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Grafted Cactus Care: Tips For Grafting Cactus Plants

Grafted Cactus Care: Tips For Grafting Cactus Plants


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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Off with your head! Cactus propagation is commonly done by grafting, a process where a cut piece of one species is grown onto a wounded piece of another. Grafting cactus plants is a straightforward method of propagation which even a novice gardener can try. Different species work better with different methods but a brief cactus grafting guide follows with basic instructions on how to graft a cactus.

Cacti comprise some of my favorite plants due to their uniqueness of form and unusual characteristics. Propagation is through grafting, stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, seed or offsets. Growing cactus from seed is a long process, as germination may be unreliable and growth is at a snail’s pace. Broadly, cacti that do not produce offsets can be propagated by grafting as long as there is a compatible rootstock. The grafted part is called a scion and the base or rooted part is the rootstock.

Cactus Grafting Guide

Cacti are grafted for a variety of reasons. One may simply be to produce a different species mechanically, but the process also produces disease-free stems, to provide a new stem for an existing stem that is rotting or to enhance photosynthesis in plants that lack the ability. Grafting cactus plants is also done to create unique forms, such as weeping plants.

Grafting is common in fruiting plants because it increases the maturity of an existing cultivar for earlier fruit production. The scion becomes the top part of the plant with all the originating species’ characteristics. The rootstock becomes the roots and base of the plant. The union is at the vascular cambium where the wounds of scion and rootstock are sealed together to heal and join.

Once the joining wounds have healed, no special grafted cactus care is required. Simply grow it as you would any other plant.

Rootstock Cactus for Grafting

The generally approved rootstocks for grafting cactus are:

  • Hylocereus trigonus or undatus
  • Cereus peruvianus
  • Trichocereus spachianus

Also, if the rootstock and scion are in the same species, the compatibility is excellent. Compatibility decreases as the family relationship decreases. Two plants in the same genus may possibly graft, but two in the same genera are rare and two in the same family are very rare. The appropriate cactus for grafting are, therefore, the ones in the same species and with as close a relationship as possible for the best outcome.

How to Graft Cactus

Use very clean, sterile instruments when making cuts. Choose healthy plants and prepare a scion. Cut off the top or at least a 1-inch (2.5 cm.) stem. Then prepare the rootstock by beheading a cactus to within a few inches of the soil.

Set the scion on top of the cut portion of the still rooted rootstock so both vascular cambium are situated together. Use rubber bands to hold the pieces joined as one.

Grafted cactus care is the same as ungrafted cactus. Watch for any insects at the union or rot. In about two months, you can remove the rubber bands and the union should be sealed.

This article was last updated on

Read more about General Cactus Care


How to Propagate a Cactus

Last Updated: August 24, 2020 References

This article was co-authored by Chai Saechao. Chai Saechao is the Founder and Owner of Plant Therapy, an indoor-plant store founded in 2018 based in San Francisco, California. As a self-described plant doctor, he believes in the therapeutic power of plants, hoping to keep sharing his love of plants with anyone willing to listen and learn.

There are 31 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 5,877 times.

Cacti make great low-maintenance plants and are beautiful additions to a home garden. If you want more cacti that are identical to the ones you already have, you can easily propagate most species. For the new cacti to grow quickly, using a cutting will allow it to root within a few weeks. You may also plant seeds harvested from a cactus, but it may take a few months for them to grow to size. If you want to connect 2 different types of cacti, you can graft them together, but this is the most difficult way to propagate successfully. As long as you provide light, warmth, and a suitable growing medium for your new cacti, they’ll grow into healthy new plants!

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Variation: If you don’t have any gardening gloves, you may also use a pair of tongs to hold onto the cactus.


How To Grow Cactus From Cuttings?

Growing cactus and succulents like echeveria from cuttings is by far the easiest and most popular method of cactus propagation. Take cuttings from any sort of cactus to quickly and easily expand your collection.
This includes cactus pups, cactus pads (like the prickly pear cactus plant) and offsets.
You can get cuttings from friends and fellow enthusiasts. Sometimes you can just pick up cuttings from the floor of nurseries or home centers or along the walkway when out for a stroll.
If your favorite cactus has succumbed to root rot or pest infestation, you can collect viable cuttings, toss out the dead cactus and start over again.
Just as with grafting, you should start cuttings during the growing season.
April through June are the best months as cactus are waking up from winter and getting ready to put on new growth.


