Skip to main content

How to safely repot a cactus to make sure it continues thriving

As far as houseplants are concerned, cacti are some of the best ones to have around. There are so many varieties, shapes, sizes, and colors, and they’re perfect for beginners and experts alike! Cacti are generally low-maintenance plants; however, when it comes to repotting, it’s important that you do so tactfully and carefully. Knowing how to repot a cactus properly is essential to prevent harm coming to you or your plant.

A woman smiling and holding a large round potted cactus
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why you should repot your cactus

It’s important to repot a cactus for the same reason you need to repot the rest of your houseplants: It gives them room to grow bigger and healthier and replenishes the nutrients in the soil. On average, you’ll find yourself repotting a cactus every two to four years for a mature plant, and potentially every year or two for one that’s still growing.

How to tell when a cactus is ready for repotting

The best time to repot your cactus is during the active growing season as that’s when it’s healthiest. You’ll know your cactus is ready for a new home when the roots start to poke through the drainage hole at the bottom (drainage holes are especially important here). The two to four year timeline is simply a ballpark with a lot of factors, such as how often and how much you fertilize, how old the cactus is, and if it’s a fast- or slow-growing variety. For example, more fertilization means the soil will last closer to four years as far as nutrients go, but if the cactus grows fast, you may find yourself repotting sooner. When considering how to repot a cactus, it’s important to be mindful of every variable.

How to safely repot your cactus

Repotting cacti isn’t the same as repotting most other plants, simply due to the fact that they have spines that act as protection. Although you aren’t there to harm it, the spines will still hurt you if proper precautions aren’t taken. These include using gardening gloves made of thick canvas or leather—the spines will penetrate fabric gloves, so you should avoid those—and gently using metal tongs.

Things you’ll need to get started

There are a few things you’ll need for the process: protective gloves, tongs, newspaper, cacti/succulent potting mix, and a new container.

Using a succulent/cacti potting mix as opposed to a standard indoor plant mix helps ensure that the cactus will get the specific nutrients it needs. Specialty soils (for any plant) are always designed with that type of plant in mind. When choosing a container, be sure you pick one with a drainage hole so that the excess water has somewhere to go.

Really, how important is the pot?

A proper container is more important for cacti than you think. Unlike some houseplants, they like just enough room to grow but won’t do well in a space that’s too large. Even fast growing varieties don’t grow all that speedily, and you should always take care to repot in one size up from the cactus’ current home.

As far as materials go, a pot made of terracotta or clay will help give the roots room to breathe, and having a drainage hole will allow excess water to have somewhere to go. We all know what happens when cacti roots sit in soggy soil. The story never ends well. Plus, the drainage hole is perhaps the best indicator for knowing when your cactus is ready to be repotted.

A gardener safely repotting a collection of cacti
Westend61 GmbH / Alamy

A step-by-step process for repotting

To successfully and safely repot your cactus, follow this step-by-step guide:

  1. Gather your tools and supplies. Make sure you have all of the above necessities before starting your repotting. Wearing protective gloves is always recommended, no matter the size or amount of spikes.
  2. Take the cactus out of the old pot and loosen the roots. Loosen the soil around the edges with a dull knife and gently remove the plant and roots from the current container. This is where you’ll want to use the metal tongs, as well as wrap the cactus loosely in layers of newspaper if needed. Once removed, loosen the roots to shake out the old soil.
  3. Inspect and trim the roots. Make sure the roots are healthy, free of any root rot, pests, or other diseases. If there are any damaged or diseased roots, trim them off with sterilized shears or scissors.
  4. Plant your cactus in its new home. You should have already chosen a proper pot to have on hand prior to repotting. Once the roots are inspected and trimmed, put some of the cactus mix in the bottom of the new container so that the cactus is planted at around the same depth as it was before. Place the cactus in the pot, holding it gently in place with the tongs, and fill the remaining space.

Caring for your newly potted cactus

Once your cactus is happily sitting in its new home, put it back in the same location it was thriving in before. If there was something wrong with the environment (for example, it didn’t have enough light), this is also a great time to try out a new spot! Although you’ll be tempted to water right away, you should let the cactus acclimate to the new pot for about a week before watering regularly again.

Cacti are notoriously hardy and can handle transplanting with ease so long as nothing was damaged. Be sure to always use metal tongs gently, without squeezing tight as you could puncture the plant. With the right care, your cactus will continue to thrive.

Editors' Recommendations

Kiera Baron
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kiera Baron is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding digital artist, based in Upstate NY. She is currently one…
Now that it’s more common, here’s how to care for your sought-after Thai Constellation Monstera
How to grow one of these coveted houseplants
Thai Constellation Monstera

During the early pandemic days, the Thai Constellation Monstera was one of the most coveted cultivars of the humble Monstera deliciosa. Now, houseplant enthusiasts can more readily find this striking plant at lower costs, whether it's at a grocery store or a local nursery. Despite its gaining popularity, you might still have questions about the Thai Constellation Monstera plant. Not to worry — here's all that you need to know about what this plant is and how you can grow it in your lush indoor garden.

What is the Thai Constellation Monstera, and what makes it so special?
Along with the Monstera deliciosa's eye-catching fenestrations, the Thai Constellation plant features gorgeous mottled leaves with a touch of creamy variegation. The Thai Constellation cultivar is relatively difficult to grow, which was why it was such a rare and expensive plant for so long — just a few years ago, a handful of cuttings could go for hundreds of dollars.

Read more
Can you grow plants in water beads? Here’s what you need to know
Find out what common houseplants you can grow this way
A tulip in a vase with water beads

Keeping your plants healthy includes keeping them hydrated, but what is the best way to do that? There’s traditional watering, automated watering systems for when you’re out of town, and even water globes. One option you may have heard about is growing plants in water beads. Is this really an effective way to keep your plants hydrated, though, or are the potential risks more troublesome than they’re worth? This guide to gardening with water beads will answer all your questions.

What are water beads?
Water beads are gel spheres that come in a variety of sizes and colors. They absorb water and slowly release it over time, which is why some gardeners use them to keep their plants watered. Water beads can be made from a variety of materials, including both naturally occurring and manufactured substances.

Read more
5 easy indoor plants anyone can grow
Simple indoor plants for anyone, especially beginner gardeners
Top down view of several potted plants together in a box

Gardening and caring for houseplants is a hobby stretching back thousands of years, and most people want to give it a try at some point in their lives. If you have a green thumb or experience, then you can grow practically any plant your heart desires, but what if you’re just starting out or have tried and failed to keep plants alive in the past? Not to worry.

These five plants aren’t just beautiful, but they’re also easy to grow. Any beginner can care for these easy indoor plants, so start with this list and work your way up to more difficult plants.

Read more