Cacti are notorious for their thorns. If you’ve ever messed with one of these prickly creatures, chances are you learned to regret it! Hence, it shouldn’t surprise you that cacti are considered one of the most challenging plants to move and replant.
Yet, before MC Hammer’s famed hit U Can’t Touch This starts playing in your head, look at our complete guide below. Here, we’ll teach you how to repot a cactus without hurting yourself or your spiky friend!
So, without further ado, let’s get straight to the point!
When to Repot Your Cactus
If you see roots poking out the drainage holes, your cactus has outgrown its pot. Consequently, repotting will give your cactus the space it needs to grow and thrive; the same goes for cacti that have seen better days.
This will kick-start an extremely beneficial revitalization process for your spiky friend. Moreover, a fresh growing medium is full of yummy nutrients that your cactus needs to stay strong and healthy.
Last but not least, repotting means regular root checkups and a new, pest-free home for your plant.
How Often Should You Repot a Cactus Plant
Mature cacti need to be repotted every three to four years. However, young cacti grow more rapidly, so you may need to repot them frequently.
Repotting cacti is best done in early spring, the beginning of their growing season. During this period, cacti “wake up” from their deep slumber and are full of energy. As a result, they’re more resistant to stress and recover from injuries more quickly.
That said, if you live in a climate with harsh winters, avoid repotting during the dormancy period, which lasts from November to March, as this could be too much for your spiky friend to handle.
Prep Steps to Repot a Cactus Without Hurting Yourself
Repotting a cactus hurts you a lot more than it hurts them. Hence, it pays to be prepared.
In the following section, we’ll discuss everything you can do to make the whole ordeal less painful. Starting from:
Getting a pair of quality leather gloves should be the first thing on your agenda. Generally, any thorn-proof material will do other than fabric. Nitrile-coated gloves for gardening are a prime choice.
If the spikes on your cactus are long, try fitting two gloves on each hand for added protection. However, don’t risk getting injured if you want to repot a big cactus and the spines are too long to handle. Use metal kitchen tongs instead.
Also, note that tongs coated with silicon make for a more secure and gentler grip. Additionally, you can use an old blanket or sheet to safely wrap the plant once you need to move it around.
Even so, caution never killed anyone. Handle the cacti with care, and isolate yourself from kids and pets before you start replanting, just to be on the safe side.
Picking the Right Pot
Naturally, you should choose a tad bigger pot than your cactus’ previous home. A general rule of thumb when replanting a cactus is to pick a container that’s the same size as your plant.
Namely, if the container is too big, the roots won’t be able to reach all the water it gets. In turn, this will ramp up the moisture, and you’ll end up with root rot!
Conversely, containers that are too small can impair root growth. You’ll notice the pot is too tight if the roots start sticking out of the drainage holes. Speaking of which, these are simply crucial as they prevent any excess water from accumulating inside the pot.
The shape of your cactus will also help determine the type of pot you should get. However, note that you don’t need a deep pot to repot a tall cactus. Instead, find pots with cylindrical form as cacti often lack a highly developed root system.
Remember, stagnant water equals bad when it comes to cacti (like with most other plants).
As pot materials go, ceramic and plastic ones are king. Avoid using metal or glass containers since these can damage the roots.
Prepping the Potting Mix
Desert plants love arid conditions. Hence, choosing a porous medium, like sand, pumice, grit, perlite, gravel, etc., is ideal for your thorny companion.
If you haven’t done so already, transplanting your cactus in said media or a combination of these will make it thrive; they dry up quickly and allow for excellent water drainage since they’re loose and airy even when watered. Treat it right, and it’ll never desert you (pun intended).
Apart from that, cacti also need organic matter in small amounts.
You can buy ready-made media for cacti to provide the necessary nutrients or just make some yourself. Remember that this potting mix isn’t the same one you’d typically use for houseplants; even succulents are different from cacti.
How to Replant a Cactus Step-by-Step
Now that we’ve got all that covered, it’s time to get our hands dirty, or should we say — thorny!
We’ve outlined a brief tutorial for you below to minimize any potential injuries sustained by either you or your prickly friend. Come take a look!
