Growing Cactus from Seed

I don’t think we’ve ever gotten this question before on the blog. Lucky for you someone finally asked it. Thanks, Lauren!

Hello Cactus Jungle,
In the next month or so I am considering trying to grow some pincushion cactuses from seeds. Do you have any suggestions on the the type of soil or how I should set up the initial planting tray?

Several months ago I impulsively started growing some cactus seeds from a variety mixture (so I have no idea what they are officially). How many years does it take for more common cactus varieties to mature and how long should I wait before attempting to repot cactus seedlings?

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
Cheers, Lauren


We germinate cacti seed in our standard cactus and succulent soil. If it is rare or expensive seed we will sterilize the soil first by steaming it – moistening and putting in a microwave safe dish and heating until it hits 160 degrees. About six to seven minutes on high for a gallon of soil. We then let it cool with a tight cover on and then use it in our seedling trays.

We will scatter the seed on the surface and lightly mist. Then we top dress with a single layer of crushed horticultural charcoal, that we either smash with a hammer or run through a little electric chopper (Cuisinart) until it is like course sand. We mist that as well. Then we dome the seed tray and put under florescent lights that run 16 hours a day.

Most pincushion type cacti will germinate in just a week or two, other types can take months. Of course after germination is complete and they start getting some growth we ventilate the dome and lower the humidity, but they do need it fairly humid during germination and that first push of young growth. We usually leave the seedling in the germination tray until they are the size of large peas or small grapes. With some species that is 6 months; others it is a year or two.

The big trick on transplanting is to handle them very gently so they do not bruise and make them prone to infection. It helps to keep them dry for a week after transplant so any damage heals under dry condition.

Good luck and have fun!

Cactus and Hedgehogs, Together Again

No, I don’t understand why someone put a cactus costume on their adorable pet pygmy hedgehog.

I don’t understand!!

Even more amazing is the whole thing is at a site for DIY and they give instructions on how to make your own cactus costume for your pet pygmy hedgehog. Awesome is not the right word I’m looking for, but it will have to do for now.

Just so you know, these cute little animals are illegal in California. I know this because I had one back before I lived in California and I was sad to learn I couldn’t have another pet pygmy hedgehog after we moved here. They are the cutest pet in the whole wide world ever, but nocturnal so not the greatest pet ever. Plus they eat mealworms which was OK since we also had geckos at the time.

I know what you’re thinking – you never know what you will find on the Cactus Blog! Woohoo!

Oh The Things They Do With Tillandsias

Airplants have become very popular these days. We see this at the store every day. But you know how you know when something has become really popular?

This is how: a glow in the dark giraffe accessory for your Tillandsias, now available on Etsy:

DIY Cactus

The Arizona Republic features DIY home renovations.

The cactus wall-hanging is made of leftover wood-flooring slats that Michelle attached. She covered the whole piece in contact paper. Then she projected the cactus image onto the piece, drew around the image with a pencil and used an X-Acto knife to cut around the design. She peeled off the background and painted it white, then peeled off the cactus design. She figures she spent less than $10 on the piece. Michael McNamara / The Republic

Seems easy enough. If you have a nice branching cholla that you can put a strong light behind to get a shadow on a piece of paper.

Getting a Cactus through Airport Security

Can you get a cactus through security and take it home on an airplane? My Ngoc To did, as she wrote in the Harvard Crimson recently.

I have a pet cactus, and his name is Earl….

I was a bit nervous going to the airport. I was really afraid that they wouldn’t let him through because I know they usually don’t allow pets or plants on any international flight. But I figured—this is a domestic flight, and Earl wouldn’t hurt anybody … his spines are fuzzy. But just in case something happened, I asked my parents to stand outside of the security line so that I could give them Earl if he couldn’t pass. They waited.

I walked up to the start of the security line and handed my ID to the man at the counter. He saw Earl in my hand, looked at me, and said, “You’d better not eat that thing—I hear they’re poisonous.” He smiled and let me through.

The real panic came at the security line. I didn’t think I could carry Earl in my hands through the scan. I couldn’t put him on the conveyer belt either because a million monstrosities could happen to him—he could get knocked off, he could get confiscated, he could get tipped over or caught in one of the grooves and lose all his soil. Luckily, I realized that I could nestle him inside one of the trays.

