Cactus in a pot

Today we will cover another topic on cactus care. In this post, we will share secrets and tips and talk about how to repot or transplant a small, tall or large cactus. We will also discuss when to repot your cactus, and how to repot a cactus without hurting yourself or getting pricked. And after that, we will talk about caring for cacti after repotting them.

Should I repot my cactus and how often should I do it?

Yes, you need to repot your young cacti every year, and every 2 years for mature plants. Repotting or transplanting your cactus is very important because it grows and eventually needs more space and the fresh growing medium.

A growing cactus will have its roots growing inside the soil mix, and will need more space. You can check that by looking at the rootball from the bottom of the pot (which should have drainage holes). If any roots are sticking out, you need to repot your cactus as soon as possible. The same goes if you take the cactus out of the pot and you can see its roots around the root ball. What is more, repotting generally ‘wakes up’ your cactus and stimulates healthy growth.

What is the best time to repot a cactus?

The best time to repot a cactus is at the end of the dormancy period. This will minimize any stress on your cactus. Dormancy period will be different for many plants. But for most cacti that grow in places with cold winters, they are forced into dormancy from November to end of February.

General important tips for repotting cacti:

  • Don’t water your cacti before or after you transplant them. Let the soil dry so that roots stay intact. Also, wait for a week to 10 days after repotting before you water your cactus again. This is very important, because you might damage its roots while handling, and any contact with water can cause plant’s death.
  • Some cacti have very sharp spines, so you will need an extra protection for repotting. This can be newspaper, an extra glove or cloth.
  • You will need to protect your hands for repotting cacti. Some cacti will have longer and sharper spines, so double up your protection! The best supplies for protecting your hands from prickly cacti are nitrile coated gloves that will work much better than leather gloves because they are thicker. If you have a cactus with sharp spines, wear two pairs of gloves or get gloves with double coating.

How to repot your cactus – step by step overview

  1. Before you start repotting your cactus, prepare the supplies and the space. Also have prepared soil mix, a plastic container for working with a root ball, brush, nitrile gloves, wooden stick, some folded newspaper and shears with micro-tips or scissors.
  2. Choose a pot for your cactus. A pot should be bigger than the last one as well as washed and disinfected. Don’t choose a pot that is too large – cacti like snug fit. When choosing a pot, add around 1-2 inches extra in width (to your cactus) and make sure it’s not too deep. But cacti’s roots should be sitting comfortably in the pot, with some extra depth space. If your cactus has very weak roots and has not been growing consistently, choose the same sized pot and repot to stimulate growth. Add some time-release fertilizer in the soil or add bone-meal or egg shells. Read about container choosing here.
  3. Fill the pot that you will use with some rocks or gravel + some charcoal. This will help with drainage and will prevent any soil from coming out of drainage holes. On top add some fresh soil mix before you introduce your cactus.
  4. Remove your cactus from the pot (will discuss how to do it in a second) and remove any old soil from the roots. Soak if old soil doesn’t fall off easily.
  5. Place your cactus in the pot and gradually fill it with the soil mix.

How to remove your small to medium sized cactus from an old pot for repotting

There are few ways to repot your cactus without pricking and hurting yourself. To handle small to medium sized cacti, wearing nitrile coated gloves (can be two pairs or double coated) and using folded newspaper might be enough. Another way to handle small cacti is to use silicone tongs (not metal ones). Don’t squeeze your cactus and be very gentle. You can also use foam sponges or similar.

There will be roots curled around the main root ball, and you must be careful not to damage them. Turn the pot vertically and try to slide a cactus out of its pot. It should be easy to do if you have not watered your cactus for 3-5 days before repotting.

If your cactus is not sliding out on its own, then use this method. Take a thin wooden stick or something similar and remove the top soil layer. Then, hold your cactus (wear gloves and use folded newspaper for extra prickly cacti) and try to slide it out of the pot by gently knocking the pot against the table. Don’t pull your cactus – this way you will damage very thin and fragile roots!

