Have you ever wanted to grow cacti or succulents but weren’t sure how? It is fairly easy to grow a cactus from seeds and doing so can be a fun and affordable way to grow your garden. Not to mention, cacti make excellent houseplants as they’re typically very low effort plants that require minimal work to keep alive. This is because their thick, leafless stems are built to retain water, allowing them to withstand prolonged drought and bouts of forgetfulness. In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to do to start growing your very own cactus or succulent from seeds.
Starting at the Roots
To grow a cacti, you must first have a good foundation, namely the soil. It is commonly believed that succulents and cacti share the same soil as ordinary plants. However, it is not entirely true. Regular potting soil typically includes different nutrients than what cacti need, and is also far too compact. Even well draining potting soil typically provides less drainage than a true cacti potting mix.
For most houseplants and outdoor garden plants, the purpose of ordinary potting soil is to preserve moisture. Because they are adapted to dry conditions, regular potting soil is unsuitable for cacti and succulents as they need to dry out fast in between watering. It’s damaging for them if they’re sitting in soil that is retaining its moisture too long after a watering.
Cactus or succulent soil often contains around 50% ordinary soil and 50% drainage-enhancing additives, such as granite, sand, perlite, or pumice. This make up ensures that the soil drains quickly, and that your plant’s roots are sitting in overly moist soil.
Without proper drainage you open your plant up to issues such as root rot. That’s why, whenever growing a cacti or succulent, always start with the correct soil. Otherwise, you likely won’t have a successful plant.
How to Plant Cactus Seeds
Once you have the correct soil in place, you can begin planting your seeds. The below is a good overview of the general process, but you should always confirm specific planting directions of your seeds. These instructions are generally on the seed packet, or may be on the website associated with the seeds.
Step 1: Soak the Seeds
To successfully grow a cactus from seeds, starting by soaking the seeds in water for 30 minutes in a bowl.
After soaking, remove any pulp that has accumulated on the seeds. Rub them lightly between your thumb and fingers to do this. This will assist in the removal of the seed coat and boost the likelihood of germination.
Step 2: Stratify the Seeds
Stratification is a method of breaking seed dormancy and promoting germination by simulating winter conditions. Before planting, the seeds can be stratified for 4 to 6 weeks.
Place the seeds in a container with a handful of dirt and mix well. Then, keep the container in the refrigerator for at least four weeks. Afterwards, your seeds should be ready to plant having been tricked into thinking they just experienced the winter.
This step is not strictly necessary, and many gardeners, including myself, have had success skipping it. It can help however with particularly hard to grow seeds, and does increase the odds of germination.
Step 3: Prepare the Soil And Container
As noted above, you want to make sure that you use a soil mix for cacti and succulents. These well draining soils will promote proper moisture levels for both seeds and full grown plants.
For containers, any type of gardening pot will work as long as it has proper drainage holes. For starting seeds, I tend to lean towards the smaller size as it makes it easier to work with. A small 6” clay pot is my choice, this provides enough room to start multiple seeds. You can also go smaller and start a single seed per container. Seed trays are another great option, especially those with a lid that will provide the humidity for germination.
Step 4: Plant the Seeds
After the soil has been prepared, the cactus seeds may be planted. Water the soil thoroughly before planting and allow it to drain fully. Spread the cactus seeds on top of the soil, then cover them with a light coating of cactus soil.
Check your seed instructions for depth, but cacti generally don’t like to be buried too deeply. Planting too deeply can prevent your cacti from properly germinating.
Keep the soil wet by watering it as needed, but don’t overdo it. To maximize the odds of germination, place the pot in a warm setting that gets bright light. If you don’t have a lid, you can use plastic wrap and a rubber band to cover the container and lock in moisture.
The first seedlings should sprout after a few weeks.
How to Care for Cactus Seeds
Cactus seeds must be collected from a healthy cactus plant or purchased from a reliable source before being planted. It’s critical to sow using fresh, healthy seeds, as old or damaged seeds may not germinate. This is one of the biggest tips as so many people have failed grows simply due to using old, unhealthy seeds. Start with fresh seeds to give yourself the best odds of successful germination.
If you’re gathering seeds from a cactus in your garden, be careful not to injure the mother plant by removing the seeds too quickly. Cactus seeds can be stored until used, but it is important to keep them in a dry place to prevent germination.
When to Transplant the Cactus Seedlings
When the cactus seedlings reach a height of two inches they are ready to be transplanted into separate pots. The transplanted cactus will be capable of growing on its own at this size. Transplanting before this risks damaging the plant, and can lead to growth issues.
Fill each pot with a high-quality cactus mix or create your own by mixing equal parts perlite, grit, and sand with ordinary potting soil. Each seedling must be planted in a container with drainage holes.
After transplanting, give them a dose of fresh water to thoroughly soak the soil. Then, continue with normal care for your plant.