I went through the scan and looked back in anticipation at the man overlooking the scans. A few beats passed, and I knew that Earl was safe when the man turned back, gave me a weird look and shook his head. He was trying hard not to smile.

Click through for the picture of the happy cactus. And now you know how to get a cactus through airport security.

Do you have a traveling-with-cactus-story to share?

Cleveland Succulents

Apparently gardeners in Ohio are lazy because the Plain Dealer recommends you replace all your difficult to grow plants with the easy to grow Sansevieria.

One reason for the drop in popularity of house plants is that so many varieties were just too difficult or demanding to grow….

Probably the easiest house plant to grow is the… extremely hardy houseplant is sansevieria….

Low light, low water – easy is right.

Size-wise there are two types, low-growing Bird’s Nest (Sansevieria trifasciata) that is perfect for a desk or table, or the old-fashioned taller varieties that look spectacular in an 8-inch or larger pot….

The taller types are definitely old-fashioned, but the bird’s nest types can actually be very modern and quite appropriate even for your well-designed home.

A study by NASA found that it is one of the best plants for improving indoor air quality by passively absorbing toxins such as nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde.

NASA got in the act studying sansevierias too? Nice!

Bay Area Secrets

The Ruth Bancroft Garden‘s curator of succulents shares his secrets for succulent survival in the San Ramon Valley part of the Bay Area. (Hint: it gets colder there than here.)

Growing succulents in the Bay Area is not the impossible task that it might seem, says Brian Kemble, curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek….

The garden now closes for one month each autumn while workers cover the particularly frost- and rain-sensitive plants as protection against a cold snap.

“It’s worth it,” Kemble says, “to grow all of these wonderful plants.”

And if a bad frost comes, as it did in 1972 and 1990, you accept your losses and move on….

Protecting your plants from frost damage is very important. The Ruth Bancroft Garden puts many specimens under plastic-covered wooden frames from November through March. The clear plastic lets light in and helps trap warm air inside. The bottom of the cover is raised above ground to allow for air circulation. Because the garden has so many plants, the covers are routinely placed, but in a home garden, covers can be added only in a threat of frost or extremely cold temperatures.

By the way, Friday they’re having,

Bluegrass, Brats and Beer in the Garden! Friday September 9, 5:30 till 8 p.m.

Succulents in the Summertime

Caroline from Marin sends us 2 photos of her recently planted succulents.

I purchased this cactus from you about a month ago. The leaves are slowly turning black, almost as if they are burning? I live in Marin and it recorded full sun almost all day. Any advice?

Thanks, Caroline

Hi. I purchased this aloe plant from you about a month ago and sent a note last week because I was concerned it wasn’t doing well. It seems to be getting worse. Here is a recent picture. Any suggestions what could be wrong?

Thanks, Caroline

Hap was gracious enough to provide an extensive answer discussing Mediterranean climate plants in Mediterranean climate summers (That’s us!)


Both of your plants, Aeonium “Sunburst” and the Aloe striata are winter growing plants from Mediterranean Climates just like ours (the Aeonium is from the Canary Islands and the Aloe from South Africa), where all the rain is in the winter months and summers are basically a long drought.

To deal with this they have a summer dormancy period (just like many native Californian plants) where they shut down and nap for the summer and then wake up with the onset of the winter rains and start their active growth stage.

The Aeonium deals with the summer dormancy by letting some of the lower leaves dry out and curl up, to reduce surface area exposed to the sun and the Aloe by doing something similar as well as developing Carotenoids (red and orange pigments) that are more resistant to UV during the long hot summers and increase in the intensity of the sunlight and UV.

Both of the plants you sent photos of look normal for this time of year and should take off with new growth in October and November and really look great by the Holiday season. You can keep them slightly awake and looking “garden fresh” with an occasional drink (weekly to every two weeks), but do not over water in the summer, since it can lead to rot and infections, since while they are dormant they have a harder time fighting off infections.

Take care,


Paper Cactus

Ellen from Ledyard near Gales Ferry, Connecticut has an activity you can do with your small children, as long as you have paper and spaghetti.


