How to Repot a Cactus or Succulent

Here’s a quick, easy, and detailed guide on how to repot a cactus safely.

Whether you are an avid gardener or new to plant-care, succulents and cacti are a great plant choice. These plants are beautiful and unique. Plus, they’re easy to care for and difficult to kill. When it comes to caring for your cacti and succulents, the essentials are simple: don’t water too often and make sure they have some sunlight.

You may, however, also need to learn how to repot a cactus or succulent. After all, these plants don’t want to spend their entire lives in one container. They need room to grow! That’s where learning to repot a cactus comes in very handy.

There are many species of cacti and succulents. This repot a cactus tutorial includes repotting echinocereus coccineus, aloe vera, sedum album, echinocereus pectinatus, aeonium arboreum, and sempervivum tectorum. 

When to Repot Your Cacti and Succulents

First you need to ask yourself whether or not your cactus or succulent needs to be repotted. Here are some clear cases for when it’s a good idea to repot a cactus.

  1. When you first buy it. If you bought a plant from a hardware store or greenhouse, it probably came in a small black plastic pot. You’ll probably want to put it in something nicer. Terracotta pots are a great option for succulents and cacti; we’ll get into why later.
  2. If the container is too small. Sometimes the cactus grows so much that it’s the same size as the opening of the pot. This can make watering difficult, plus it’s a good sign that it needs a bigger space.
  3. Even if the plant looks okay from the top, a container is too small if the roots are growing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. If you can see roots, the container is probably too small.
  4. Every four years. If your cactus hasn’t outgrown its pot in four years, you may still want to repot a cactus in order to freshen up the soil.

This cactus needs a slightly larger pot because there was no room for it to continue growing. It’s also a new plant, so still in the plastic container from the store.

What Kind of Pot Should You Use

Once you’ve decided to repot a cactus or succulent, you need to find a new pot before you repot a cactus. Although cacti and succulents can grow in almost any container, I still recommend terracotta pots. These pots have a porous surface which allows moisture to escape. This prevents rot and mold and keeps the soil dry.

Whether or not you use terracotta, you want to make sure that your container has a good drainage system. Both cacti and succulents prefer dry soil and will rot if the dirt is too damp. Aside from rot, damp soil can lead to fungus growing in the pot alongside your plant.

If you do want to use a nontraditional pot with no drainage hole, you can create your own drainage system by using pebbles. Use larger rocks at the bottom of the container, followed by smaller pebbles, and then your soil.

Finally, you need to determine the size of your container. Though it can be tempting to get a large pot in order to give your cactus plenty of space to grow, you actually want a pot that’s only a little bit larger than the previous pot. Cacti like small, cozy spaces.

These porous pots help dry out the soil and prevent root rot. They come in various sizes and can be found in any hardware or gardening store.

What Kind of Soil Should You Use

Cacti and succulents want a nutrient-rich soil with moisture control and drainage. For my plants, I used the Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Cactus, Palm, and Citrus. However, there are many other brands that sell soil mixes specially designed for these desert plants.

Cactus soil might include rock dust, sand, potting soil, perlite, and peat moss. As long as you have good drainage and don’t overwater your desert plant, the exact soil type won’t matter as much. Like I said, these are hardy plants!

I used Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm, and Citrus Potting Mix for my cacti and succulents. The fast-draining formula also prevents root rot.

How to Keep From Getting Pricked

The most intimidating part of repotting a cactus is probably dealing with the thorns. You might think this article should really be called “How to Repot a Cactus Without Getting Pricked.”

Don’t worry, though! Repotting a cactus isn’t as impossible as it seems. Here are some ways to move these prickly plants without injury.

  1. Use gloves. No matter what kind of cactus you have, if it has thorns, you should wear gloves. Use gardening gloves, work gloves, or leather gloves for the most protection.

You can use gardening gloves or work gloves for repotting cacti. Just make sure your gloves have thick enough fabric to protect your skin.

  1. Use kitchen tongs. Kitchen tools can be great when it comes to gardening. A pair of tongs will help you get control of a cactus without putting your fingers too close to the spines.

You can use either rubber tongs or metal tongues to move cacti. Just make sure not to squeeze too tightly or you could damage the cactus. 

  1. Use newspaper or paper towels. If you don’t have gloves or tongs and don’t want to get them, you can use newspaper to protect your hands. Wrap newspaper around the cactus and tape it. You’ll need to keep a firm grip of the paper to keep it from sliding off but will be able to move it without injury.

Transferring Your Plant to the New Pot

Now that you have your tools ready, it’s time to begin the process of transferring your cactus or succulent into its new home. Here are the steps:

  1. Loosen the dirt from the original pot using chopsticks or your hands. Turn the pot sideways or upside-down to slide the plant out.

To avoid damaging this delicate plant, I let it slide out on its own instead of trying to pull it out. 

2. If the plant is stuck, you can poke chopsticks through the drainage holes to loosen it further.

Sometimes the dirt is so packed that it needs a little help loosening from the edges of the container.

3. Gently brush away some of the packed dirt around the roots. Depending on the condition of your plant, you may be able to loosen the roots completely. If the roots are damaged or fragile, you may want to leave more of the previous dirt attached to avoid damaging your cactus or succulent.

The roots of this plant had some damage, so it was essential to loosen the dirt gently to avoid breaking any of the roots.

4. Fill the new pot about two-thirds of the way with fresh soil.

Depending on how much of the plant you want visible above the pot, you may want more or less dirt than this. The size of the plant and the length of its roots will also affect how much soil you want in to pot. 

5. Gently place the plant into the new pot.

Create a small hole for the roots, then set the plant into the new soil. 

6. Add more dirt to cover the roots completely. For most succulents and cacti, you want the plant sitting just above the soil. Even out the soil and pat down to make sure the cactus or succulent is secured in its new home and won’t fall over.

This succulent now has room to grow. As it adjusts to the new pot, the leaves and stem will strengthen and continue to grow.

Final Steps

Now that your plant has a new home, there are some final steps to make sure that it adjusts quickly.

Though you may want to water your cactus right away, it’s best to leave it for a week or two so it can adjust to the new soil first. Once you’ve given it those two weeks, you can begin watering as normal.

If any leaves fell off during the repotting process, you can use those trimmings to propagate new plants. Set them on a damp paper towel for a week to let them dry, then set the leaves on soil and watch them grow!

Broken leaves when you repot a cactus aren’t dead! They can be propagated into new plants.

Move your cactus or succulent to a sunny place, but avoid direct sunlight. There are many species of succulent, and some need more sunlight than others. Watch your plant to see how it reacts toward the sun.

If it looks brown and wilted, it may be getting too much sun. If it’s leaning toward light, it might mean that it isn’t getting enough direct light. Ultimately, you just need to play with the location until you find a spot in your home where the cactus or succulent is thriving.

Once it’s settled in its place, water occasionally and admire your plant. You’ll be able to enjoy a stress-free plant for several years to come before you need to think about how to repot a cactus again.

The plants now have room to grow, and will grow faster thanks to the fresh soil and extra space.

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