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How To Repot A Cactus

At Tula, we love repotting plants. And as long as they’re pest-free, we encourage customers to bring their plants to the store so we can repot them. However, so many plant owners shy away from repotting one kind of plant out of fear. Cacti are covered in spines, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be easily handled and potted.

So whether you can’t make it into the store or you want to conquer your fears and level up your plant parentage skills, here’s your step-by-step guide on how to repot your spiky friend. And check out the video above for a visual run-through by Tula founder Christan Summers.

Before you start, four tips to make your repotting easier:

  1. Ask yourself: am I sure this is what the cactus needs? For a complete guide on how to know if your plant is ready for a bigger pot, go here.
  2. Choose the right pot. When repotting a cactus, it’s best to choose a pot one size up from the pot the plant is currently in. About an inch deeper and wider on either side is usually perfect. Cacti prefer to be in small vessels and relatively rootbound, so up-potting in small increments is great. And of course, always steer toward pots with drainage.
  3. Let the cactus dry out. Repotting a plant with dry soil will make it much easier to remove from the old pot and reduce the possibility of damaging the roots.
  4. Before you repot, prepare a space. Lay out some paper bags or newspaper and assemble your materials: the cactus, the new pot, and fresh cactus/succulent soil. You might also want an old paintbrush to clean up the plant after you repot. Put on some gloves (normal gardening gloves are great, but some of the very spiky cacti might require thick leather work gloves, or even doubling up gloves.

Now, let’s repot!

  1. Place a small layer of cactus/succulent soil in the bottom of the pot. This will create a nest that the plant can sit on and provide new organic material into which new roots can spread.
  2. Wearing gloves, remove the plant from the old pot by massaging the sides, tilting the plant over the new pot, and lightly holding the spiky part of the plant in the palm of your hand. Allow the cactus to slide out of the plastic pot. Avoid pulling too much on the plant, as it can damage the roots and stalk. If you are repotting a plant that is in a clay or other solid pot, use a chopstick or butter knife to loosen the soil from the inner wall of the pot. Set the old pot aside.
  3. Massage the rootball of the plant while holding it above the destination pot. It’s okay if most or all of the soil falls off the roots of the cactus. This is very normal and helpful for exposing the roots and exchanging old soil for new, nutrient-rich soil.
  4. Plan how you’d like to position your plant. Repotting is an excellent opportunity to correct a cactus’ posture, bury it a little bit deeper to support new growth, or even trim off pups from the base. Arid plants are resilient when uprooted, so take all the time you need to decide how you want your finished product to look before moving on.
  5. Place the cactus on top of the nest created in step one. The top of the root ball should be level with the brim of the pot. If it’s higher, remove the plant and scoop some soil out of the nest. Add more soil if it is lower. If planting bare root, don’t be afraid to bury a good portion of the stalk of the cactus beneath the soil. As the plant grows, it will appreciate the extra support at the base.
  6. Holding the plant at the center of the pot, stand back and make sure the cactus is positioned deep enough to support itself, as well as how you’d like it to stay aesthetically.
  7. Fill the negative space with fresh soil. If the rootball is small and loose, suspend the roots a little bit above the nest at your desired height and fill in soil around and below it. Hold the plant secure and straight with one hand while you fill in the soil with the other. Evenly pack the soil around the plant, filling in any air pockets. The soil should be structured enough to hold the cactus up, but not so dense that it can’t allow air or water in easily. Light and airy is the key.
  8. Don’t be afraid to start over from scratch if the plant is sitting too high or falling over.
  9. Tap the side of the pot so the soil shakes and levels out.
  10. Brush the plant with an old paintbrush to remove the soil from the spikes.
  11. Clean up the pot with a brush or slightly moist paper towel.
  12. If extra support is needed, add rocks to the top of the soil or stake the cactus with a chopstick or bamboo stick.
  13. Hold off on watering for a few days, even if the cactus is dry. Once the soil settles and it acclimates to its new home, water away!

An expertly-potted Crested Myrtillocactus geometrizans, a rare collector cactus for sale at Tula Plants & Design.

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