Picture 1 – Supplies

Green paper, glue, scissors, about 20 or 30 spaghetti noodles and something to use as a pattern (I used a wooden spoon)


Picture 6 – Finished

These make great 3-D table decorations for a party and they are also a great take-home item for the party too. Have the kids sit at a table and have the cactus cut out ahead of time. That way they only have to take one side of the flat paper and paint with glue. Have them add spaghetti and they have a wall hanging to bring home or add a magnet to the back for the fridge.

You’ll have to click through for the rest of the photos, not to mention instructions numbers 2 through 5. Nice! But I don’t recommend trying this with more than 1 kid at a time as suggested by the author. Getting a bunch of kids together can only mean HAVOC! Spaghetti noodles everywhere! Strips of cut up cactus papers on the floor, glue on the chairs, magnets stuck to the underside of the couch.  And imagine the horror if there were a dog in the room too. Too much!!!

How to Choose a Bamboo Rhizome Barrier

Greg asks if we can identify this bamboo and recommend a barrier for it.

Hap responds:


I am sorry but there is not enough detail in the photos to identify which species of bamboo it is. Can you take a photo of the whole plant with some sort of size scale, as well as a close up of a branch node of one of the mature canes? As far as barrier (if the scale is what I think it is) the 40mil Rhizome Barrier we stock should be sufficient, it stops running bamboo up to 1-1/2″ in diameter if installed correctly and if you police for “jumpers” (rhizomes that go over the top and then dive back under ground) twice a year. The barrier is 30 inches tall and needs to be buried 28 inches, so there is a two inch lip above the soil. You can surround the grove of bamboo and glue the barrier to its self to make a buried bottomless pot. Or if this is invading bamboo from a neighbor, run a trench along the property-line and install the barrier as a single long line.Of course if it is a large grove it can come around the corner of the barrier with time, so some policing will need to be done at the ends of the barrier.

I hope that helps,


How to Take a Cactus Cut

Came across your excellent blog and had a question I could not find an answer for. There are lots of instructions and advice on how to cut portions off of a small cactus, but I have a large cactus that is about to grow through my eight foot ceiling!! I’d like some advice on cutting it in half and repotting the cut portion. I’d really appreciate any help you could give me. My guy looks like this.

Thanks in advance for your help.



Your Cereus is actually fairly easy to cut and re-root. You should be able to cut it at any height you like and then root the top cut as a new clone. The stump will eventually branch, so you should think about cutting somewhere about the height of the chair rail so it has room to grow in to a multi-branched tree form.

We use a pruning saw or a serrated bread knife to cut column cacti, cut at a slight angle with the down slope side towards the wall, so the scar is less evident on the stump. You can wrap the top piece you are cutting off with a towel or carpet scrap to make it easier to hold while cutting.

With the height it looks like it is a two person job, one holding the top and one using the saw. After you have cut off the top piece, spray or paint the cut ends with household hydrogen-peroxide to disinfect and help seal the injury. Re-treat daily for a couple of days to make sure it does not catch a fungus or bacterial infection. The top piece should be stood up against the wall on newspaper and let dry for a week. After a week the cut tissue should be scabbed over (think abrasion scab like after a bike crash…). Generally you don’t need rooting hormones for this type of cacti, but if you have some on hand or have any liquid kelp you could treat the cut end before potting it up to speed up rooting. If you use IBA rooting hormones only use it at low strength. Then pot up in dry cactus soil (fast draining and chunky). Stake as needed. Keep dry and warm for several weeks and then water.

It should grow roots in a month or two. If it starts to look dehydrated during this time frame you can mist the column at night with water. Cacti only open their stoma at night to transpire as it helps them preserve water in the deserts, so misting during the day will not help. You can give the stump a bit of low strength fertilizer to speed up branching and help it through the trauma of loosing it’s head.

Good luck and take care,


Portland Succulents Come Cheap

I think this article is telling Portland residents to steal succulent cuttings from their neighbors. I’m not sure why, but then I may be exaggerating.

You have probably seen them growing in pots and on rocks, nestled within the well-landscaped and manicured lawns of Portland. It turns out succulents can be easily reproduced and need little to no care, making them a cheap and sustainable addition to any garden….

The first step to creating a sustainable succulent garden is to track down a few plants that you find most attractive. A saunter through almost any Portland neighborhood will surface some of the more popular varieties in the area such as Sedeveria, Seduum, Sempervivum (also called hens and chicks), Echeveria, and Pachypytum.

