To repot cactus/succulents?

befulinaJanuary 7, 2009

So I'm very new to the world of cacti and succulents. I was gifted an aloe, 2 very small unidentified succulents, and a cactus this summer. So far, I've managed to keep them alive, even under less than ideal conditions. Yay!

However, I will be going out of the country for 5 months, and a friend will be caring for them. I'd like to have them in good shape to give to her. So the question(s):

They came in a really dense, crappy looking soil (it peels away from the sides of the pots). They've done okay so far, but it definitely does not drain well, and I'd like to get them into something better. Size-wise, none of them need new pots. Should I repot them now, and get them into some decent soil? Or should I assume that if they've survived so far, they can survive another few months?

I'd appreciate any advice...I know very little about their habits and needs. Thanks so much!!

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Either way carries some risk. Repotting a dormant plant will cause further stress. If it is a reasonably healthy plant to begin with, it can probably handle it. If on the other hand they are weak, leggy plants, the added stress may kill them.

On the other hand, that miserable soil is causing plenty of stress all on its own. That peat based stuff is a nightmare for succulents.

If I were you, I'd change out the soil right now. I'd rather have my plants die in good soil than just 'survive' in peat. Also, unless you leave very explicit instructions, your friend is much more likely to drown your plants if they are in peat based soil.

As for decent soil, I wouldn't waste much time or money on these super complicated recipes. Instead for general succulents, I prefer to use 1 part organic matter (organic compost, leaf mold, forest humus, decomposed bark; just NOT peat) and 1 to 2 parts drainage material. I like pumice best, but perlite, cinder (lava rock gravel) and just plain ol' pea gravel work great too. I consider all commercial cactus and succulent mixes to be pure organic, and ammend them with same amount of drainage material as I would organic compost.

Finally, if you have some pictures to post, we may be able to ID the plants and give you some more specific information regarding their care.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2009 at 11:54AM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

You haven't provided much of the info. we need to assess this.

What part of the country are you in;

are these plants indoors or out,

are they in plastic or clay pots.

Also, how soon will you be leaving, if w/in a month, repot now & don't water for a month,

if not leaving for a few motnhs I'd wait to repot for a couple of months.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2009 at 12:10PM
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I've always assumed that repotting while dormant would be a "good thing"!! OOPS!!

I have several specimens of Fouquieria that I was planning on planting in the ground this year (they've been in pots for a couple of years now), and had been planning on doing so right before they break dormancy (in February/March around here).

So, should I wait for them to completely break dormancy? Or should I wait until the middle of summer?
Or wait until the end of the season (Fall)?

Most of my Fouq's tend to go "dormant" in my area, or at least lose their leaves, several times during the year depending on, now I am a bit nervous about when I should get them in the ground!

Any advice is appreciated!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2009 at 6:39PM
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Tristan: Repotting while dormant is a little more complicated than I might have implied. If you follow some precautions, it can cetainly be done without trouble. However, the same mistakes that beginners make with healthy plants, will easily kill a dormant plant. In particular, if you are going to repot a dormant plant, it really needs to be dry, and kept dry afterward. Dormant plants can't really defend themselves against infection, so any damage done to the roots during repotting will be an easy way in for the nasties. Add water to the mix, and now you've happy nasties which leads to rotten plants. It is also important to minimize the damage done to the roots to reduce possible infections, but also to prevent the plant from losing moisture through the open wounds. The dry soil will pull a lot of moisture out of the plant, which can't be replaced until it wakes up again.

From what I've learned and experienced, the very best time to repot is is right as the plant starts showing new growth. All the growth mechanisms are going full blast then, so it takes a huge amount of stress to shut them down and all of their defenses against infection are in place. They are also pretty thirsty at that time, so you don't have to be as cautious watering them in.

Please keep in mind this is a very general discussion, and is largely based on my experience, which is limited. There are certainly species that won't fit this rule at all, while others could truly care less when you repot. At least for me, Fouq's seem to tolerate any stress or abuse I send their way. I would do whatever you feel is right with them, since they are clearly happy in your care! Putting them in the ground is an absolutely terrific thing to do, and I personally would do it just when you described.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2009 at 7:42PM
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jefe12234(4a MN)

I also used to think that dormancy would be a perfect time to repot succulents. But recently I bare rooted a Dorstenia gigas, potted it in a very porous soil, and watered it. It lost most of its leaves and has a wrinkled base now. I'm hoping it just needs more time for the roots to regrow, or maybe I'll try some bottom heat to get them growing. Certain genera are probably more tolerant of this than others, but I think I will wait until spring to repot any other plants.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2009 at 8:04PM
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I actually prefer re-potting during dormancy and here's why: the best thing to do after re-potting most succulents is to keep the soil mix dry to allow the damaged roots to callous and heal. Since dormant plants are already rather dry, they don't skip a beat. When the conditions are ready for growth to resume, new roots will grow and the plant will be fine.