How to handle and repot a large or tall cactus with sharp spines

If your cactus is outdoors, or is very tall & large, you will need to be extra careful. Wear your nitrile coated gloves and use folded newspaper for moving your cactus. What is more, you can use a big towel and wrap your cactus with it.

If you have a problem with sliding your cactus out of the pot, try to push its rootball from the drainage holes with a wooden stick.

If nothing works to take out a large or tall cactus, you can break the pot or cut it. If after cutting the pot your cactus is still not coming out, you can use a hose and spray its roots with water. This will make a rootball softer. But be always gentle, you don’t want to damage your plant. Don’t forget that if you have sprayed the roots, you will need to let them dry before potting into a new container.

Make sure to hang your cactus so that the roots dry. If the cactus is very large, place something underneath it for support (for example some bars under the cactus so it is hanging). It is also better to hang it outside the pot so that the roots can dry faster.

If you have sprayed the roots with a hose, you will need to dry them before planting the cactus

After you have removed your cactus from an old pot

After removing the cactus from an old container, you will need to clean the rootball and remove old soil. This should be easy to do with dry soil. But if the soil has dried and you can’t clean it, place the rootball in a plastic container for soaking in warm water (around 122 degrees F or 50 Celsius) for 20-40 minutes. After the rootball has softened, wash it with water to remove any remaining soil. Dry your cacti’s rootballs for 12-30 hours so that they dry completely.

A good tip would be to hang your cactus so that roots are in vertical position. This will help the cacti to acclimate to a new pot sooner and will save roots’ natural healthy shapes. Washing and soaking your cacti’s rootballs in warm water will stimulate plants’ growth.

Take a look at cacti’s roots

Once you have removed your cactus and shaken off (or washed off) old soil, examine the roots. To examine the roots, you will need to check them for parasites and rotting. If you can see any rotten roots, you will need to cut them with shears that have micro-tips. You can also use small scissors. But before cutting any rotten roots, make sure to sterilize the blades with alcohol, flame or boiling water with antibacterial soap.

With this cactus, you will need to soak the rootball in warm water to loosen it

If you can see any damage or cuts in roots, wash off the soil and apply some alcohol on cuts. Let the roots dry before placing the cactus in the pot.

Place the cactus in its new pot

After you have examined the roots, place your cactus in the pot. It should be already filled with some gravel/rocks and charcoal + some soil on the top. Slide your cactus in and start gradually adding the soil from the sides. Don’t use any tools and pat on the soil gently while adding the soil and when you are done. Make sure to leave 1-2 inches free of soil on top layer. Overfilling the pot with soil can make your cacti prone to root rotting.

After 5-7 days, you can water your cactus. If the soil has gone down a lot, add some more on top. A healthy cactus should become stable and sit comfortably in the soil 2-3 weeks after repotting. If your cactus is shaky and needs additional support, then its roots are not healthy.

What to do after you have repotted your cacti

After repotting your cacti, you must provide it with a rest period of 7-10 days. Don’t water your cacti during this rest period. What is more, you need to prevent any water evaporation from cacti’s stem during these 7-10 days. This is very important, or otherwise the stem will dry out.

To make sure your cactus is not evaporating water from the stem, take it to a cool dark spot and cover it with a white transparent plastic vegetable bag. If it gets too hot in the room, spray your cactus after 4-5 days with some warm water and cover it again. After 7-10 days, take the cacti out and place them in their permanent spot. Also, water them for the first time after repotting.

If repotting was successful, you will notice extra growth and even flowering during the first month or two.

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The thought of having to repot a cactus can be somewhat intimidating. How do you handle all those prickly spines?

It really isn’t that hard to do. You just need to know how to not get hurt.

Read More: How and when to repot your indoor plants.

When to Repot your Cactus

Luckily, you won’t need to repot your cactus very often. You will know it’s time when you see roots coming out of the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. This tells you the cactus root-bound. Your cactus is asking you to give him some more space to grow.

