In between all of the peppers we grow, sometimes I like to grow other plants. This year, after a drunk online purchase and much reading I am trying cactus from seed!
I have had luck propagating cacti, and of course succulents in general are very easy, but I have never attempted growing them from seed. Thinking about about the amount of seeds a cactus will spray out in the desert and then the subsequent survival rate really makes me appreciate the harsh beauty of that sort of landscape. Nothing like Chicago. Growing this stuff requires patience and warmth. Much like children, being too overbearing of a plant mom will destroy the tiny seedlings. They need time and distance to do their own thing. I started mine a month ago, and did not get germination until today.
Here are the steps I took to get to germination.
- I bought a well draining cactus soil mix. I mixed it with sand my mother so kindly scooped up and sanitized from Lake Michigan (it runs in the family).
- Using two of those plastic salad containers, I punched lots of holes in the bottom of one and used the other as a sort of saucer.
- I moistened the soil, expecting it would be the last time I would water my experiment for several weeks. Perhaps maybe even months. I have not watered them again yet.
- Very lightly, I sprinkled the seedlings into the container.
- More sand. I sprinkled a few pinches of sand on top of the seeds. In hindsight, I’m not sure that this step was necessary.
- I sealed my container with the clear plastic top it came with and wrote down the date of the sowing on the container.
- When you consider the sorts of conditions cacti thrive in, it makes sense that heat would be important to encourage germination. After some research though, germination rates can be improved by a week long cold period of about 50 – 60 degrees. So onto a sill for a single-pane window they went.
- After a week, it was time to up the temperature for my seedlings. It’s still quite grey and chilly in Chicago and the radiators were still warm. I set them there.
- Peeked today, two weeks after moving them on the radiator, and I’ve finally got germination. This spot has pretty decent sunlight, so I don’t plan on moving them for at least two months. That lid will stay shut. Afterwords, there will be a period of time where I slowly acclimate my cacti seedlings.
- More updates when I figure out where to go from here in the summer! For now, I just have to be chill and not be too overbearing toward my seedlings.
I bought a seed mix of different cacti. As I understand it, different species germinate under different conditions. Some need longer to germinate than others. Some need more heat. Some less. It will be a long time before I can even identify what species of cacti I came up with because cacti grow so slowly. It will be a long time until I know my success rate with different species. This will probably be a zen experiment for me though. It’s not the cacti but the journey.