Moon cacti may be an odd plant because of their bright colors, but they are like other cacti; they produce pups or offsets. These pups, when removed and propagated, will form fresh new plants. I did it dozens of times in my shop, and here I will tell (and show) how to do it.
To separate the moon cactus pup from the parent, it is necessary to 1) inspect the health of the plant, select a healthy, good-sized pup, 2) twist and turn the pup to break it off, and 3) propagate the pup. One primary method of propagating is by grafting- joining two different plants to form a new plant.
Is it a good idea to detach a moon cactus pup from its parent? Will the parent plant die if I do not separate its offset? You can find the answers below.
You can notice some tiny bubbles protruding from the areola (the small bumps on the body of the cacti where spines grow) of your moon cactus that grows bigger each day. These small bumps are the exact version of your plant but smallish. Yes, it’s a baby cactus and what you have now is a mother moon cactus. Naturally, some cacti can produce offsets around their globular body.
Moon cactus can form offsets, especially during the growing season during April-December. When cacti develop babies, it is a good indicator of growth and stability. It is a sign that they received a good dose of nutrients. It is also good if pups form because they can be used for propagations and become future new moon cacti.
Grafting is one way to propagate a moon cactus pup. Remember that moon cactus are plants that cannot live independently, especially those with pure variegation or fully colored. They have a minimal amount of chlorophyll (responsible for producing energy from light), but this is way too low to survive long enough on their own.
Indeed, the lack of chlorophyll makes them incapable of producing their food, making it impossible to grow on their own. The moon cactus pups needed a host, some green cactus, to supply food for them. It can only be possible by removing the pup and grafting it to the green cactus host. How can I remove the pups? How is grafting done? The answer is on its way.
Moon cactus offset removal is easy. They’ll break off without a hitch. Unlike most cacti, Moon cacti spines are not sturdy, so there’s no danger of hurting your fingers. The pups are just attached loosely around their parent’s bodies. Below are the three easy steps on how to remove and graft moon cactus pup.
You just can’t go ahead and pluck any pup you see around your plant. It is imperative to check your cactus and pick the healthiest, good-sized offset. Healthy pups are those that have bright colors, are free of pests and fungus, have no wounds, and are plump (not desiccated). Too small and unhealthy offset has a slight chance of survival as they tend to dry up quickly. However, a healthy, decent-sized pup will most likely succeed when grafted.
Pup of moon cactus comes off easily with just a twist and a turn. While holding the crown of your moon cactus, twist the offset gently using your fingers and turn it slightly until it breaks off. If you can’t withstand their not-so-sharp spines, you can opt to use gloves or tweezers. But just be careful when using tweezers. You might poke your cactus and leave them wounded. Avoid pulling off the pup as it might damage the mother plant’s tissues or the offset.
After plucking the pup, the next thing you need to do is to propagate it by grafting. Grafting is just the name of the approach that allows to “in-nest” the top (the colorful part) in the green base (the rootstock). It is a method of joining the pup on top of the rootstock cactus.
Indeed, remember that it takes two different cacti to form a moon cactus. The mutant Gymnocalycium mihanovichii is the colorful top ( called ‘scion’), and the Hylocereus (typical cactus used for grafting) is the green base ( called ‘rootstock’). Since the scion cannot survive independently, grafting it to a rootstock will do the trick. To achieve a successful graft, use a healthy rootstock as a base. Healthy rootstocks are thick and green.
You don’t have to be an expert to perform grafting. Do not leave your offset for several days sitting alone ungrafted. They are small and dry up quickly. Grafting dehydrated moon cactus pups is very unlikely. The sap of the moon cactus pup acts as the glue that sticks them to the rootstock. So, you better get your rootstock ready and do it soon for the best result.
Mother Moon Cactus oozing with pups
Moon cactus that are pure yellow, red, pink, and orange are called mutant versions of Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. They possess full variegation, which makes it impossible for photosynthesis to take place. Variegation refers to the unique color patches other than green that appear on your plant’s body tissue.
Moon cactus pups cannot survive alone and can not root. No amount of rooting hormone can make them grow roots.
However, some mutant cultivars have these streaks of chlorophyll on their bodies. Roots can grow on them and can be planted directly in the soil. But no guarantee that they will have a longer life span.
Your moon cactus produces babies one after another, and over time they will clump and outgrow the main plant. Not removing the pups is lethal to the mother plants and the rootstock. Here’s why.
Moon cactus are short-lived plants that usually last for a year or so. Unless you have grafting skills, then you will be able to extend the lifespan of your plant. They have a shorter life span because they are dependent on the other cactus to survive. The bottom cactus works way harder to feed itself and the cactus on top.
With a dependent scion and a growing number of pups within the mother plant, chances are the rootstock will become too weak. It will be unable to produce food good enough to supply the mother cactus and the hungry babies. Soon enough, either the rootstock will give up, or the scion will shrink and eventually die.
Some cacti can be propagated by plucking the offset and allowing them to root on their own by planting them on the soil. Some species require cutting off a shoot, let them callous, and plant them until roots develop. However, it’s not the case in the moon cactus. The grafting method is the only means of propagating the pup, especially the mutants with pure neon colors.
Moon cactus offsets (the pup) start as a small bump mimicking the looks of their mother plant. They appear as bright, colored as their mother, with tiny, soft, pointed spikes beautifully curled up. They are slow growers because they only rely on support from the rootstock.
They grow around the ball-shaped body of the main plant and form a clump. You can leave them attached to their mother. However, separating them from their mother will save the plant from nutrient deficiency and death. I recommend removing moon cactus pups once they reach a decent size, suitable for propagation and grafting.
When grafting, make sure you use a healthy rootstock. A healthy rootstock is straight, green, chunky, pest-free, and fungus-free. These are the characteristics of a resilient rootstock that can withstand extreme weather conditions like drought.
It is imperative to use a healthy, juicy rootstock to perform well and produce enough food for itself and the scion. Specific rootstocks that are compatible with Gymnocalycium are Hylocereus, Cereus peruvianus, Stenocereus, and Myrtillocactus. Their thick and hardy characteristics make them an excellent candidate for rootstock.
Moon cactus pups that are pure yellow, red, pink, and orange can only grow when grafted. They cannot be rooted directly in the soil because they don’t have that ability due to zero chlorophyll in their body. They need a host for them to survive, and that’s the role of the base cactus.
- Detaching moon cactus offsets from the mother plants can be effortless. Grafting the pup right away after plucking increases the chance of successful growth.
- The babies of a mutant moon cactus are pretty unique, unlike those of regular cactus. As complex as it may seem, moon cactus grafting is worthwhile because you do not just grow a single moon cactus but several moon cactus more.
- Removing moon cactus offsets and propagating them is better than leaving them attached to the plant, sucking all the nutrients they get from the rootstock. It can be detrimental to the whole plant.
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