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How to Graft Cacti

Grafted plants are interesting and many beginner gardeners wish to learn the basic techniques of grafting. The good news is that grafting is relatively easy to learn: with a bit of practice, anyone can become great at grafting. Grafting is good because it produces unique looking forms.

Cacti are ideal for grafting because they graft pretty easily. You will always be able to produce interesting forms because it’s usually possible to graft any two cacti with a success. Cactus grafting is ideal for beginners who wish to learn basic techniques.

Grafting Terminology

Grafting is a science and technique of connecting two pieces of living plant tissue together in order to grow them as a single, composite plant.

  • Rootstock (stock, understock): The lower part of the graft, which will become the base of the stem and the root system of the composite plant.
  • Scion: The upper part of the graft. It’s a short shoot with one (or more) buds that will develop in the most of the above ground part of the composite plant.
  • Vascular Cambium: Meristematic cells found in association with the vascular tissues of stem. In order to perform successful grafting, it’s important to place the vascular cambiums of the stock and scion in contact with each other.
  • Budding: A type of grafting. It has a scion consisting of a single bud and a small section of bark.

Reasons for Grafting & History

There are numerous reasons why people choose to graft plants. Some gardeners want to perpetuate clones that don’t propagate well by cuttings or other asexual propagation techniques. Others wish to change the cultivars of established plants by “topworking”. Grafting can also be used to obtain benefits of certain rootstocks for pest and disease resistance, as well as heightened tolerance to bad growing conditions. Some people use grafting to produce special growth forms such as “standards” and weeping trees, or to repair damaged trunks of trees. It’s also possible to use grafting to hasten the reproductive maturity and fruit production or to simply study plant development, physiological processes or viral diseases.

As you can see, there are many reasons why people might use grafting. It’s also important to know that grafting has a long history. In fact, there is natural grafting and it occurs regularly in nature: branches and roots easily get grafted. We know that Chinese were grafting plants by 1560 BC. When it comes to Ancient Greece, Aristotle and Theophrastus wrote about grafting so we know it was a common technique in the 4th century BC. During renaissance, many plants brought back to Europe were maintained by grafting. This is when people realized the need to match the cambiums of stock and scion for best results. Grafting was a subject of many researches in the 1700s, with a better understanding of plant circulatory systems. By 1800s, over 100 grafting techniques had been developed. Many of them have remained unchanged and we use them today.

Basic Techniques

Grafting is successful only if meristematic tissue develops between the stock and scion and differentiate into vascular tissues (xylem and phloem). Initially, undifferentiated callus cells will grown from the vascular cambiums and form a callus bridge between the stock and scion. If the cells are incompatible, they will not be able to intermingle and the graft fails. However, if the cells are compatible, the bridge of callus will differentiate into vascular cambium and vascular tissues. The vascular connection between the stock and scion will allow for translocation of water, minerals, carbohydrates and other metabolites. If grafting is done well, the unions will be so structurally sound that they are no more likely to break than other portions of the stem.

In order for grafting to be successful, it’s important to ensure grafting compatibility. A good guide is taxonomic relationship: the closer the genetic backgrounds are between the stock and scion, the better chances of success. For example, grafting success between species has excellent chances to be successful. It’s also possible to perform successful grafting within two species in the single genus. Grafting of plants from two genera within a family is rare, and even more rare is successful grafting of two families within an order.

Other compatibility considerations you must take into account: monocots, for example, are not good candidates for grafting. Their scattered vascular bundles are difficult to match between the stock and scion. On the other hand, grafting among dicots and conifers is often performed with success because their vascular tissues and vascular cambium are arranged in easily discernable rings. Also, there are a few very compatible families where grafting is performed to a high success: Cactaceae, Rosaceae and Rutaceae.

Grafting Cacti

Cacti are easy to be grafted and it’s possible to graft almost any two cacti successfully. Some specific reasons for grafting cacti include: saving plants severely rotted or diseased, ensuring better growth and flowering by grafting scions of slow growing species into fast-growing stocks, developing unusual forms, and more.