If you don’t see any roots coming out, but it has been about two or three years since the last time the cactus got a new pot, it’s wise to take him out and give him some new soil filled with fresh nutrients.

Supplies needed to repot your cactus

  • Your cactus.
  • Cactus Soil.
  • Pot with drainage holes.
  • Protective gear.

You don’t want to get hurt by your plant. Some cacti have large thick spines, others like my bunny ear (Opuntia microdasys) have short barbed hair like prickles.

These glochids might look soft and cuddly but are definitely not. They are difficult to remove when you get them stuck in your hands or fingers and can cause major irritation.

But no fear. There are precautions you can take in the form of protective gear. And you have a number of options.

You can use newspaper or cardboard to wrap the cactus in. Or wear leather gloves to protect your hands.

I like to use kitchen tongs (which I use only for my cacti, not for food). If you are using metal kitchen tongs to hold your cactus, instead of soft plastic/silicone tongs, you can wrap some paper towel around the ends to protect the cactus.

It’s very important to make sure you use the right pot and potting soil that is specifically for cacti. These plants need well-draining soil and a container with drainage holes. Don’t go overboard with the new pot size. The next size up is just fine. Large containers mean that the soil will stay wet longer after watering. And cacti don’t like wet. Just think desert. They like it dry.

How to repot your cactus

Carefully remove the plant from its original pot. Wear leather gloves, or hold it with some newspaper or kitchen tongs.

You’ll probably see a packed root system. Shake off the old soil, and gently separate the roots. This makes it easier for them to spread and grow in the new pot. Prune any dead roots you might see.

Place a small amount of fresh cactus soil in the new pot. Carefully put the cactus in, and add more soil to the top.

Make sure to plant the cactus at the same depth it was growing in the old soil. Fill in soil all around the cactus. You can use a bamboo skewer to check around the sides of the pot. Press the soil down gently.

Do not water your cactus immediately after repotting. Wait about a week. You want to give the plant time to adjust to its new home and the new soil.

Use care when watering, overwatering is one of the biggest problems with cacti. Let the soil dry out completely between watering.

Now go tell yourself don’t be scared of the spines and repot your cactus. You can do it.

Want your own Bunny Ear Cactus (Opuntia microdasys)? You can get them delivered through Amazon or Etsy!

Next to my reading chair sits a lighted magnifier, a box of needles and various types of tweezers. This is the desert rat’s surgical kit that’s essential after every workday in my cactus garden. Many species produce spines with near-microscopic tips or sheaths that detach once they enter the skin. Often, I don’t know they’re there until I start typing. These embedded spines are not just hard to see, they’re near impossible to remove, and there is always blood!

A decade of painful experience has taught me how to safely and comfortably handle cactus or sharp succulents without damaging myself or their geometric natural beauty. There are tricks of the trade that not only save your hands and tender succulent skin, they prevent accidents, too.


I notice carpeting in dumpsters because this is the ideal means of moving and planting taller, top-heavy cactuses and succulents. Recycled plush carpet is thick enough to wrap around a very large, heavy or spiny plant for pain-free relocation. You can also lie long segments down to carry in a carpet sling. For succulents with smooth, easily damaged skin, use carpet padding, which protects you and the plant from unsightly cuts or abrasions.


My husband saved an old belt off our swamp cooler to carry basketball-size barrel cactus. Popular golden barrel cactus can be tough to carry any distance. Use the desert rat’s technique of folding a fan belt in half to grip the sides of a barrel like a clam shell. Belts are narrow enough to catches on the spines and hold tightly, producing as a convenient handle where the belt comes together on top.


Whenever I go to Wal-Mart or Big Lots, I look for super cheap leather-palm work gloves and buy them in quantity. Over the years, too many quality gloves have become so infested with spines and microscopic glochids that I’ve had to throw them out while still nearly new. I keep the cheap gloves on hand to use for prickly projects, then toss them without guilt after they become too painful to use any more.