What do you think, am I right? Are they telling you to walk around Portland and steal succulents when you find ones you like?

Succulent Weddings

We’ve seen succulent centerpieces, painted succulent corsages and succulent bouquets. Now get ready for succulent boutonnieres. No! From Aol’s DIY site.

For a boutonniere that has a distinctly modern feel, why not try sculptural succulents? Even better, Ellen Frost of Baltimore’s Local Color Flowers designed it for those who are a little intimidated about the whole idea of going the DIY route on boutonnieres. Here’s her easy tutorial.

And it turns out we’ve seen Succulent Boutonnieres before too. All tied up!

Tillandsia Video

I don’t know how to embed this video since the text around it is all in Japanese, so you’ll just have to click through to see someone who’s known as the Cactus Man in Japan watering a lot of Tillandsias.

Consider it a how-to video.

Where to Stick a Succulent

In a pillow? Yes!

The Christian Science Monitor has the skinny on Succulent Pillows with step by step instructions and step by step photos.

Here’s the result.

I recommend a more decorative pillow. Solid colors make me nauseous.

Grafting Cactus

Mr. Bee from the Carroll Eagle tells you how to graft cactus. He started with an irradiated Gymnocalycium that needed to be regrafted. But first, a little history,

The ancient Chinese grafted plants as far back as 3,000 years ago. Then 2,300 years ago, the ancient Greeks mastered it.

That’s fascinating. Since there were no cactus in China or Greece back then, we can safely assume this bit of history is off topic.

To begin, I used a knife to slice through the base of the red part to cleanly separate it from the green part.

Next, I removed the uppermost portion from a second cactus that was getting too tall, until all that remained was a 1-inch-tall stub still rooted to its pot.

Finally, I grafted the detached red part to the rooted stub of the green part, using a pair of rubber bands to hold the two parts together. Within a few months, the red and green parts will bond.

Sounds good. Any more tips? Like when you use the word “graft” in the instructions on how to “graft” you may leave people unsure what to do.

The secret to a successful cactus graft is to closely align the diameters of the cut parts being grafted, because a close match facilitates the free flow of vital fluids between the two parts.

Now you know.

Want to know more? Here are pictures and complete cactus grafting instructions from the UCC Biology Department. UCC is the Union County College of Cranford, NJ, also serving PA and DE. I think you’ll have to go to the History Department for the Chinese and Greek history part of the lesson.

Pruning Succulents for Spring

We had some freezing weather this year, just like they had in Austin according to the Austin Statesman. Damaged succulents are a common sight.

Many aloes and agaves were severely damaged by our hard freezes this winter. Freeze-damaged succulents usually turn a lighter color, almost white, soon after the freeze. Later, the damaged part of the plant will wilt, then turn black with rot. In some succulents, the affected parts eventually fall off.

If the center bud remains green and firm, the plant will likely grow and recover, despite dead leaves. However, dead and damaged parts never will recover, and you can remove them. You should also look for new growth underneath the dead leaves and down in the base of the plant. These pups often can survive under the cover of the dead leaves.

I would add that you should wait for the last storms in the Bay Area to pass through (i.e. wait 2 more weeks) before removing half-damaged leaves and branches. If the leaves are just spotted with hail damage, leave them on the plant until new leaves have replaced them.

On the other hand, if you live in Minnesota and you left your Aloe outside, it’s dead.

Link of the Day

Capping off a very lazy day, filled with how-to links so you have to go elsewhere just to enjoy my blog today, I come to you with an entire how-to on planting succulents in toolboxes. No, really, that’s what it is all about if you click the link. Don’t forget to come back though.

More News? How-to Post?

In my lazy state today, I pass along this long story of a man who decided not to shave his cactus.

Have a quote:

I considered, since there was already shaving cream on the cactus, if I might just shave it. Why don’t cactuses shave?

I think that gives a good flavor of the rest of the long blog post on shaving a cactus.

Suzanne Cooks Cactus

She lives in LA and this is what she does in her spare time.

I boiled the cactus in salted water for ten minutes. It kind of looks like green beans, but its slippery like okra.

I sauteed the cactus with the onion and bell pepper in some Pam and a healthy squeeze of lime. I added 3 scrambled egg whites with one whole egg. Quick and easy!

