How Does a Cactus Reproduce?

Updated: Jan. 21, 2022

Find out how do cactus reproduce and how gardeners can propagate a cactus from cuttings to get more free plants.

Beavertail Prickly Pear

Have you ever wondered how do cactus reproduce? Okay, maybe not. But, cacti, like many succulents reproduce by either seed or cuttings.

Opuntia New York

Believe it or not, cacti aren’t confined to the dry, desert areas of the U.S.  They can be found growing in most states, like this one I photographed in upstate New York.


In nature, cacti often reproduce when segments or pads fall from the parent cactus and root where they touch the ground. The round pad, above, came from a Purple Prickly Pear (Opuntia bigelovii).

Why is a cactus covered in spines?

Purple Prickly Pear

Another way that cacti reproduce is when animals brush by the cactus and a piece detaches and sticks to the animal’s fur. Later, it falls off, quite a distance away from the parent plant.

Teddy Bear Cholla segmentHeidi Reschner

Pieces of cacti can survive for months without water, until there is enough rainfall for them to root into the soil, like this segment of Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii).

Look for a cactus skeleton in the desert.

Opuntia bigeloviiKen Keffer

Often, you will find clusters of younger cacti that have taken root around the parent cactus when the segments fell and rooted like these Teddy Bear Cholla, pictured above. They may look fluffy and soft, like a teddy bear, but looks can be incredibly deceiving as many people have found who have reached out to touch one.

Check out cute cactus gifts for cactus lovers.

Newly Planted Pad

How to Propagate Cactus Plants From Cuttings

You can plant pads or segments of cacti and watch them grow.  This is an easy way to take a single cactus and take cuttings of a pad and plant it.

While propagating cacti this way is easy to do, there are a few important steps to follow:

  1. Propagate cactus during the warm season, when the threat of frost is over.
  2. Make the cut at the joint where the segment attaches to the parent plant.  For prickly pear cacti, you can cut a segment that consists of 1 to 3 pads.
  3. Place the new cutting in a dry, shady spot for 2 weeks to allow the cut site to ‘callus’, which protects the cacti from rot when it is replanted.
  4. Plant your new cactus in full sun with well-drained soil.
  5. Don’t water for a month after planting. Then water deeply, monthly until fall.
  6. Provide temporary shade for the first summer. You can do this by placing a plastic patio chair over the top or using shade cloth.
  7. Soon, you will begin to see new growth on your cactus.

Opuntia in flower

Propagating cacti also comes in handy when your favorite cactus becomes too large or overgrown. Before removing it, cut a segment or two of the cactus and follow the steps above and replant them in the same spot. I have done this using some of my favorite species of Prickly Pear and Cholla with great results.

Next, discover 8 facts about Christmas cactus.