Dangerous Compassions

propagating cactus

Hey, guess what.  We had fun recently propagating cactus.  I guess we won’t know for a while if it worked.  But it was fun to try.

propagating cactus

Our friend who lived here in our guest room for three months last year left a San Pedro.  Yes, it’s ok if you think of the Madonna song, when I mention San Pedro cactus.

Then that friend visited for an hour, one afternoon a few months ago.  “Do you want to take your cactus?” I asked.

“Maybe just a cutting,” our friend said.

“Do you have something to put it in?” I asked.

Our friend took a knife and sawed off five inches or so of the San Pedro.  Wow!  I wonder if it survived the drive across the country and grows today.

That was a bold example of propagating cactus.  Probably that helped me have the idea to propagate cactus on our own.


There’s a place that I might call a vacant lot, but it’s not–it’s just a roadside no man’s land.  Near that chasteberry tree at the end of our street, by MLK, there’s a place where trash collects.  Near the crosswalk button post, just west of E’s fence.

One day on a neighborhood walk, I noticed there were many pieces of cactus in this special place.  Maybe 20 pieces, columnar, who knows what kind.  How did they get there?  Did they fall of E’s cactus?  Did someone trim it?  Mystery.

I went this morning to photograph the cactus fragments, and I saw there are way more than 20.  This is just part of that fragment-strewn area.  Wow!

propagating cactus

All of a sudden, I got the idea that we should pick up the cactus with long tongs and put it in some cactus mix to propagate it, and then we could give it to friends.  Why not?  Free cactus.

We had some small pots not doing anything.  I asked Ming to buy some cactus mix.  Then I realized that might be expensive.  So I asked him just to buy regular soil, and we could mix it with sandy soil here.  Maybe that would be well-draining enough that the cactus would be ok.


Ming agreed.   We thought six might be a good amount.  So he walked with me to the end of the street, and I used the long tongs to choose fragments of cactus.

Right then E pulled up in his boxy bright metallic green car.  “I’m going to take some cactus to propagate!” I said.

“What?” he asked.

“There’s some cactus fragments right over there!  I’m going to take some to propagate!  It’s right on the other side of your fence.”

E seemed confused.  I just didn’t want him to think we were messing with his stuff.  He has a lot of interesting yard stuff.  He gave his blessing to our project, and I did a good job collecting fragments, not poking myself on cactus spines even once.


I’d read on a random website how to do it.  Let the cut part make a dry scar.  Well, ours had already been sitting there a while, so it already had dry scars.  Bury the fragment upright so one third of it is under the soil.  Don’t water for two weeks–maybe longer, if the cactus is thick.  It will begin to root.  Then in a few months, there will be new growth.

This is not the best time, if it’s too cold.  But the cactus is there, so we did it now.  Life gives us lemons, so we make lemonade.

If the cactus was unhealthy, or if it gets water too soon, it might rot instead of grow.  I feel curious if our propagating cactus will work.  I’ll keep you posted!

Ming found the process exciting.  Yes, we love learning.  Felt good to try something new and use permaculture design principles like reducing waste, diversifying, and loving edges.  Yay–edge is my favorite.

I don’t actually like cactus around because Ming has narcolepsy; I feel nervous about spiky hazards.  But maybe the cactus will make nice presents.  When we give people a tour of our garden, it’s always good to have a plant to give.

propagating cactus

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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