Cactus Grafting 101: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide
How to Easily Graft Cactus
Grafting cactus is like a mix of surgery and art. It’s barbaric and beautiful. Grafting is the process of combining two plants together forming a symbiotic relationship between two plants. It is a common practice in all of horticulture and widely used in fruit production, ornamentals and more. This guide will provide you with simple step by step instructions, including the tools, tips, and aftercare needed to successfully graft cactus together.
While it may seem like a daunting process, grafting is actually very simple and easy to learn! It just takes a bit of patience and practice, but the results are very worthwhile. The essential skill can help save plants, expand your collection to rare types that exist only with a root stock companion, and increase the vigor and productivity of your favorite varieties.
Key terms to understand
- Rootstock: The base cactus onto which another plant (the scion) is grafted. It provides stability, nutrients, and support.
- Scion: The upper part of the cactus that is grafted onto the rootstock. It carries the desired traits that you want to propagate.
- Vascular Bundle: Also known as the Vascular Ring located in the center of the cactus. Bundles of specialized tissues responsible for transporting water, nutrients, and sugars between different parts of the cactus.
- Union: The point where the scion and rootstock are successfully grafted together, allowing for nutrient and water exchange.
Grafting Tools and Techniques: Tailoring Your Approach
The essence of grafting is making a fresh cut between two cacti and allowing them to heal together and fuse to form a new union between the two. The key to successful grafting comes in applying pressure and securing the scion in place for 7-10 days. The tools you need should help to achieve this.
Grafting techniques vary, offering a palette of options to achieve your desired outcome. While some prefer grafting tape and medical bandages, others opt for rubber bands or grafting clips. We are partial to medical bandage and grafting tape and rubber bands for securing grafts and forming unions for their ease of use. The key is to find the method that resonates with you and suits the specific cacti you're working with.
Supplies You'll Need:
- A healthy cactus as rootstock
- Scion cactus with desired traits
- Sharp, clean grafting knife
- Grafting tape, medical bandages, rubber bands
- Clean, sterile working area
- 70%+ Isopropyl alcohol
- Gloves for handling sharps
- Patience, curiosity, and a willingness to learn
Choosing the Right Rootstock and Scion to Graft
Consider it as a botanical matchmaking process, where a rootstock becomes a nurturing partner to a scion, allowing the latter to flourish in ways it might not on its own. As you decide on the perfect pairing between rootstock and scion, consider these crucial factors that shape the harmony of your creation:
Size of the Scion: The size of your scion— the cactus you want to graft onto the rootstock—plays a pivotal role in the success of the graft. Ensure that the scion isn't significantly larger than the rootstock, as a harmonious match in size will facilitate nutrient exchange and overall compatibility.
Size of the Rootstock: Equally important is the rootstock's size. It serves as the foundation for your grafted creation, providing stability, nutrients, and support. Select a rootstock that can adequately support the growth of your scion while maintaining a balanced appearance. In general the larger the rootstock the more energy it can provide for the scion.
Pro tip: Pick a similarly sized rootstock to scion combo to minimize the amount of exposed flesh on the rootstock at the union, as this flesh will recede drastically once dry. This will also provide the best aesthetic look to the graft as well.
Common Types of Cactus Rootstock
The San Pedro cactus, trichocereus pachanoi serves as a versatile and popular rootstock, actually having gained widespread popularity early on in collectors gardens as a reliable rootstock because of its disease and pest resistance, fast growth, and easy handling. The Torch Cactus (Echinopsis grandiflora), Trichocereus 'Sun Goddess', Blue Candle Cactus (Myrtillocactus geometrizans), Dragonfruit (Hylocereus spp.), and Pereskia (Pereskopsis) are commonly used alternatives. Each brings its characteristics and advantages, allowing you to experiment with diverse grafting combinations.
We have a wide selection of grafting stock in bulk packs available here.
Step-by-Step Grafting Journey: Your Path to Success
- Clean Your Tools: Use 70%+ Isopropyl alcohol to ensure your grafting knife and cutting surface are sterilized and clean.
- Cut the Rootstock: Make a clean, flat cut on the rootstock. You may also remove the top areoles to create a beveled platform for more space and prevent offsets from pushing off the scion in the future.
- Cut the Scion: Trim the scion cactus to match the cut angle of the rootstock.
Size recommendation: We recommend using a small scion less than 4 inches. You need to apply a lot of pressure so taller scions can be difficult to graft. The power of grafting lies in starting with something as small as a single areole and producing a whole plant!