This will work for adult and established plants that are healthy. I have done it probably hundreds of times for all sorts of plants from cactus to aloe to lithops.

I can tell you for sure when NOT to re-pot: never re-pot towards the end of the growth season, as it will shock the plant into premature dormancy and recovery is very slow.

Jefe12234 from MN mentioned that his Dorstenia gigas lost its leaves. D gigas and also Dendrosicyos from Socotra are particularly sensitive not only to root disturbance but also to a change in environment, such as bringing the plant indoors after being outside all summer, and vice-versa. They drop their leaves and sulk for a while, but then new leaves will grow as long as it is warm and moist. These are tropical species - they need heat and regular watering, despite their xeric nature.

When roots are disturbed, what happens is the microscopic transpiration "streams" lose their hydrostatic pressure so new rootlets need to grow and get it back. Plants lose their turgidity in the process, but succulents usually handle this very well.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2009 at 8:49PM
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lindasewandsew(So Cal 9)

Seems like every thread here leads to another question, lol. Do succulents go dormant here in Z9? Mine seem to be growing very slowly. Some were repotted in the last week and look ok so far. I know not to give them water right away, but what about when it rains? These are most likely common succulents and can be easily moved under cover if rain will damage them. Thanks, Linda

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 2:48AM
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You ask if succulents go dormant in Z9...

In the right conditions some species don't necessarily go dormant ever. Something like Adenium obesum, for example, is perfectly fine growing actively all year. It depends on how you define dormancy.

Most succulents are from subtropical climates where rainfall is seasonal and have adapted to survive an extended period without rain. When this is many months, like for example for most terrestrial cactus, the plants shut down metabolic activity almost completely and may not be healthy long term if this is not duplicated to some degree in cultivation.

Some Pachypodium species, on the other hand, will survive a drought but will also be perfectly happy growing actively year round.

So the bottom line as usual, is that you must know your plants. There is no such thing as a general rule for all succulents.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 7:06AM
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here's another question: do some plants benefit from a period of dormancy? In this case, I'm wondering about pachypodia- does Madagascar have a wet/dry season, or is it more temperate?

Is there any disadvantage health wise for growing all year round?

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 11:04AM
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Some plants definately benefit from a period of dormancy, others still *require* it. Dorstenia gigas for example, will only bloom is it has had a solid rest. Like Xero said, it really takes some careful research to determine if your plant requires a dormancy, wants a dormancy, or doesn't need one at all.

P. lamerei and P. geayii can both be grown all year. They will bloom and be happy, assuming you can keep them warm enough while still providing adequate light. Not positive about any of the others, but I'd suspect all the Malagasy ones are similar. The South African ones on the other hand, would seem more likely to need a dormancy. Again, a definitive answer requires some investigation.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 12:12PM
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Succulents can generally be divided into 2 types:

Obligate dormancy: dormancy is required for health
Facultative dormancy: not required

Most terrestrial cacti are probably obligate. Without a period of dry rest, often with cooler temps, many will not bloom properly and may show poor growth. It probably has an impact on plant immunity. Many mesembs and other South African "specialists" also require dormancy: they are so well adapted to a specific growth period that if given water year-round, their normal leaf growth/ senescence and flowering patterns are disrupted in a negative manner.

One must also consider the climate: hot and cold weather, or a period of drought typically alter a succulent's metabolism enough where it shuts down and becomes "dormant" so to speak. This is how they are adapted. But this is not the same thing as an obligate-dormancy species.

The majority of succulents probably are facultative. If conditions are right, then growth can occur year-round with no harm.

In cultivation, dormancy is a good thing, even if it is artificially induced. For most of us, it is a welcome thing to neglect our plants especially during the winter when warmth and light are not ideal, and this dormancy prevents unhealthy growth that would otherwise occur if we tried to keep plants growing.

Where some of us sometimes lose plants is during mid-summer heat and humidity. Many species become dormant especially when night-time temps are high, and they can easily rot from an untimely watering.

Know your plants. You cannot possibly duplicate a plant's native environment and watering regime. One must learn from the cues the plant gives you to determine when to water and when growth is active. There are too many variables to come up with definitive guidelines. That is why gardening is such a potent hobby - we are constantly learning and trying to figure out how to make our plants grow well for us. It can be a challenge.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 8:37PM
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Hi. I'm new to this site... and to gardening in general... but I have a cactus question. Three years ago, my grandmother cut me three leaves from her cactus. I don't know much about it, other than it was originally from Oklahoma, it blooms stunning orange and yellow flowers and basically took over her entire backyard in New Jersey. So, I planted the cactus in a pot because my husband didn't want it to overtake our entire back yard, and stuck it outside. It triples in size each year and is incredible! However, I'm not sure if it's getting too big for its current pot. How do you know when to repot a cactus? I can post a photo of it if that would help to answer some questions... Sorry so vague. It's my first cactus and I adore it. Just need to learn about it! Any advice or help would be awesome. Thanks a ton,

Shari Schwartz

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 11:12AM
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