Succulents and cacti are known for their hardiness and ability to withstand drought, infections, and pests. But what happens if your cactus gets damaged? A broken stem, nibbled sides, or frost burn could cause serious harm to some houseplants, but what about cacti– does their hardiness carry over to healing injuries?
The Short Answer
In short, yes. A damaged cactus can heal itself, but it takes time. Like how our bodies heal, your cactus needs nutrients and energy to recover from wounds and other damage. Your cactus will also need extra time to recover depending on when it’s damaged too: if the cactus gets hurt outside of the growing season, it’ll take more time to heal than if it were damaged during the growing season.
A damaged cactus can heal itself, but it takes time.
Photo by Boy_Anupong
Types of Damage
If you notice damage of any kind on your cactus, it’s always important to give it immediate attention. You’ll need to treat your cactus differently, depending on the damage.
Scrapes and Scratches
Shallow scrapes are bound to happen while moving your plant, and any kind of minor cut or scrape isn’t something to worry about. Your cactus will heal itself naturally over time.
Deeper cuts, like bites from an animal or deep scrapes, are a greater cause of concern. If left untreated, these deep wounds may become infected or infested by pests. When dealing with larger cuts on your cactus, the best thing to do is to smooth out the damaged area using a clean knife and let it callous over for a day or so. Then, spray the wound with a little fungicide and cover it with plastic wrap to prevent bugs from getting inside. Keep your cactus somewhere it’ll get bright, indirect sunlight.
If part of your cactus breaks off, it’ll heal, but slowly. Breakage is considered pretty major for cacti, and your plant won’t grow back looking exactly the same as it was. When dealing with breakage, you can either propagate the broken piece or reattach it.
Photo by Boyloso
Reattaching Broken Parts
To reattach a broken part on your cactus, you’ll first need to clean off the wound areas on your main plant and the broken piece. Smooth off both ends, remove any dead matter from your cacti, and let the cut ends be callous for about a day. Then, you can graft the two pieces together as you would an undamaged cactus.
When making reattachments, it’s best to do so during the growing season, so your cactus has plenty of time to recover from the grafting.
Root damage is also common when transplanting your cactus, but other kinds of root damage, specifically rotted roots, need immediate attention. When dealing with root rot, the best thing you can do is to prune your cactus’ roots.
To prune damaged or rotted roots, you’ll first need to remove your cactus from its pot. Brush off any excess dirt from the roots as best you can, and prepare a clean set of scissors to trim the roots. When pruning, make sure you trim slightly above the rotted or damaged area to avoid potential spreading. After pruning, let your roots dry and callous over for a day or so before replanting.
Root damage is also common when transplanting your cactus.
Photo by Boyloso
Cacti aren’t frost-hardy and will suffer from frostbite when exposed to freezing temperatures. A frost-damaged cactus will have blackened, soft areas where it’s been chilled. A cactus can recover from frostbite with a little time, patience, and care on your part. If you see frost damage on your cactus, bring it somewhere away from cold drafts, and scrape off the damaged flesh with a clean knife. Then, treat the wounded area as you would any other cut or scrape.
A frost-damaged cactus will have blackened, soft areas where it’s been chilled.
Photo by Yana Solovets
How to Help Your Cactus Heal
To help speed up the healing process and prevent damage altogether, there are a few things you can do to keep your cactus happy and healthy:
Pay Attention to the Growing Season
The best time to prune, graft, and repot your cactus is during its growing season. Growing seasons vary based on the species of cactus you own, so make sure you know when your cactus goes dormant each year and when it starts to grow again.
Pruning your cactus is another great way to keep your cactus content, especially because it prepares your cactus for future growth. When you prune, make sure you do so during the growing season, and be sure to use clean tools!
Repot Your Cactus
Prioritizing drainage is the best way to prevent root damage with your cactus, so repotting it with well-draining soil is a must. To further improve drainage, make sure you use a pot with drainage holes. Your pot material also plays a role– pots made from concrete, terracotta, and ceramic are porous and promote drainage better than glass or metal pots do.
Repotting cactus is a way to help your cactus heal.
Photo by AnSyvanych
Propagate Healthy Breakage
If your cactus breaks and both parts are healthy, you can also propagate healthy breakage to make more plants. To do so, let the broken piece callous over for a day or so, and then dip the cut end into a rooting hormone to help it grow. Plant your broken piece in its own pot with well-draining cactus soil, and mist it occasionally to keep it moist. It’s easiest to propagate cacti with large leaves or offshoots that break off. If the trunk of your cactus breaks, it’s best to graft it instead.