1. Remove the Cactus From Its Pot
First, you must separate the pot from the potting mix with a dull knife. Gently go all the way through to the bottom and around the edges.
Next, use metal tongs or your thorn-proof gloves to get a good grip on your plant. Once you’re holding it right, pull it out of the pot.
If you’ve neither of these, just use a cloth towel during your cactus repotting procedure; wrapping a few newspaper layers around the plant will also work.
2. Inspect the Roots
After you remove the plant from its pot, place it on a smooth surface to clean any remaining dirt from its roots. Take a good look at it and trim any black or mushy parts indicative of root rot. Make sure you use a high-quality blade or a pair of disinfected scissors.
3. Place the Cactus in Its New Home
Place the cactus at around the same depth and orientation as the previous container. Fill it with a cacti-friendly potting mix, and you’re all set! Now you can admire your cacti on your windowsill, on top of your ergonomic home office desk, or wherever there’s plenty of light.
How to Smoothly Repot a Large Cactus Outdoor
If these big fellas are a constant thorn in your side, take a look at the following tips:
- Lay the groundwork. If you’re planning on replanting it in your garden, you need to find a spot with similar conditions as its previous one. Prep the area by adding fertilizer, pumice, or whatever you need to mimic the conditions of the original location. Once done, dig up a shallow hole to fit the root of your cactus.
- Mark the orientation of the plant. One of the most important rules when learning how to transplant a cactus is to always face the sun the same way. Your plant is used to a certain position, so don’t hesitate to mark the side of the plant that was exposed to the sun! Otherwise, your plant can get distressed by this sudden change and wither away.
- Wrap it with an old blanket. There’s no point in getting either of your hurt. Protect yourself with a thick piece of cloth or a few newspaper layers, whatever you find more convenient.
- Dig it out. When you’re about to repot a large cactus, dig a wide perimeter of around two to three feet to avoid damaging the roots. For the same reason, go about 18 inches deep and dig underneath the roots to free the plant.
- Carefully break the cactus loose from all sides with a shovel and extract the cactus from the ground by using a rope or hose as leverage.
- Trim any damaged roots. As with smaller-sized cacti, their large counterparts necessitate a close inspection. While you’re at it, remove any rotten or infected parts you might find.
- Place the cactus in its new home and cover it with the appropriate potting mix.
What Should You Do After Repotting a Cactus?
- Provide it with plenty of sunlight. This will help your spiky friend adjust to its new environment faster. Ideally, you want to place it on your east or southeast window to face the sun directly.
- Don’t water it just yet! Wait for the cactus to recover from the procedure for at least a week. After that, you can resume your usual watering schedule.
- Keep an eye on the temperature. Choose a warm spot to allow your cactus to thrive. The ideal temperature ranges are between 55°F and 80°F.
- Be patient! Replanting your cactus causes a lot of stress for your plant. It’ll need time to rest and adjust to its new home.
Follow these tips, and before you know it, your cactus will be completing the new Moroccan decor in your backyard.
Best friends stick together, and your cactus is no exception. The tips we’ve laid out in front of you will make you look sharp, just like your cactus! Use them well and help your spiky buddy thrive.
Feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below. Have a nice one!
When should you repot cacti?
When roots start poking through a drainage hole, it’s time to repot your prickly friend. In short, replant your cacti every two to four years, depending on their growth and fertilization rate. In the case of infections, infestations, etc., do so immediately.
Do cacti need big pots?
No. Cacti don’t like excessively big pots. Pick one that is slightly larger than the plant’s roots. Huge pots carry the risk of overwatering the plant and developing root rot. Small pots, on the other hand, will hamper your plant’s growth.
Do you need special soil for the cactus?
Proper aeration and drainage are essential. Hence why the choice of potting soil makes such a huge difference. Most types of fast-drying porous potting mediums will do — ones containing sand, pebbles, pumice, coir, and similar. Also, remember to add some organic material, as well.
Should you water a cactus after repotting?
Absolutely not. In fact, you should do the exact opposite. Namely, avoid watering your cacti for at least a week until it gets accustomed to the new growing conditions. After that, you can resume your usual watering schedule.
If you want to learn how to repot a cactus in greater detail, read our full guide!