all the nutrients properly without getting sick. For that, you could always add some grit or gravel to make it firmer.
After doing all of this, you should have a wholly repotted cactus ready for its next stage of growth. Now you can relax with a beer and a chair in your garden, beholding the cactus magnificence.
Things to Consider When Repotting a Cactus
Although repotting the cactus successfully generally requires following the steps above, learning how to repot a cactus is generally not enough to sustain long-time growth. Below, we explain how to make that cactus keep growing healthily in the short and long term (considering it was recently repotted):
- Handle the Cactus Properly
While repotting and afterward, it is always important to handle the cactus well enough. And it all starts by not getting prickled and eventually dropping the cactus. This could damage the top as well as the roots permanently.
Anyway, we always recommend handling from the pot for this. When repotting, try using newspaper, a towel, or gloves. Even then, try not to squeeze the cactus too hard, as the tongs may still go through any paper or fabric you put on.
- Let the Cactus Recover
After repotting, you should leave the plant to recover for a few days up to a week. This often means leaving it directly under sun exposure without any watering.
The purpose is to make it feel safe in a natural environment (dry and hot) to recover from the roots up.
If the cactus had any rot or fungi in the roots, you should leave it without water for about 2 or 3 weeks.
- Water Regularly
Once the cactus has recovered completely, you should start watering it. If it still springs or the beginning of the summer, you should do this only twice a day in dry places. In humid areas, only once a day or every two days should be enough.
Overall, you should water when the soil is dry. Otherwise, if the soil still looks humid – don’t. You could cause unwanted diseases.
- Keep It Dry
Cactuses are resilient enough to handle dryness. They thrive on it. While you should still water them to ensure proper growth, it’s essential to keep them dry.
For that, it is super important to prevent any water on top of the plant. Any part that looks green is a place you should not water – especially early in the morning or afternoon at full sun exposure. This could scorch the plant.
- Don’t Water in Winter.
If you’re replanting close to winter, don’t water it at all. Humid seasons tend to be where the cactus goes dormant. That’s why we don’t recommend repotting at this time of the year unless necessary. But more importantly, don’t water it at all even after repotting.
If temperatures go above 50 degrees Fahrenheit with enough sun exposure, then you should water. Otherwise, don’t.
- Ensure a Proper Environment
Last but not least, you should always keep the cactus in the right place – this is even more important after repotting.
This often means ensuring proper light (tons of sunrays), warmth (away from air conditioners, too much rain, and frost), and still ideal ventilation (unventilated indoor areas are not ideal).
On top of that, try to keep it away from pests and birds, especially during the recovering period.
If you do all of this, the cactus should start thriving even after repotting.
If you paid close attention to our step-by-step guide on how to how to repot a cactus, then you should be ready to do it with no problems.
Be free to follow all our advice, and overlook anything that doesn’t seem useful for your cactus’ needs. At the same time, follow your gut if needed. Sometimes, caring for a cactus is a bit more complicated than it seems.
Either way, be cautious and love your cactus. It is an exceptional plant to have.