Add some pretty pictures of an omelet in the making, and voila! Blog post heaven!

I think I’m feeling lazy today, so let’s stipulate that I’m only going to reblog news items today.

Poisonous Succulents

What does it mean that a particular succulent is poisonous? Let’s talk about Euphorbias…

Do you know what is used in leather polishes and for waterproofing certain products, mixed with rubber it is used for insulation, used in sealing wax, metal lacquers, paint removers and lithographic colors?

It is the milky sap from a Euphorbia. … (O)ne drop of latex material on your skin from one of these plants can cause a rash, the severity of which depends on how an individual reacts to it…

I know several people who have had problems with Euphorbias… All have described the horrible pain in their eyes from brushing with a gloved hand or wiping their face with a shirtsleeve that was coated with sap.

So, poisonous as in painful, but not deadly. Not that I would ingest it, mind you. Euphorbia sap, especially from the common houseplant Euphorbia tirucalli, is a common enough irritant that there’s a known antidote – the tiny leaves of the miniature Aeonium lindleyi. Yes! If you have a lot of Euphorbias around the house, and especially if you have kids too who like to touch your plants, then I recommend have a nice little Aeonium lindleyi around the house. All the Euphorbia growers do.

We also recommend some of the shrubbier Euphorbias as deer-resistant and we like the Euphorbia myrsinites as a gopher-resistant plant and then any of the Euphorbias makes a good cat deterrent too, if you don’t mind them crying a little. It’s bad enough they’ll learn to stay away, but not so bad as to cause permanent damage. Generally.

More of Ian's Animals in Terrariums

It’s a Lion!

That’s a Cryptanthus “Black Mystic” and a Crassula “Tom Thumb”. The layering is charcoal, cactus soil and black gravel on top.

More Gorillas

Here’s another fancy pants terrarium with a toy gorilla. This one is an airplant terrarium, with 2 types of tillandsias, a stick, some moss, and a gorilla holding on for dear life. All in a glass carafe. How big is the gorilla? about 1 1/4″.

Toys in Terrariums

The latest in gorilla-themed terrariums, utilizing Ian’s latest tiny toy find.

Prickly Pear Season

Greenwalla recommends you go out and eat some cactus fruit RIGHT NOW!

Cactus Pear: (or Prickly Pear)

A lot of people have never tried a cactus pear, but it is a delicious fruit! Look for cactus pears that do not have any dark spots on them, you can wash them and keep them in the refrigerator for seven days. The best way to eat them is to dice them up, eat it plain or use it as a topping for a salad, cereal or soy yogurt. They can be tricky to prepare, here is a short video on how to peal one.

See, they think it’s delicious too. It’s not just me. They’re also called Tunas.

[Pedanticism warning:] Bells peal, fruit peels.

How to Kill Your Plants, by Martha Stewart

Succulents Terrariums How-To.


2. Water the terrarium every two weeks.

3. The water should freely drain to the bottom. After watering, there should not be more than an inch of water visible in the gravel at the bottom.

Read more at Succulents Terrariums – Martha Stewart Television

More Cactus Terrarium News

I’ve been so busy featuring all the cactus and succulent and airplant terrariums we’ve been making, I forgot about all the good ones out there that others are making.

This one appears to be a bunch of cacti stuffed into a plastic egg. I don’t think it’s available anymore. It’s hard to figure out how big it is. I guess 8″ across by 15″ high.

This one sure seems bigger than the last one, and it also has photo images of extra cacti on the sides of the plastic container. Plus, it’s not an egg. But it also does not appear to be available anymore.

This one is from a florist in Joplin, MO, and it features some moss and rocks and a whole bunch of mirrors to make it look like a bigger section of the desert in your home.

Which one do you like best? I like the egg terrarium best of all.

Holy Terrarium, Batman!

This terrarium has everything.

A little bit of charcoal at the bottom, of course. A small amount of soil for the Cryptanthus to grow in. Big smooth rocks fitted out with bits of green moss and preserved reindeer moss too squeezed between the rocks. Wild Tillandsias, and some other stuff too. All fit in rather easily through the big gaping front hole in the hanging glass terrarium.

(That Robin, he was such a scamp.)

September 2023

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