I have a cactus that belonged to my mother; I remember it in the house when I was a child, so this plant is at least 45 years old. It seems to be thriving but is completely pot bound with many babies sprouting around the base. My question is: how do I repot this without hurting myself? The cactus has some pretty impressive spines, and the base is so congested with offspring that there is no way that I can see to access the pot (a clay pot within a basket)
How would I go about removing the pot and separating all of the ‘babies’?
Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.
This can be a tricky undertaking as you have to protect yourself from the spikes as well as being careful with the plant. The use of tough leather gloves and wrapping the plant in several layers of newspaper (and secure lightly with tape) are recommended.
Cacti are low maintenance plants that thrive with benevolent neglect. All cacti prefer to be slightly pot-bound. It is important to repot in a new container that is only one size larger, rather than moving the cactus into a much larger container. Large containers retain more moisture than smaller pots, and cactus roots, which are tender and easily damaged, are susceptible to excessive moisture. Ideally, a clay pot should be used and a screening material or pottery shards should cover the drainage hole in order to let water drain out but also keep soil in the bottom. Use soil that is specifically for cactus which can be found in most nurseries & garden centres.
Ready? Turn the pot upside down. Place one hand around the plant to guide it from the pot while you tap the bottom of the pot with your other hand. If the cactus does not come easily out of the pot break the pot. This will prevent root damage. Once you have the cactus out of its old pot, inspect the roots to make sure it is not severely pot bound, diseased or infested with mealybugs. Loosen roots if necessary.
Add new soil to the bottom of the new pot and then sit the cactus on top, checking that the base of the cactus comes to the lip of the pot – it is important that the cactus is not planted any lower that it was originally so no new soil on top. This is also a good time to straighten or re-position the plant. When the cactus is positioned correctly, fill in around the plant using a chopstick or bamboo skewer to poke the soil around the outside. A few gentle taps of the pot on the counter in an up-down motion will also help settle the new soil around the roots.
Many Cacti species produce offsets that are easy to separate and replant. You can remove any of these smaller plants to grow into a new cactus. Removing the cutting and transplanting it properly prevents damage to the original plant and helps ensure the new cactus grows well.
For more information on caring for your cactus, please visit the following websites: