Grafting Cactus 101: The Definitive Guide

Grafting 101 Featured

Please Note: This article is turning into a bit of a beast and is a work in progress, I will be updating images and expanding on concepts over the next few days.


Grafting cactus is quite an adventure with a healthy mix of surgery, luck and art! It can be a confusing experience and counter intuitive as we are generally trying to keep plants in tact and growing. But, it does allow up to get slow growing plants growing faster and cuttings (no roots) growing way quicker than waiting for roots to grow.

This whole process might seem like some voodoo dark art but, it is actually very easy once you get the knack of it all. Practice, practice practice. It is a wonderful part of the hobby and once you have got your head around the process, grafting is actually quite easy.  The more you practice, the infinitely easier it becomes.

Before we get into the formal side of the article, I would like to give you an idea of the journey I took into grafting. This will hopefully help you and give you some confidence to just go out and try for yourself. 

I started with micro grafting with Pereskiopsis, which is a genus of cacti in the subfamily of Opuntioidae. Unlike most cacti that prefer arid climates, Pereskiopsis prefer wetter, more humid environments. The biggest advantage to peres is that they grow like weeds, by far the most aggressive growing cacti I have come across. This is handy with grafting as it will pass on all it’s growing power into the scion (the grafted plant).

Once you have got the hang of micrografting onto something like Pereskiopsis, you can move onto more bigger adventures like Trichocereus pachanoi as rootstock. Things get real fun, real fast after that point.

Key Grafting Concepts

  • Rootstock – This is the lower portion of the graft and is the plant that supplies the scion (the plant being grafted) with all its energy for growth.
  • Scion – This is the upper plant that grafts onto the rootstock.
  • Vascular Ring / Bundle – This is located at the centre of the cactus. This acts as the life force transport mechanism that is responsible transporting moisture, nutrients and sugars throughout the plant.
  • Union – This is the point where you do a happy dance to the Cactus Gods for a successful graft (or cry due to the lack of union). A union would be the successful grafting of the scion to the rootstock and would allow for the exchange of nutrients and moisture to the scion.
Rootstock Scion Reference
Vascular Ring

The Benefits of Grafting Cacti

Grafting is a procedure in horticulture that involves joining live tissue of two plants so that they may grow together, united as one plant. It’s only possible to graft plants from the same main family, i.e., cactus to a cactus. You can’t graft a cactus to, say, a euphorbia, and more than that you can breed a cat and a dog together.

This amazing technical process will be covered in detail throughout this article. But first let’s take a look at the reasons why one might want to graft a cactus:

  • Specific types of cacti have hardy, vigorous root The rootstock of these species is used as a foundation for decorative varieties that don’t have robust growing habits.
  • Grafting onto a mature rootstock expedites the growing process leading to faster flowering, fruiting and seed production.
  • It’s the best way to produce clones of varieties that are very slow
  • Grafting is the best head start hack for raising large quantities of special
  • A sick, rotting or dying plant may be salvaged by transferring it onto a healthy
  • Specialty varieties, such as the moon cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanorichii) rely on dependable rootstock for chlorophyll production.
  • Grafting is especially handy for variegated plants as they tend to really struggle on their own roots.

Now that we’ve covered the function of grafting cacti, let’s put on our botanist’s cap and dive into the science behind the process.

What Does Grafting Achieve?

The essence of the grafting process is joining the vascular tissue and vascular cambium of both the rootstock and scion (the new cutting being introduced.) The cambium of the cactus can be seen as the ring in the center of the stalk, much like the concentric rings in a tree’s trunk.

The development of meristematic tissue, which has the ability to grow cells and expand, is critical. This special tissue bonds rootstock and scion shortly after a successful graft.

Through this new connection xylem and phloem flow properly, exchanging water, minerals and energy from the rootstock to the scion.

The exterior wound will eventually callus, forming a durable union and merging the two cuttings as one plant.

So, what does this all mean to a gardener who wants to propagate the scion of a showy species onto a hardy rootstock?

Let’s familiarize ourselves with the practical, hands-on side of the process.

Lw Grafted Pachanoi

Different Forms of Cactus Grafting

Listed below are all of the different ways of going about grafting your cactus. Read carefully and choose which method works best for you.

Flat or Lateral Graft

Recognized as the most common, effective and easiest form, the flat graft is a simple technique in which both stock and scion are cut straight across leaving a flat surface of exposed tissue. The two sections should be of similar width. Then the bottom of the scion fits nicely on top of the cut rootstock with the cambium of both aligning properly.

Regarding alignment, the general consensus it to make the vascular rings overlap, which requires the scion’s vascular ring to be slightly off centre to the rootstock’s vascular ring. I am not a part of this camp and the effort required to get that right by design is not worth it in my opinion. When aligning the scion to the rootstock, just get it as close as you are able to see, and it will work. I do not get many failed grafts and I never look at the vascular ring alignment. If you happened to get it way off, the bond can still take, it will just take longer to get going.

Flat Graft

Lateral Graft

Tr peruviana “Sharxx Blue” grafted onto Tr pachanoi rootstock

Impale Graft

Impale grafting involves creating a blunt, ponted tip on the roostock side which allows you to impale the scion onto the rootstock. This has many benfits and high success rates due to the fact that the rootstock is more heavily embedded into the scion which also increases surface area for the union to take.

Minimal downward pressure can be applied due to the impaling nature of this graft, I would still recommend using whatever method you are using to apply pressure to increase success chances.

This method can be used with any rootstock / scion combination but is especially easy with Perescipopsis grafts.

Cleft or V Graft

An indented V shape is cut into the rootstock. The scion is cut to have a point that rests snugly into the V gap. This graft increases the surface area of vascular tissue and makes it easier to keep the scion in place. The need for precise cuts may be better suited for an experienced gardener. This technique takes some practice and you should not try this with any cacti of value until you have nailed the process.

V Graft

V Graft

Side Graft

The side graft is just as it sounds. An angled incision is made on the side of the rootstock with the scion wedged into the gap. This method is useful on large rootstock, especially when attempting to graft on multiple scions.

Slab Graft

A slab graft involves taking a cross-section cut of a scion and setting it on a new rootstock. The advantage of this type of graft is that the vascular cambium does not need to be intact. Therefore, the cross-section can be cut into multiple pieces giving the gardener a number of scions to work with. The slabs are cut clean and smooth then typically placed on top of a flat-cut rootstock.

Areole Grafts

The areole is the point where the spine protrudes from the surface of a cactus. Flowers and stems also emerge from areoles, making them a significant part of the plant.

Areole grafting is possible due to the presence of vascular tissue. But because it’s not an apical growth point, areole cuts will grow at a slower pace than top-cut scions. The failure rate for areole grafts is higher than any other grafting technique, it would be considered more advanced and you should try it out on plants you are willing to lose (if that exists 😊).

The most practical reason to graft an areole is to salvage a dying plant. The healthiest areole can be cut off and grafted onto a suitable rootstock. Another reason to areole graft is to multiply out one plant into many.

Areole Graft

This has two areoles. Generally, you only Areole graft with one areole per rootstock.

Upside down or butt grafts

This is a useful graft for cacti that have a large taproot. Besides grafting the green top of the scion, you also upside down graft the taproot (this would be specific to globular cacti like Lophophora williamsii). It’s very difficult to secure the taproot to the stock so I don’t bother. I just slide it into position and let the glue like sap do the rest. If the graft takes, new pups will rapidly emerge from the region where the scion was cut. This method will give you two grafts from one seedling. A suitable scion would be one of the Lophophora (Peyote) genus.

Butt Graft

Butt Graft

Lophophora williamsii butt grafted onto Harrisia jusbertii

Grafting Step by Step

It is important to have all materials on hand with equipment in place before making any cuts. Open wounds dry out rapidly, rendering grafting a time sensitive task.

Understand the inherent risk that unsuccessful grafting can lead to the disease or death of a plant. Operate with confidence; practice makes perfect.

These basic steps can be followed and tweaked to accommodate all of the above- mentioned forms of grafting.

  1. Gather your materials:
    • Sharp, sterilized grafting knife, razor blade or scalpel, adequately sized for the diameter of the plants that you will be cutting.
    • Rubber bands/grafting tape for holding scion in
    • A pair of gloves (optional but recommended).
    • Isopropyl alcohol (70%).
    • Cloth, paper towel, tissue or
  1. Sterilize the tools, gloves and working surface with isopropyl alcohol. Always wipe down the knife with something like kitchen roll after applying the alcohol.
  2. Next, make a clean, smooth cut to an accessible spot on your rootstock. The fresher the growth the better. New growth cuts easier and contains more fluid. Make sure the wound is level and at least 10 cm above the surface of the soil.
  3. Bevel the sides around the cut by shaving away the raised skin. This will help the scion acclimate easier and prevent new shoots from emerging at the wound site.
  4. After beveling, take a very thin slice from the grafting surface but don’t remove it, leave it in place. This ensures a clean and moist surface for the scion to fix to.
  5. Cut off the top portion of the cactus you’d like to propagate. See that it corresponds with the diameter and shape of the rootstock cut. Be sure to leave some spines on the bottom portion so that it survives and continues to grow.
  6. Move quickly and DO NOT let the rootstock or scion dry out. Align the vascular rings as well as possible to ensure a successful graft and set the scion in place. Gently apply pressure to remove any air between the cuts. Slide the scion onto the stock, pushing off the stock slice as you go.
  7. Secure the scion in place using your implement of choice. Rubber bands can simply be wrapped from the top around the bottom to squeeze the scion to the stock. Another option is setting a piece of gauze or tissue on top of the scion and holding it in place with electrical or grafting tape. Use anything that is stretchy, flexible and can be removed when the union is Note: In general, you need to apply more pressure than you probably imagine. This takes getting used to but once you realise just how much pressure you need, the biggest problem becomes keeping the sion on while applying the downward pressure.
  8. The newly joined plant should be moved to a warm place that provides mostly shade with a little indirect light. A moderate humidity, around 50%, will encourage the union of the two cuts.
  9. The graft will “take” or not quickly. After a couple of days, I very gently remove the material securing the two parts together and apply a very gentle side pressure to the scion with my finger. You can tell if the two parts have fused
  10. If you make the cuts wisely, you can get a 2nd or even 3rd chance at graft if the 1st shoud fail. Simply remake the cuts and try again. Most of the time, you have do overs so don’t be too concerned about failing.
  11. Finally, after 2-3 weeks the scion should begin to grow and your grafted cactus can be set back in typical hot, dry conditions. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Micro Grafting with Pereskiopsis spathulata

We covered a bit of this in the intro, but, this specialty graft has a distinct process that deserves its own detailed outline.

One of the fastest growing cacti, pereskiopsis, makes the ideal rootstock for stimulating the growth of young seedlings. Cut seedlings will benefit from the rapid growth qualities of the rootstock.

The thin stem of the leafy pereskiopsis perfectly accommodates a fresh cutting from a small seedling. Cut off the top portion of a stem to prepare for the mini-scion.

Use a small sterile blade and tweezers to cut the top of a seedling and transfer it to the rootstock. The seedling cutting should stick right to the blade and can be slid onto the awaiting stem. The moist consistency of the cuts should hold the graft in place.

When growing on pereskiopsis rootstock it’s important to note that new grafts MUST be kept in humid conditions. Use a humidity grow dome, clear plastic bottle or bag to cover the plants. This will keep the wound from drying out too quickly and allow the seedling to settle into its new home. I use small zip lock bags to maintain enough humidity:


Pereskiopsis Humidity

Small Zip Lock over the Grafted seedling

This maintains adequate humidty and stops the union from drying out too quickly.

Remove the plastic covering daily and lightly mist the plants as needed. Open the vent or take off the lid of the coverings to gradually regulate the humidity down.

After about a week of high humidity move the grafted cacti into a drier, brighter space. Fluorescent grow lights or indirect sunlight is preferable. Observe the seedling closely and watch for it to begin growing, usually between 1-3 weeks depending on the variety.

One final important task is to cleanly remove any side branches the rootstock sends out. Making sure not to damage any leaves, remove side shoots with a sterilized blade. This will direct all of the plant’s energy to the scion.

Cut seedlings grown on a pereskiopsis rootstock clearly outperform seeds grown strictly in potted media. It’s the best way to rapidly propagate seedlings of desirable varieties.

Please be aware that grafting is a technique that you will improve at the more you practice. Be aware that you will always have failures, but more so whilst you are a learner. Don’t practice with your very rare and expensive seedlings. Astrophytums are a good Genus to learn with, seeds are easy to obtain and inexpensive and the seedlings are relatively large and easier to handle.

Tip: Don’t water the Pereskiopsis for a few days before you intend to do the grafts. Well hydrated stocks have so much sap that the scion can be floated out of position or even fall from the stock.

Caring for a Grafted Cactus

To ensure all of your hard work wasn’t for naught, give your newly established cactus the proper care.

  • Keep your newly grafted pair out of direct sunlight and in a nice shaded area to stop the plants drying out too fast.
  • After the graft has been deemed a success, move your cactus to a warm, dry area with bright, indirect light.
  • Water sparingly. Soil should be well-draining and only watered after completely drying out. Never let a cactus sit in standing water or damp soil.
  • Fertilize once or twice during the warm growing season with a cactus/succulent feed. Withhold fertilizer during the dormant winter months.
  • Always keep cacti in a warm environment. If kept as an outdoor plant stay well ahead of the frost and move plants indoors when cold weather threatens.
  • The general idea is to give the care that is required by the rootstock rather than the scion. The exception to this rule is if you have a cold tolerant rootstock but a tender scion. When grafted, the scion will STILL be tender.

Top Tips for Grafting Cacti

  • The warm seasons of Spring and Summer are optimal times to graft; cacti are actively growing and respond well to cutting and grafting. Unless you have an indoor growing setup, do not attempt to graft during winter months as the plants will have stopped growing and failure rates will be very
  • Don’t ever use scissors to graft or clone a plant. The pinching action crushes the cambium, inhibiting the exchange of fluid.
  • Use scions and rootstock of the same species for the best grafting
  • Don’t waste! Create new plants by re-rooting the tops of rootstock
  • Use rootstock varieties that offer a fat base and scion cuttings of fast growing

Some Grafting Stock Options

  • Hylocereus trigonus or undatus (dragonfruit),
  • Cereus peruvianus,
  • Trichocereus spachianus
  • Pereskiopsis spathulata
  • Trichocereus pachanoi (San Pedro) is my favorite grafting stock as they tend to be short spined so easier to work with, hardy and chunky.
  • Trichocereus peruviana (Peruvian Torch)
  • Ferocactus glaucescens
  • Harrisia jusbertii
  • Myrtillocactus geometrzans (Not cold hardy so must be kept inside over winter)
  • Opuntia fragilis

Grafting Videos

Final Thoughts

I truly hope you found this article useful and will help you start your journey into grafting. I will add to this article as I go and find new things to add. If I have left anything out, please do let me know in the comments and I will do my best to answer as required.

Get cracking, take some risks and reap the rewards.

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