Grafting cacti is historically well known in Europe and Japan, and this is how come unusual forms are produced. Some of the most popular ones include “Moon Cacti”. They have brightly colored scions in red, orange, yellow and white colors on top of green stocks. These cacti are very striking and the source of their colored scions are mutant seedlings lacking the chlorophyll pigment. These seedlings can’t live by themselves more than a few weeks because the absence of chlorophyll prevents them to make food by photosynthesis. That’s why they are grafted on vigorous green stocks which provide the materials to support the colored scions. “Moon Cacti” can grow like this for several years but they finally have to be regrafted to a new stock when the old one begins to cork over from old age. It’s interesting to note that many people think “Moon Cacti” are huge, bright flowers while they are just brightly colored stems.

This is just one notable example of grafted cacti. In fact, it’s one of the more complex forms. Grafts made between green scions and green stocks are more vigorous and can live for a long time.

Techniques for Grafting Cacti

To graft two cacti, follow these simple instructions. You will find that cacti grafting is not complex and it usually produces successful results.

1. Using a sharp knife, cleanly cut off the top of a small, upright cactus. Cut a few inches above the soil surface. This will be your stock. It’s best to use a plant growing in a three inch pot, with one inch diameter stem.

2. Remove a small, about 1 inch in diameter, spherical stem from a barrel cactus. Cleanly cut across the bottom. This will be the scion.

3. Put the scion on the top of the stock. Make sure that at least some of the vascular cambium of each part is in contact. It may require the scion to sit on top of the stock a bit off-center. You will be able to easily recognize the vascular cambium region as a distinct ring on the cut surfaces of the stock and the scion.

4. Use two rubber bands of appropriate size and affix them over the scion and under the bottom of the pot. They will put a pressure on the scion, pressing it against the stock. The rubber bands should go over the scion at 90 degrees from each other in order to prevent the scion from shifting. Make sure that the rubber bands are not too loose because they won’t be able to hold the scion tight enough. At the same time, make sure the rubber bands are not too tight or they will cut through the scion.

5. Continue to grow the plant as you would any other cactus.

6. After a month or two, remove the rubber bands. The scion should be firmly attached to the stock by this time.

These are basics for grafting cacti, and they usually work without much effort. The only thing you need to be careful about is to put vascular cambium of two plants in contact and to ensure enough pressure between the stock and the scion using rubber bands. In case the graft union failed to knit, cut a new surface on the stock, prepare a new scion and try again. With a bit of practice you will be able to graft cacti successfully without much effort.


17 Comments

Cool idea. One minor quibble, the segmented "cactus" you used is a succulent. A Schlumbergera, to be exact. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. :0)

Well I am not exactly an expert in such things so thanks for the information.

No worries, I hope I didn't come off as a jerk. It's just one of those weird "facts" about cacti & succulents that is always bouncing around in my head. If it has spines, it's a cactus. If it doesn't have spines it's a succulent.

Not correct. I it has "areaolas" is a cactus if it has not is a succulent . Cactus too are succulents (and not all cactus, pereskia plants are little or nothing succulent, but they are cactus indeed). Then every succulent, if it can be grafted, can be grafted with plants belonging from same family, so, euphorbias on euphorbias, asclepiads on asclepiads , aizoaceae (mesembs) on aizoaceae (not common but I'valready seen lithops on delosperma grafts :) )

Do you know if it I should possible to graft a cactus and euphorbia?

No, it's OK. Thanks for the notice. I changed the title so it would be more correct.

Schlumbergera is a genus of tropical epiphytes within the family Cactaceae, not sure why its not accurate to call it a cactus.

It _is_ accurate. "MrBrownThumb" just decided to say something without checking his facts first.

That's actually incorrect. Schlumbergera are epiphytic cacti, similar to Epiphyllum.

Do you know if it is possible to graft a cactus and euphorbia?

Hi, do you know if it is possible to graft a gymnolclaycium onto aeuphorbia mammillaris? I have been told this won't work because the euphorbia is not a cactus.

This is my rat tail grafted to an opuntia cactus. This plant is 3 years old

I can't wait to try this! Thanks for sharing.

Lophophora don't have spines, but their a cactus.
Meanwhile many euphorbias' have spines & look like a cactus but arn't.
Peace, Love, know what your boilling.

Yes. A few months ago, maybe half a year, it even flowered. I have pictures which I'll have to upload someday.

Interesting, I have a couple of cacti to try this on.


Watch the video: Cactus Grafting with SucculentBest process for 100% success


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