Here’s another use for the handyman’s secret weapon! It’s no secret that cactuses are best handled with barbecue or salad tongs, but too often the grippers cause damage to the outer skin of the plant. Skin damage not only looks bad, it can allow pathogens to enter sterile internal tissues, which leads to infection and rot, the most common cause of death for these plants. To protect your plants, wrap the gripping ends of tongs in duct tape to create a more gentle gripping surface.


Somebody’s mother said, “You’re going to poke somebody’s eye out with that thing,” and it applies to gardens with cactus, succulents and desert plants. Certain types produce long thin spines or wiry leaves that become invisible when viewed on end. You bend over to look at something closer or when weeding around such plants and it’s easy to have an accident. I know because it’s hit my glasses more times than I can count. Getting poked in the face or eye is too unforgiving to risk it. Wear your reading glasses or clear safety glasses when weeding, pruning or other close contact activities.

Plants from extremely dry climates need armor to discourage wildlife intent on their internal moisture. With more and more of them entering the average garden both as a style preference and in response to drought, these desert rat tips become far more important. Learned from decades of trial and error, they lead to greater success with these curious, water-conserving species. Above all protect the skin – yours and the plant’s – when transplanting, moving, pruning and weeding.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at

Encouraging Root Growth in an 8-Year-Old Cactus


This is a great cactus! Generally when a succulent has not put off deep roots, it’s a sign that it is not being watered deeply enough.

When watering, make sure you are completely soaking the soil (using a well draining soil). If you think of cactus in the desert, they get flash floods of water and then long periods of drought. Your cactus needs the same.

The well draining soil is important because you don’t want the plant to sit in water too long. It needs just enough time for it to absorb the water it needs and then start putting off strong healthy roots as it searches for more. If the soil remains wet for too long, the roots can rot.

Cactus have a thick trunk full of water so they can tolerate long periods of drought, but they will thrive with more water. If you use the soak and dry method, only watering when the soil has dried out completely, you’ll find it will put off deep healthy roots in no time!

Further Reading:

  • How to Water Succulent Plants
  • Help! My Succulent is Dying
  • Successfully Growing Succulents Course

Rule of thumb for Cacti and Succulents Roots…………..

Quoting: Suggested Containers
The best pots are ceramic; whether terra cotta or glazed, is your personal preference. But make sure they have a drainage hole! Because a healthy cactus or succulent plant can live for many years, plastic containers will often deteriorate prematurely. This requires repotting plants, a difficult and dangerous task, especially when handling large specimens.
Re-pot every few years when plants have grown past the edges of the pot and stop increasing in size. Cacti and succulents are healthier and happier when under-potted (slightly undersized pot).
Plants for Pot Sizes
Large specimens like big barrel Ferocactus, columnar Trichocereus cacti or succulent Agave (Century Plants) require large pots to accommodate their large root systems and to counterbalance their imposing bulk. The pots must be substantial enough to support these large plants without tipping over.
The South African memsembranthemums are best planted in smaller pots. This also allows them to be grown on window sills in wet winter areas.
Bowl shaped pots are excellent for shallow rooted, clumping species. Species of cacti that form large, multi-stemmed clusters such as Claret Cup (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) and large growing Nipple Cacti (Mamillaria) prefer being planted into bowls.
Watering “Rules”
While cacti and succulents are low-care plants, they benefit from regular watering. Thoroughly soak established containers every week to10 days in the heat of summer; then let them dry out between waterings. Newly planted containers require more frequent watering to establish.

The Mammillaria genus is generally found in the southwest United States and Mexico, with some spread into the Caribbean. This huge genus of plants contains at least 275 species of highly variable form, and thus are highly prized among collectors. Mammillarias are common cacti at shows, as well as ordinary garden centers, both for their appearance and their desirable traits in cultivation. Although this genus does include some very difficult plants to maintain, the most common ones are usually very easy and will stay small enough and grow slow enough to provide years of enjoyment.

