How to Graft Cacti
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It can be scary to graft cacti, but it doesn’t have to be! It’s actually quite easy! Cacti are tough, hardy plants who can take a beating and come back even stronger. Learn how to graft cacti below in just a few easy steps!Have you ever looked at your cactus and thought “Off with your head!”? If yes, you were either an executioner in a past life or you’re ready to start grafting cacti.
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It’s painful to think of harming our babies, but cacti didn’t make it this far by being wussies. You can pretty safely lop off the head of your cactus and it will survive – assuming you made a clean cut and it doesn’t get infected! That being said, you should only attempt to graft a cactus you aren’t afraid to lose. The fact that you can stick to different plants, even two different species together, and they will continue to grow is downright incredible!
You’ve probably seen grafted cacti and didn’t even know it. Those little cacti at bog box stores that have green bodies and colorful red/yellow/orange heads are all grafts! In fact, the colorful cactus on top doesn’t have enough chlorophyll to photosynthesize properly – if it isn’t grafted it will die!
Tools for Grafting
- Grafting Knife – While these knives are designed to deliver as clean a cut as possible, you can get by using another knife with similar characteristics. It’s important that it is NOT serrated, has a straight edge, and is very sharp.
- Leather Gardening Gloves – Absolutely necessary if you’re going to be handling spiky cacti, obviously. A good pair of leather gloves is a great investment if you garden anyway!
- Rubber Bands / Twine – You’ll need these to hold the two cacti together while they heal.
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Choosing Cacti to Graft
When you are grafting any plant, succulents included, you use a couple of terms to describer the “grafter” and the “graftee”. The stock or rootstock is the plant that is already planted and growing in the ground. You’re gonna cut part of him and stick another plant there. That second plant that you’re attaching to the stock is called the scion.
There are some restraints on the kinds of cacti you can realistically expect to successfully graft. The more closely related the two cacti are, the more likely the graft is to hold. For example, cacti that are the same species are virtually guaranteed to work if you graft carefully. Cacti in the same genus will usually work too! Plants further separated than that… not too likely. You can still give it a shot!
Generally speaking, there are a couple cacti that work really well as rootstocks,
- Cereus repandus, Peruvian Apple cactus
- Hylocereus trigonus, Strawberry Pear cactus
You can use try to graft with any cactus you want! The ones listed are very good for beginners, however.
Make sure the plants you choose are both healthy, stable plants. The rootstock should be well established in its pot. The scion should be healthy and still growing. You want the transition to be as smooth as possible. Well… as smooth as it can be when you’re playing Frankenstein with cacti.
How to Graft
There are several different kinds of grafts. They differ in the kinds of cuts you make and where you place the transplant. Here we will describe the simplest, most effective kind – a lateral graft.
- Cut the head off the rootstock at your desired height. You’ll need a minimum of two or three inches above the soil. Be sure to use a clean, sharp knife and make as precise a cut as possible.
- Cut off the head of your other cactus to create the scion. You want the scion and the rootstock to have about the same diameter where they will meet.
- Look at the sliced part of your cacti. You will probably see a ring, or maybe some dots that look like tubes. These are xylem and phloem, and they reside in the vascular cambium of the plant. That kind of plant tissue is responsible for making new xylem, which are like blood vessels for plants. You want to match these rings, or the tubes, as closely as you can. This is the make-or-break part of grafting. If you have a clean cut and manage to match up the sides, you should be okay.
- Secure the graft by putting rubber bands or twine around the entire plant. All the way from the top of the cactus, down and around the pot. Don’t be worried about injuring the cacti. You just cut their heads off – what’s a little pressure gonna do? If you can’t manage to secure them this way, you can use a skewer like a sandwich toothpick to keep the parts together. There’s a small risk of infection this way, as there is any time you wound a plant.
That’s pretty much it. Not too hard, huh? After a couple of weeks the two cacti should be bonded together permanently, in sickness and in health, until death do they part. How romantic.
Once it is healed you can water it and care for it just like you did before it was grafted! Easy, right?
Have you made any crazy combinations, or tried an interesting graft? Show us in the comments below!