Pro tip: at this point you’ll want to make sure that your scion is a good fit to your stock and make adjustments accordingly. Ensure your scion will sit comfortably atop the stock.
- Overlap the Vascular Bundle: Align the vascular bundles of the rootstock and scion for optimal grafting success. Ensuring contact of the vascular rings to transfer key nutrients between the union.
- Secure the scion: Firmly press the scion to the rootstock and use your chosen method (grafting tape, medical bandage, rubber band, etc.) to secure the graft with very firm, even downward pressure. When using medical bandages you can use the spines of the rootstock to hook into the bandage to hold it in place then secure the seal with grafting tape. A large rubber band over top of the scion and around the pot, or secured to the stem, can help apply extra pressure needed. Ensure you have plenty of pressure and it is applied evenly across the scion.
- Heal Union for 7-10 days: At this point your plant doesn’t need much light. Allow the union to slowly heal in a shady more humid location. In this time the flesh of the rootstock and scion will fuse together and form a union.
- Remove Bandage: After 7-10 days remove the securing material carefully. Check to see if the scion is snugly attached and inspect the union between scion and rootstock carefully for any signs of rot, pests, mold.
Successful grafting union should have a healthy healed callus on the stock plant with no signs of rot forming and a firmly attached scion. The perfect union is much like a nice weld and will have a clean seal all the way around the scion. This is the reason firm even forward pressure is important in forming the union.
Unsuccessful grafting union: If the scion is easily removed or you have any mold, pests, or rot forming near the union it's best to restart the process. Simply cut back the rootstock and the scion and repeat!
Grafting might seem like a daunting endeavor, but take heart—it's a forgiving process. Failure isn't a full stop; it's a stepping stone to improvement. Don't fear trying again, even on the same cactus. Each attempt brings you closer to mastery. Remember, even experts were once beginners.
Maintaining the Graft After the Union
Once the graft has successfully united, the scion will start benefiting from the rootstock's energy, and new growth should emerge within 2-4 weeks depending on the season. At this stage, it's crucial to closely observe the union and cut sites on both the rootstock and scion for any signs of rotting or infection. During watering, it's advisable to keep the union dry until it's fully calloused over, similar to how we would want to treat a fresh cutting.
Keep in mind that the rootstock might continue producing offsets. To ensure the scion's optimal growth, regularly remove these offsets to redirect the plant's energy towards the development of the grafted portion. You have the option to remove offsets as soon as they're of a manageable size or allow them to grow further before removal and potential propagation. A word of caution if the offset is near the scion it can force the scion to be removed as it continues to grow near it.
Additional scion preparations
You may be most familiar with tip grafts in which the growing tip is cut and grafted onto a stock, but there are two other types of scion, mid section grafts and areole grafts that we would like to highlight that can be equally as effective in grafting cactus,
Mid section grafts, also referred to as ‘puck grafts’ are essentially just a middle cutting of a cactus grafted onto a stock as the scion. Since there is no growth tip present the energy of the unified cactus will direct itself towards forming offsets through the areoles of the scion.
Areole Grafts, also known as ‘Slab Grafts’ is a cross section of the Mid-Cut grafted onto stock as a scion. Again since there is no growth tip present the scion will produce new offsets from the areoles present.
With patience, resourcefulness, and a willingness to learn, you'll soon witness your efforts unify then multiply. The cacti you graft will not only reflect your creativity in the beautiful cactus creations you produce, but also demonstrate the incredible resilience of nature. Grafting is a skill every collector needs to know to expand their collection, save a dying plant, and propagate for future generations.
- Key terms to know: Rootstock provides stability and support, scion carries desired traits, vascular bundles transport nutrients and need to connect in the graft, and the union is where the graft successfully connects.
- San Pedro cactus is a common rootstock. Other common cactus rootstocks include Torch Cactus, Sun Goddess, Blue Candle, Periskopsis, Dragonfruit.
- There are various tools and techniques for grafting cacti, and the choice depends on personal preference and the specific cacti being grafted. We are partial to medical bandages grafting tape, and rubber bands .
- Select rootstock and scion based on size compatibility and creative possibilities.
-Grafting successfully depends on cutting two cactus fresh, aligning the vascular bundles and applying very firm pressure for 7-10 days to form a union between the rootstock and scion.
- the scion will benefit from the graft immediately after the union has healed
- there are 3 main types of scions, tip grafts, mid sections grafts, slab grafts