Move over cute fleshy succulents, cactus popularity is on the rise. Today I’m sharing tips on repotting cactus indoors, planting cactus in pots, and related info good to know.
I live in Tucson, Arizona where the landscape is dominated by cacti of all sizes. This post and video center on repotting and planting small cacti found in the houseplant trade, not the tall cactus growing outside my office window.
Related: Transplanting My Saguaro Cacti. This is way different from the repotting/planting that I’m outlining here!
Cacti don’t have an extensive root system. They’re happy to stay in the same pot for a while, but sometime down the line will need to be transplanted into a new container. This guide to repotting cacti will give you details including why, when, how, and more.
Choosing Cactus To Grow Indoors
Cacti shipped all over the country for the indoor plant trade are commonly sold in 2in, 3in, and 4in grow pots. At these sizes, their root systems are compact and making them easy to plant in smaller pots.
I buy my cactus locally. Each of the garden centers I’ve been to sells them and there are also growers open to the public. A large and varied selection of these desert plants is available here.
In talking to people in the trade, they agree the majority of the smaller cactus will do equally well indoors, as long as they’re getting the high light they require.
Unlike fleshy succulents that grow faster, become stemmy, and crowd others out, this isn’t true of cacti. In terms of fleshy succulent plants, Haworthias, Jade Plants, Aloe Vera, Pencil Cactus, Living Stones, String Of Pearls, and Sedum Burrito have done the best for me indoors.
So, I randomly bought cactus for this series based on what I found to be appealing and appropriate for the pots I’d bought. After 4 months, all are doing well in my very bright kitchen.
If you don’t have a source to buy them locally, you’ll find a collage at the end of this post showing cute cactus you can buy online.
Online stores where you buy cacti: Planet Desert, Mountain Crest, Leaf & Clay, and Altman’s on Amazon.
This guide to Indoor Cactus Care will help you out.
Choosing Cactus Plant Pots
This is a general rule and is meant to help you out if you’re new to the world of cactus gardening.
Cactus in 2” & 3″ grow pots can get planted in 3” – 5″ pots.
Succulents in 4″ grow pots can get planted into 4” – 6″ pots.
Your cactus should go into a slightly larger pot than the old pot it’s currently growing in.
I don’t like to put small cacti in a large pot. They look visually out of scale, and with a larger soil mass, are subject to holding more water and staying too wet which can lead to root rot. That is why a shallower pot rather than a deeper pot is better.
There are many small pots on the market you can buy. They’re available in an array of materials, shapes, colors, and styles. I particularly love the look of cactus planted in terracotta pots and unglazed ceramics. The right pot is the one you like the best!
We have many good sources for buying pots here in Tucson which is where I do the majority of my plant-related shopping. I’m a small business so I like to support other small businesses. Many of the pots I bought directly from the maker or at nurseries here. I love how they all look together.
I did buy a pair of 2 patterned terra cotta pots on Amazon and a bowl at Target (no longer available). There is quite a selection of fun, beautiful, rustic, plain, and edgy cactus pots to buy online and you can see some of our favs in the post below.
Should Cactus Pots Have Drainage Holes
I recommend buying pots with at least 1 drain hole on the bottom of the pot especially if you’re new to cactus care. Pots without holes can be tricky to get the watering down and are prone to the soil mix staying too wet.
If you feel comfortable with drilling, you can create a hole in the bottom of the container if it doesn’t have one. The battery packs on my drill gave out and I haven’t replaced them yet. I put holes in a few of the pots using a good-sized nail and hammer.
Cacti are in a separate category of succulents. This post on planting succulents in Pots With No Drain Holes applies to cacti also.
Time Of Year For Repotting Cactus/Planting Cactus
The best time to do the planting is in spring and summer. Early fall is fine too if you’re in a climate with milder winters.
I repotted the cacti you see here and the cactus bowls coming up next month in early spring.
How Often to Repot Cactus
Cactus plants don’t need frequent repotting. Depending on the size of the cactus and the current container, every 3 – 6 years will be fine. After 5 years or so, I figure it’s a good idea to replace the old soil with new soil to freshen things up.
They grow slowly and their root systems aren’t extensive so they do fine slightly tight in their pots.
Many people ask if they should repot cacti after buying. Unless the soil looks really bad or the pot is too small or cracked, I leave them be for a while.
Cactus Soil Mix
Cacti in any sized pot do best in a special potting mix. To sum it up, the mix you plant them in should be well aerated and light, and most importantly have good drainage.
It should not hold too much water. These factors help to ensure your cacti will grow successfully. That’s why potting soil that you use for your subtropical and tropical houseplants isn’t recommended for planting cactus.
Here’s the DIY succulent potting mix recipe that I use for all my indoor and outdoor cacti.
You’ll find many more details in this post and video all about Cactus Soil Mix.
4 Important Things to Know About Repotting/Planting Cactus
Cacti, with their sharp spines, aren’t user-friendly. I wear thick gardening gloves and use pasta tongs or kitchen tongs when repotting and planting them. Holding the cactus with a thick layer of bubble wrap can protect your hands also.
Cactus like growing in a special soil mix.
The roots of these smaller cacti are on the shallow side and they don’t need a big pot. Cacti are slow growers, especially indoors.
Cacti do best in pots with drainage holes. This ensures that water flows out and doesn’t build up in the bottom which can lead to root rot.
Repotting Cactus Video Guide
How To Repot Cactus/Plant Cactus
For this repotting process, it’s best to watch the video above.
Here’s a synopsis:
Water the cactus a few days before repotting.
Gather all the materials.
If there are multiple drain holes or 1 big drain hole on the bottom of the new pot, I like to cover them with a layer of paper to prevent the fresh soil from flowing out. I use a toothpick or tip of a knife to puncture a small hole in the paper so the water runs out but the mix stays in.
Put enough soil mix in the bottom of the pot to raise the root ball slightly higher than the top of the pot. You don’t want to sink the root ball crown below the level of the soil mix. It’s best to plant it slightly above because the weight of the plant will eventually pull it down.
Use your preferred method of hand protection to get the plant out of the pot and place it in its new home. You might need to give a gentle tap, squeeze the side of the pot, or run a dull knife around to get it out. Fill in around the rootball with the mix.
Cactus Care After Repotting/Planting
Put your repotted cactus in a location with bright, natural light. That might be the spot they were growing in before the repotting.
Be sure to keep them out of direct sunlight in hot windows because even cacti are subject to sunburn.
Should you water a cactus right after repotting? I don’t water repotted cactus right away. Keep the soil dry for about a week while they settle in.
Then, water the cactus mix thoroughly. If the mix is light and aerated as it should be, the excess water will immediately flow out the drainage holes.
Resume watering as you normally would. In case you missed it, here’s info on indoor cactus care which has a section on watering.
Cacti make fine indoor plants and require very little maintenance. The cactus repotting isn’t hard to do but does require a bit of care in terms of protecting your hands.
Coming from someone who lives in the desert and has gotten a fair share of cactus spines in her hands, make sure you’re protected when planting cacti. They’re well worth the bit of extra effort!
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Nell, the founder of Joy Us garden, was born into a gardening family and grew up in Connecticut’s countryside. After living in Boston, New York, San Francisco, & Santa Barbara, she now calls the Arizona desert home. She studied horticulture & garden design, working in the field all her life. Nell is a gardener, designer, blogger, Youtube creator, & author. She’s been gardening for a very long time & wants to share what she’s learned with you.