Cacti are low maintenance plants for the home with a ton of character and a vast array of form. They are relatively maintenance-free except for infrequent watering and annual food. Many gardeners ask "should I repot my cactus?" They don't need repotting often, but once in a while for soil replenishment and when the plant needs a larger pot. When to repot a cactus depends upon the plant and its condition. Read on for tips on how to repot a cactus and do it without spending the rest of the day picking spines out of your hands.
Tools for Repotting
Cacti are succulents and tend to favor dry, hot conditions. They store moisture in their pads and use their spines as both defense and to provide some protection from burning hot sun rays. Cactus grown in the home can almost be ignored but they do require light, warmth, water and repotting to refresh the soil. Cactus repotting requires a special soil mix, a well-draining container, and some tactical protection.
The first issue to deal with is the handling of a spiny plant. There are a couple of ways to go about this. You can wrap the plant in several layers of newspaper and secure lightly with tape or twine. You can also use a pair of leather gloves or, for smaller plants, just grab your oven mitts.
One of the safest repotting tips is to use kitchen tongs. You will also need a cactus mix that you may purchase or make. A good combination is equal parts sand or bird gravel, potting soil and leaf mold. Your container must have excellent drainage holes and preferably be unglazed so the clay can direct away and evaporate any excess moisture.
When to Repot
You will know when to repot a cactus if you see roots coming out the bottom of the container. This indicates it is overly root-bound. Most cacti find small spaces very cozy and can stay in their container for years. The sight of roots will let you know it has expanded too much and will need repotting.
The next size up container will be appropriate since they like it snug. A general rule of thumb is to repot every 2 to 4 years. If you fertilize annually, the latter is more appropriate but if you don't fertilize, repot in two years to replenish soil fertility. The best time is during active growth in January or February.
How to Repot
Once you have answered the question, "should I repot my cactus?", it is time to gather your tools and trade in the old soil or container. Not every cactus needs a new container, but fresh soil is a good idea. Only pot bound plants need a larger pot.
Wrap, glove or tong the plant gently out of its pot. They usually come out readily if the soil is dry but you may have to run a trowel around the edges to loosen the soil. Shake off the old soil and plant the cactus at the same depth it was growing in the old soil. Fill in around the roots with your medium and place it in a sunny southeast or east window.
Among important repotting cactus, tips are to not water the plant yet, as it is adjusting to being handled and new soil conditions. After a few weeks, you can water the plant and allow it to dry out before watering again.
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