How to repot a cactus

Published on October 17th 2020
A close up of a cactus flower
A cactus is by definition a prickly kind of plant. It will rub you the wrong way if you are not careful. So a common question is: "How do I re-pot a cactus without feeling like a pincushion?"
Well, hopefully after this short introduction to the tips and tricks of succulent repotting you won’t be running for the tweezers.
A cactus in a garden

Essential items

Except for your soil (arguably the most important item), you will need some tools to navigate your way through this repotting exercise. The most helpful tools will be subject to the size of your cactus.
Repotting a small to medium cactus:
  • Plastic tongs
  • Tweezers
  • Scoop / tablespoon / cut plastic bottle
  • *Chopsticks
Repotting a monster aka big cactus:
  • *Polystyrene
  • Or a pillow
  • A towel
  • And a shovel
A close up of a cactus

Tips on handling

If you have successfully grown your cactus from seed, you will find the most helpful tools will be a pair of good tweezers. I have several sizes that make handling easier. You can pick these up from your local pharmacy or order a pair online. Having a chopstick will also help with the planting.
Tip | Have a tool handy to make a hole for the roots. A chopstick is easy and will help you manoeuvre the soil around the cactus once in place.
Medium-sized cacti require tongs, but I would advise a plastic or softer grip than metal as it would do less damage to the spikes. This way you can easily grip the entire plant.
Tip | Soft tongs will allow for less damage.
Use whatever works best for you!
Extra-large cacti, both cereus and mother-in-law's cushion, take a bit more finagling. These are normally shipped with polystyrene slabs covering the spines, but you will not necessarily require them.
Tip | Using a cushion will protect longer spines while long towels will replace straps that could cut into the flesh.
It is advisable to place a cushion/old mattress or equivalent next to the pot before tipping it to its side and loosening the soil. Place a towel over the cushion to make it easier to pick up the cactus afterwards (by using the ends as leverage and pinning the roots). The towel will hook on the spines allowing you to lift the cactus into a new pot. Just add soil!
A cactus in a garden
Mother-in-law's cushion cacti or Barrel cacti as they ares sometimes referred to can become hard to manage if potted.

Prickly situations

Some species will be harder to re-pot as they age. A good example is Opuntia species or paddle cacti. The pads tend to dislodge easily which makes handling a multi-pad specimen a nightmare. Take this into account when potting Opuntia species.
One solution is to keep them relatively small by manually removing pads and propagating them separately. You can place more than one pad in a pot as they root fairly quickly.
Tip | Adding honey to trapped spines/splinters on your skin will help remove them painlessly. The honey absorbs moisture and has antibacterial properties. Merely place it on the area and cover with a band-aid.

That is all folks! Happy gardening and remember, as always, to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

A pile of hay
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