When they do flower, many species flower with a “crown” of flowers that surround the top of the plant like a wreath.

Growing Conditions

Light: Mammillaria species appreciate strong light, but many species dislike more than four hours of direct summer sunlight. Provide bright, even light for the best results.
Water: Allow the soil mix to become nearly dry between waterings, but then water thoroughly. Immaculate drainage is essential, so never let the pots sit in water. Suspend watering in the winter, but mist occasionally.
Soil: A rich, fast-draining cactus mix is ideal.
Fertilizer: During the growing season, fertilize with a cacti fertilizer mix. Suspend feeding during the dormant winter period.

Photo via


Mammillaria cacti can be propagated easily from offsets, which readily form in clusters around the base of the mother plant. To propagate, carefully remove the offset and allow the cut to dry on a paper towel for a few days. Depending on the size of the cut area, a callous will form over the cut surface.

Once the callous has formed, place the new plant in a pot with a potting soil mixture and keep in a warm place until new roots emerge. Once the plant is established, repot it into a regular container.


Repot as needed, preferably during the warm season. To repot cacti, make sure the soil is dry before repotting, then gently remove the pot. Knock away the old soil from the roots, making sure to remove any rotted or dead roots in the process. Treat any cuts with a fungicide. Place the plant in its new pot and backfill with potting soil, spreading the roots out as you repot. Leave the plant dry for a week or so, then begin to water lightly to reduce the risk of root rot.

Grower’s Tips

If you can grow cacti and succulents successfully, you can likely grow the popular Mammillaria without too much trouble. To encourage better flowering, allow the plants to enjoy a cooling period in the winter and suspend watering. Unlike many other cacti, which use their ribs as storage devices, the Mammillaria feature raised tubercles, from which spines emerge. When you water, the tubercles will expand to allow for increased water storage. The flowers emerge from the axils of these tubercles on the previous year’s growth, which accounts for their interesting halo effect. It’s imperative that the cactus is not exposed to prolonged dampness and sitting water. Never let your cactus sit in a dish of water. Lastly, make sure to fertilizer during the growing season for the best results.



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Cactus Care

Almost everyone knows that a cactus can go a long time between drinks, but there are a number of plants in other families — crassula, euphorbia, and lily — that can do the same thing. But, what is a cactus and how do you care for it?

Cactus Image Gallery


Cacti are a type of plant called succulents. They’ve learned how to compete for survival all over the world.

Cacti from desert areas, like the Mammillaria and Echinocactus, are plump and spiny while those that originally grew in jungle areas are flat or thin and spineless like the Rhipsalis and Schlumbergera.

There are even cacti with leaves. For instance, the Pereskia, when full grown, looks a bit like an orange or grapefruit tree. Other succulents come from a number of families.

The agave, milkweed, lily, and crassula have many members. These plants, with or without spines, all have compact growth habits and lots of character.

This character has caused us to bring them into our homes. In this article, we’ll talk about how to care for cactus plants.

Light Requirements of Cactus Plants will help you break the myth that cacti need lots of sunlight. Learn which cactus plants require hours of natural light and which ones can thrive indoors.

Water and Humidity Requirements of Cactus Plants is a great resource to find out just how wet your plants need to be.

Temperature Requirements of Cactus Plants will teach you everything you need to know about the tolerance level of cacti.

Fertilizing Cacti will help you determine whether or not you should fertilize your cactus plants.

Preventing Cacti Pests and Diseases will alert you to what pests and diseases are most harmful to your plant and how to deal with them.

Potting Cactus Plants will teach you how to correctly pot your plant, how to remove a stuck plant from its pot, and how to handle spiny plants.

Propagating Cacti will explain how to successfully propagate, divide, cut, graft, and grow your plant from seeds.

Arranging Cactus Plants is a great resource for learning how to arrange different types of cactus plants.

Putting a cactus near the sunny window is a no-brainer, but what if your view is of a sunless brick wall? Learn about the light requirements of cactus plants in the next section.

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