Over the years my Pencil Cactus ‘Euphorbia tirucalli’ has grown rather tall, so tall that it barely fits in a single image. Instead of growing as a thick pencily bush, my plant has grown upwards in spurts creating a lanky tree over four feet tall. As the soaringly high limbs began to droop over, I knew it would only be a matter of time before this plant could no longer hold it’s own head up. The decision was made – it was time to chop it down and propagate some new Pencil Cactus plants.
Most of my plants are grown from cuttings, it’s often a slow growing process, but in my opinion it’s rather satisfying to witness the life in progress no matter the speed. My Pencil Plant is a cutting from my Dad’s plant that was started in 2011. It took awhile to establish and take root, but once it got going, it shot up and up, eventually becoming a little too awkwardly tall. Let’s take a quick look at where we started back in 2011…
Fast forward to 2016, and we have the leaning tower of my Pencil Cactus in all its glory – it’s pretty impressive that it can still stand on it’s own without tipping over. It’s definitely the right time to prune this plant. I decided to chop it in two places leaving a long stem at the base of each, this would leave me with two already healthy looking starters.
The Pencil Cactus, also known as the Milkbush, leaks a poisonous white sap from its wounds. Exercise extreme caution when handling and propagating these plants as the milky white sap may irritate skin or even worse can cause blindness. The sap is latex like and can cause severe burns especially in the eyes. In my experience, it did not cause burns to my hands, but I was carful not to get too much on my skin, just be certain that you do not touch anywhere near your eyes when handling this plant. Consider wearing gloves and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
Propagating the Pencil Cactus is easy. Simply make a clean cut, the white sap will ooze out for a short time, blot it off and allow the cut edge to dry out. I only waited about one day for these edges to dry, you could wait a couple more if you wanted. When propagating succulents, you generally want to allow the fresh edge to dry out a bit before planting, this seals up the wound and prevents the newly cut plant from sucking up too much water which will cause root rot and likely death.
Once your Pencil Cactus pieces have dried out a bit, it’s time for the final step- planting your cuttings. Select a pot that has good drainage and choose a succulent appropriate soil. If you don’t have a pre-made succulent mix, you can make your own by adding a bit of sand and perlite to your potting mix. I planted mine in a squat pot along with some other succulents. Since they are tall and branchy with no roots, standing up is somewhat of a challenge for them, I tied them together for stability and they’re holding up nicely. If you have issues with this, you can use stakes (I use chopsticks or bamboo) to help stabilize them. These plants don’t need a ton of moisture, but be extra careful to avoid overwatering especially when they’re new. In general, allow the soil to dry completely between waterings in the spring and summer, water less in the winter when they are dormant. Here are the planted cuttings on day one…
And that’s really all it takes to make more pencil plants from your existing plant. Pretty simple. It may take some time for the root system to take off, but as long as it looks alive… it’s probably doing alright. Set it near a sunny window and water it… sometimes.