The San Pedro cactus is a tall, thin plant that originates in South America, particularly around the Andes Mountains. In its native home, the San Pedro cactus is an important part of spiritual ceremonies but it has also become a decorative piece in many yards and homes. This plant grows quickly, so you won’t need to wait long to propagate it. Of course, you need to know the proper method for planting San Pedro cuttings to ensure the new ones are healthy and strong, and that’s exactly what we’re going to look at today.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth care guide, check out our full article on growing San Pedro cacti.
A Note On Legality
San Pedro is well known for containing a psychoactive compound called mescaline. While mescaline is almost universally illegal, the actual cultivation of the San Pedro cactus is not as clear cut, varying in legality by location. Always check with your local laws before growing this plant to avoid any potential issues.
Take The Cutting
The first step is to take a cutting from one of your current San Pedro cactuses. The plant should be at least 12 inches tall since this will allow you to take off the top 6 inches. The taller the cactus, the more you can remove from the cutting, though you should leave at least 6 inches of the old cactus above the soil to ensure the parent plant can continue to grow.
Use a clean, sharp knife to remove the cutting from the plant. Then lay the cutting in a cool, dry, shaded spot to let the cut end dry and form a scab. This can take up to 3 weeks to form, though you can place a small fan near the cactus to speed this up. Do not plant the freshly cut end into the soil since this could result in fungus or bacteria growth, infecting the cutting. You must wait until the scab is fully formed before you plant your cutting.
When To Take Cuttings
The best time for propagating your San Pedro cactus is in the spring, much like most other plants. This will give you the right conditions needed, including warm temperatures and soil, which will reduce how long it takes for those roots to sprout after you plant the new cutting.
It also gives the parent plant the proper environment to recover from having a large chunk of it removed. Taking cuttings in the fall or winter can often put too much stress on the plant and lead to future growth problems.
You can use any container that you like for your San Pedro cutting, though terracotta pots are best for cacti and succulents. These pots absorb moisture and allow excess water to be released to prevent the soil from becoming too saturated. You can also use plastic containers, though these should include drainage holes to prevent overwatering when you eventually start watering your new San Pedro cactus.
San Pedro cacti can grow quite large, so choose a pot that is large enough to accommodate future growth. Choose a container that is shallow and wide to allow for the large root system to grow.
Once you’ve chosen your container, you need to prepare the soil. The best option is a dedicated cactus soil, which is well-draining, with proper aeration and the right mix of inorganic and organic material for a cactus to thrive.
You can purchase cactus soil from any home center or store with a gardening section. It’s also easy to make your own by combining 2 parts pumice or perlite with 3 parts sand, gravel, or chicken grit. Combine the ingredients and add them to the pot. You’ll also need some extra to add after the cutting is in place.
Planting the Cutting
Once the pot and soil are ready to go and the cut cactus end has scabbed over, you can plant your new cutting. This is easy to do since you only need to place the cutting vertically on top of the soil in the pot. Then add another 2 or 3 inches of soil around the cutting, leaving an inch or so between the top of the soil and the top of the pot.
Do not pack the soil down since this will cut off airflow around the base of the cutting. You also don’t need to add water to the soil yet, though you can lightly mist the top of the soil if it is too dry. There are no roots to absorb the water at this point, so the plant doesn’t need any moisture just yet. Water at this point can actually be harmful and lead to bacterial or fungal growth, so resist the urge to do so until the plant has rooted.
Before planting you can also use rooting hormone to help speed up the rooting process. This is not necessary though, and many gardeners have grown perfectly healthy cacti without it.
Though a cutting of 6 to 12 inches will likely be able to stand on its own in the soil, you may need to add some supports to a larger piece to prevent it from falling over. This is easy to do using a couple of garden stakes.
Insert one on each side of the cutting, pushing them deep into the soil. Then extend garden twine between the two poles, gently wrapping it around the cutting in the center. This will hold the San Pedro cutting in place until it can stand up on its own.
The cutting doesn’t need a lot of light at first, so the best place for it is a shaded spot in your home or yard. Keep it out of direct sunlight since this will dry out any of the moisture in the cutting. Until it has roots, the plant can’t absorb any moisture to replace what’s lost, resulting in a sunburned plant that can’t regulate its temperature and likely won’t survive.
Watch For Roots
It usually takes about 2 weeks, but can take up to a month, for roots to grow from your new cutting depending on when you’ve planted it. To know if your San Pedro cactus has sprouted any roots, gently lift it from the soil and peek underneath. If there are no roots, rebury it back in the soil and wait another 2 weeks to check again. As noted above, do not water or place the plant in direct sunlight during this time. Make sure the soil is warm and dry to encourage those roots to grow.
When to Water
Once your San Pedro cactus has sprouted some roots, you can start adding water to the soil. Do so gently, adding only small amounts of water at a time, allowing the soil to dry almost completely before adding more. Doing so gives the roots the moisture they need without causing the soil to become soggy. If it is too damp, the new roots can start to rot, which is difficult to repair and could cost you your new cutting.
Cacti are typically not too water hungry, and San Pedro are no exception. Through the lifetime of your plant you’ll typically be watering deeply, and then letting the soil dry out completely. This can be as infrequently as once every 2 weeks.
Move the Cutting
Once the roots have grown and can start taking on more moisture, they are also ready for more light. You can move them into an area that allows for direct sunlight, though don’t give them too much at first. Acclimate them slowly to full sunlight to avoid burning your new cactus. Start by exposing them to only an hour or two of direct sunlight per day, and then slowly increase that amount over the next few weeks.
The more sun they get, the more often you’ll have to water them, so keep a close eye on the plant to be sure it is getting everything it needs. Eventually, you should be able to give them full sun, though they can survive in partial sun if needed.
Planting San Pedro Cuttings
Cacti are some of the easier plants to propagate, and San Pedro continues that trend. Propagating new cacti from your existing plant is easy, fun, and a great way to grow your garden with very little cost. Try it out, and let us know how your propagation journey goes!