Did you know that you can grow cacti from seed? I've been doing it for several years now. It's a very slow process, but actually very easy and interesting. Seed packets can sometimes be found mixed in with vegetable and flowers seeds at your local seed display (I've found them at Walmart). Pinetree Garden Seeds also offers a cactus seed mix for $1.75.
|Tiny cactus seedlings in a 50/50 soil/sand mix.|
The cultivation of cacti from seed is very similar to how you would start any other flower or vegetable seed. However, a fast draining potting mix should be used. I use 50% regular potting mix and 50% sand. Choose a pot or container that you're happy with because the cactus seedilngs may be in this container for over a year before they need to be transplanted. I often use a plastic ground-beef tray as my container. Read the seed packet to see if the seeds should be covered with potting mix. After sowing, put the container in a humidity dome under lights until germination. Continue growing the seedlings under artificial light.
Cactus seedlings look very different from the adult plant, which is one reason they are so fun to grow. Seedlings have a pair of cotyledons (tiny leaves) surrounding a button-like lump of tissue. Over time, the seedling will absorb the cotyledons (or they slough off) and the button will enlarge. Eventually the seedling will start to grow spines and resemble a mini-version of the adult plant.
|These teeny tiny cacti are actually two years old!|
Once the outside weather warms, your tray of cactus seedlings can be put outside to get bright sunlight for most of the summer. Water if necessary. If you live in an area with lots of rainfall, you may want to put your cacti in a protected location so they don't get overwatered and rot. The seedlings will gradually grow larger, but the process is very slow.
After one whole year, my seedlings are still smaller than a pencil eraser! Once they get to a size where they can be handled easily (i.e. without the use of tweezers and a magnifying glass), they can be potted up into individual pots. Bring the plants inside for the winter and put them in the brightest location in your house. They are unlikely to grow much over the winter, but should maintain themselves until they can be put outside the next summer.
In my experience, survivability in the first year is fairly low. While most of the seeds may germinate, only a handful might make it to transplant size. However, over the years I've accumulated a nice little collection. Cacti are so interesting and easy to care for...it's worth the wait.