British Cactus and Succulent Society

Dover Branch
For cactus and succulent enthusiasts of all ages and abilities

Propagation
A guide to growing propagating Cacti and Succulents
By Ray Horton
Multiplying your collection or producing plants to swap is not as difficult a task as you may think. There are a myriad of ways to increase your collection, but these fall into three main categories.

Here are some of the methods I use.

FROM SEED

I think that there is no more satisfying way to grow cacti and succulents than from seed. The anticipation of waiting for the seed to germinate, then nurturing the seedlings through nursery into adulthood always fills me with awe and pleasure.

VIABILITY

If seeds do not germinate then they are too old or too young. Some seeds will not germinate if they are too fresh. Nature intends seed to bridge the seasons with a built in clock. But there are exceptions, such as Astrophytum, Stapelia and some like Epiphylium, Agave, Cereus and Yucca that will germinate in the seed pod. High mountain species like to be frozen before germination takes place, so put the seed in the freezer for a week prior to sowing.

Buy seed from a reputable source, or save seed from your own plants to be certain of its origin. You can soak hard coat seed in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water for 10 minutes before sowing, or coat seed in hormone rooting powder which can help. Chipping the seed (flaking off a small amount of seed casing with a knife) before soaking can also help kick start the germination process.
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SOWING MEDIUM

My sowing medium consists of firstly filling the pot half full with sphagnum moss, peat, or any other ericaceous compost with a PH of 7 or above. Then I fill the pot to within an inch from the top with sieved cactus seed compost with an extra third of grit added. The top layer of around a quarter of an inch consists of 10 parts of fine grit to 1 part of sieved compost.

Pots must be thoroughly cleaned before sowing to avoid passing on any infection to the developing seedlings.

The first watering should include anti fungal solution such as Chinosol or pink Permagenate of Potash.

Peat soils can encourage Sciara Fly and Thread Fungus, so spray at the first signs of any infection.
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PLANTING DEPTHS

Seed of most succulents should be sown on the surface of the top gritty layer, only covering if the seed is likely to be effected by watering. It will be washed into the grit just like it would in nature.

IDENTIFICATION

You should ensure that you identify your sown seeds with either their name, or a number that refers back to a list. Small seedlings can be extremely difficult to identify, so if you do not label them now, you may have to wait quite some time before identification can be achieved (if ever).
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TEMPERATURE

Succulent seed germinates at temperatures of between 15°c (59°F) to 25°c (78°f). The best method of maintain a constant temperature is to use a thermostat controlled heater, or a heated propagator.

PLANTING TIMES

The best time to plant succulent seed is during the months of March, April and May, as the light levels are just right during this time.

PRICKING OUT

Once the plants start to look like small adults, use a small spatula to tease them from the nursery pot and dibber them into trays or pots filled with sieved cactus compost. Ensure that you maintain the depth at which they were growing in the nursery pot.
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CUTTINGS

These can be taken from offsets, stems, pads or tops of plants that need reducing. Remove or cut the material from the source plant and place it in an open tray for a few days, until a callous forms over the wound. Once this has formed, pot the cutting up in sieved cactus compost and wait.

The cutting can take quite some time to take, but resist the temptation to water until you see signs of life, or you can nudge the cutting and it holds in place. If you water too early you can encourage rot and the cutting will just melt away. This is most prevalent with top cuttings, but not so often with offsets.
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GRAFTING

This method is used to slow down fast growing species, or speed up growing of slow growing species. To slow down growth we use a slower growing stock plant. To speed up growth we do the opposite and use a fast growing stock.

This method is also used to grow species which do not grow very well on their own roots. These tend to be coloured varieties which do not produce their own chlorophyll and so are unable to photosynthesise. The understock here produces the food for the grafted scion.
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The scion is cut flat with a sharp, clean blade. The top of the source stock is cut of flat with a slight chamfer around the edge, with the flat section matching the scion cut.

Position the scion on top of the understock and use elastic bands or springs to hold it firmly in place.

Many growers use elaborate methods to keep the scion in place, but however you do it this tension should be left in place until the scion and understock have grown together. This will become evident because the scion will swell, colour up and start growing.
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I hope that you have enjoyed my short introduction into the world of cacti and succulent propagation. If you have any questions, or would like clarification on any of the points raised, please use the enquiry form and I will be happy to answer as best I can.

Good luck with your collection and I hope that you enjoy this fascinating method of increasing your collection as much as I have over the years.