The Q&A Archives: Propagating Desert Plants

Question: I am starting a new landscaping project, and have access to many desert plants. How can I add them to my garden by taking pieces of each? Do they need rooting? Or just plant them? Various cactus, palms, desert plants?

Answer: There are hundreds of species of desert plants and different methods of propagation work for different plants. But here's a few suggestions: Many cactus can be started by just planting a section in the ground and it will take root, e.g., a prickly pear pad, or a segment of a chain type cactus, e.g., cholla. Let the segment/pad callous for a few days before planting. All cactus prefer well-drained soil.
Palms are typically started from seeds or by dividing offsets that sprout from the base. Other shrubby desert plants can be started from seed. Some will root from cuttings. Softwood cuttings are of new growth that is not yet firm. They should be about two inches long, with two-three pairs of leaves at the top of the stem. Insert the cuttings into the planting medium, just up to the lowest leaves. Rooting hormone may be used, but is not essential. It helps to pinch off the growing tip, which helps force more roots. If possible, place the cuttings in a covered environment (a mini greenhouse) and provide bottom heat. I hope this info helps--good luck!

Semi-ripe cuttings are taken in mid- to late-summer from the current season's growth that has begun to firm. The cutting's base should be quite hard, while the tip should be growing and still soft. Use 2 1/2 - 4 inches, and remove side shoots. Make a shallow wound on the stem by cutting away a thin piece of bark (1/2 inch long). This stimulates rooting. Dip in a rooting hormones and insert in a soilless potting mix. Provide a humid environment.

Note that it is illegal to gather/dig most desert plants from the wild.

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