How to Propagate Cactus Pads: (It’s child’s play!)

featured image: text on left hand side reads "propagate your cactus pads in 5 easy steps" with text underneath "follow along with my son liam" a picture can be seen on the right hand side with my son liam holding a prickly pear cactus in a plastic orange pot.

Welcome!

I woke up this morning with a single goal…

To start the process of propagating a couple of cactus pads (from my prickly pear) and document the entire process to help you, my lovely readers!

Then I had a thought;

My 10-year-old son Liam is forever wanting to help me with my cacti collection and has mentioned a couple of times that he’d like to appear here on the website!

With that in mind, we decided that I’d guide him through the process and I could take all the photos I needed along the way to help you, propagate your own.

My 10 year old son Liam stood in our conservatory at home smiling while holding a prickly pear cactus.
My son Liam with a Prickly Pear

He does get a little impatient sometimes so we’d better get started!

Here’s what you’ll need to propagate your pads

  • A healthy pad at least 6 months old
  • Nitrile-dipped / thorn-proof gloves
  • Tongues if you have them
  • Sterile knife/secateurs
  • A clean pot (with a drainage hole)
  • Fresh potting mix
  • A small child (or you could do it yourself!)
My table with a prickly pear cactus, fresh soil, pot, gloves, secateurs, and a pair of tongues
Photo Credit: Secret Lives of Cacti

When’s the best time to propagate your pads?

I’ve had great success propagating pads during their natural growing season in spring and summer.

I’d like to caveat that by saying it’s probably best to avoid periods of extreme heat as it makes the process a little more complicated when it comes to watering.

Also, cacti need to be kept cooler and rest in their dormancy period during the colder months, so avoid trying to propagate during the winter.

Step 1) Let’s take our cutting

The first thing we have to do is to choose a good, healthy-looking pad that’s at least 6-9 months old.

Once you’ve selected one, we need to remove it.

Grab a pair of gloves, preferably a pair you can throw away after as you’ll probably end up with tens/hundreds of tiny spines that’ll drop out all over the floor if you’re not careful.

A pair of tongues will also be extremely helpful as they’ll enable you to hold the pad still without making direct contact.

Carefully, grip the pad with your tongues or gloved hands.

liam taking a firm grip of the pad with gloved hands

You now have two choices;

  1. Simply twist the pad until it snaps off.
  2. Use a sterile knife or secateurs and cut at a slight angle to take your cutting.

In this instance, I allowed Liam to use the sharp mini-secateurs under my supervision.

cutting pad using gloved hands and sharp secatuers

Step 2) Allow your cutting to callus over (boring yet essential!)

Imagine my son’s disappointment when he found out that after taking the cutting, we now have to wait a few days for the wound to callus over.

Don’t skip this bit, It’s essential to avoid your pad rotting in the soil.

I’ve heard many people recommend sprinkling a little cinnamon powder on the open wound to help it heal quicker and some praise its antibacterial properties.

Others disagree and say this method offers little benefit and recommend using rooting powder instead.

I don’t do either….

I usually like to leave the cutting in a sunny position for a couple of days and let nature do its thing or in this example, I had a Liam dab a little rubbing alcohol with a Q-tip.

The alcohol will help prevent bacteria and also help to dry out the wound a little quicker.

The cut should look something like the image below when they’ve fully callused over;

Your pad will look like this when it’s callused over

Step 3) In the meantime, we can fill our pot

Liam filling two terracotta pots with fresh soil mix ready to house the new cuttings
Preparing pots ready for the cuttings

I used to worry about using the correct type of soil when propagating until I read that you could simply leave the pad in an empty pot and as long as the potted section is in darkness and the top of the pad is receiving light, the pad will begin to sprout.

With that in mind, I simply use my usual mix of 1 part cacti and succulent potting mix with 2 parts 4mm horticultural and it’s never let me down.

You’ll also be just fine with your regular soil as long as it’s a gritty mix so any new roots don’t sit in excess water.

Step 4) A couple of days later…it’s time to plant!

Make a hole with your finger in the soil then place your pad upright (callused end facing down) and bury around a third of the pad in the pot using tongues if you have them.

The pad cutting being planted using a pair of tongues a third of the way into a terracotta pot
Use tongues to plant half of the pad into your soil mix

You may find that depending on the size, your pad will fall over...

If this happens, you could always choose to lie it down instead.

A pad lay down in a terracotta pot
Pads will also propagate when lay down

After all, this is how they grow in the wild. Pads fall from the mother plant and simply begin sprouting roots from its many areoles and your potted one will too!

Step 5) Water right away

The internet is awash (excuse the pun) with different watering methods when propagating pads.

From keeping the soil continually moist by spraying to simply using your usual watering method.

I tend to water most of my cacti including the mother plant once every 7-14 days depending on how hot it’s been and the time of year.

I’ve found that watering each time I water the mother plant plus once in between works best.

Doing it this way means you don’t have to keep worrying about whether the soil is too dry etc.

How will you know when your pad has started to root?

There’s nothing set in stone here. Your new plant could start to root in as little as a week or it could take a month or more.

The best way to check is to give it a gentle wiggle every now and again.

If it’s started to root, you’ll feel a light resistance.

When this happens, I recommend changing to a normal watering routine for the Opuntia genus.

For me, it’s usually once every 7-14 days depending on the weather as described above during the normal growing season.

How did you get on?

Did you follow along or run into any issues? If so let me know how you got on in the comments sections below and I’ll get back to you!

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