RESTORING THE DESERT BY REPLANTING
The desert ecosystem is delicate and easily damaged by motor vehicles or just too much foot traffic. Your efforts to replant can regenerate a damaged desert area to a healthy state. Replanting damaged desert is fairly easy. Desert plants can regenerate themselves, as if by magic, just by taking cuttings and planting them during the rainy or cool season. The cacti that you intend to use for cuttings should, if possible, be watered and allowed to expand beforehand so that there will be enough moisture to carry it through the transition to it's new life. Dry and stressed plants are not good candidates for creating new ones.
Some desert soil is nearly impossible to dig in. A pickax can make easy work of creating room for new roots to generate. Just 4" of depth can be enough space to encourage cacti cuttings to root. Many advise a greater depth but I have had much success using my minimum effort rule. Use long handled lopping shears to harvest cuttings from cholla, ocotillo, and prickly pear. Always wear gloves (!), and transfer cuttings via shovel to a wheelbarrow or a bucket. It is better to take smaller cuttings that are light enough to transfer safely. They grow so quickly that it is not worth the risk of injury from struggling to move a heavy cutting (unless you have an urgent security problem and require a quick barrier---if so try prickly pear which grow very quickly).
Many believe that cactus cuttings should be set aside for awhile to be "callused" off before replanting (in order to prevent infection) but I don't do this. My success rate would probably be higher if I did but I'd rather transplant immediately. Some also say that it's important to replant the cutting with it's original orientation to the sun. This is a very considerate idea because it means that a plant experiences less stress in transition. I can't say that I do this either. If you choose to do this then use a compass and label the side with a southern exposure before you move the plant and then orient the plant in the same direction when you place cuttings. If you choose not to do this then just plant a few extra cuttings for better survival statistics.
After the cuttings are planted, with the cut side down to a depth of at least 4", and filled in with native soil, it is a good idea to surround them with rocks. Rocks can hold a little moisture around the plant when it rains, and protect the roots when it's dry and windy. If rain doesn't come for several days after planting then you can do a very light watering to encourage survival. Cacti don't need much water to root well. Hand watering lightly just two or three times on a weekly basis through a dry spell will probably be enough to establish an adequate root system. Cacti are CAM plants, which means that they only open their stomata (or "pores") at night. This is a desert survival mechanism that prevents excessive moisture loss during the heat of the day. Most other plants are the opposite in that they open their stomata during the day which means that they can suffer tremendous moisture loss under daytime desert conditions.
Once cacti cuttings and rocks are in place they will start to knit the soil and reduce erosion. This will also create a place for the seeds of desert shrubs and wildflowers to settle and reestablish themselves. You can hurry the process along by reseeding the area yourself with collected or purchased desert seed. Eventually, as more soil collects in the area, desert trees might also establish themselves.
Here are numerous cholla, ocotillo, and prickly pear cuttings, newly planted. The damage to this area was from excessive foot traffic, cars, and ATV's. Ocotillo cuttings are most successful when the younger branches are used. Any age of cholla or prickly pear can do well.
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