Propagating and Caring for Cactus

By Mike Stiles, Master Gardener

Though most cacti are native to the desert southwest,
Mexico, and South America, they can be grown and enjoyed on the Central Coast.  The endless variety in the cactus family will add greatly to any sunny spot in your landscape, and the incredible showy flowers of most cacti will brighten any yard.  These few simple tips will start you on the way.

Most nurseries and garden centers have a small collection of cacti.  An Internet search will yield other sources of mail order plants, sometimes with a very large selection.  Another source of cacti is the trading of cuttings with other cactus gardeners.

Cacti respond very well to propagation by cuttings.  Be sure, though, when taking a cutting that the overall appearance of the parent plant is not harmed.  Use a sharp knife or saw and remove a section at the joint.  Multiple barrel-type cacti should be cut at ground level.

Allow the cuttings to dry in a shady spot for at least a week, until the cut end is dry and callused.  This will help prevent rotting.  When the cutting is ready, plant it shallowly.  Tall specimens may need to be staked.  Cacti should be grown in well-drained soil, either in the garden or in pots.  Potted cacti may be an advantage where winter temperatures drop far below freezing, and the pots can be brought indoors.

Water very sparingly for the first few weeks until you are certain that roots are established.  Until roots have formed, excess water will just rot the cutting, and rot is the primary cause of cactus loss.

In the wild, cacti receive most of their rainfall, and do most of their growing, in the summer monsoon season.  Therefore, summer water is essential to the plants, but allows the soil to dry between waterings.  A diluted, complete fertilizer can be used if desired in the water.  Along the
Central Coast cacti probably do not need to be watered during the winter.

Remember, cacti can be very mean when handled.  Many types just laugh at leather gloves.  A folded strip of newspaper, wrapped around the cutting or plant, and squeezed together to hold the cutting tightly is an excellent way to move the plant into position when planting. 

University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers can provide additional gardening information upon request .Call the San Luis Obispo office at 781-5939 on Mondays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 PM.  You may also call the Paso Robles office at 237-3100 on Wednesdays from 9 AM to 12 PM.  The San Luis Obispo Master Gardeners website is at  Questions can be e-mailed to: