Cacti have gained popularity as home plants due to their unique aesthetic appeal and relatively low maintenance requirements. They add a beautiful element of the exotic and can survive even in the hands of the least green-fingered among us.
But like any other plant, to truly thrive, they require more than just an occasional watering. If you're thinking about keeping cacti at home, here are some handpicked tips to help you cultivate these resilient succulents.
Understanding the Cactus
The first step in successfully growing cacti is understanding what they are. Native to the Americas' arid regions, cacti are uniquely adapted to survive harsh, dry climates. They have evolved to store water in their stems and leaves, which is why they have a swollen or plump appearance. Their iconic spines not only serve as a defence mechanism against predators but also help reduce water loss by casting shade and breaking up wind flow.
Selecting Your Cacti
When deciding which cacti to keep, consider factors such as the plant's mature size, growth speed, sunlight and watering requirements, and potential flowering. There are hundreds of different types of cacti, each with its unique set of needs. Some common house-friendly varieties include the Barrel Cactus, Christmas Cactus, Star Cactus, and the Saguaro Cactus. Always choose a healthy plant—avoid ones with spots, discoloured patches, or damaged spines.
Positioning and Light Requirements
Cacti are sun-loving plants. A south-facing window is ideal for most cacti, providing plenty of indirect sunlight. If such an arrangement isn't possible, consider supplementing with grow lights. Be cautious about putting cacti in direct sunlight all day, though, as it can lead to sunburns.
Temperature and Humidity
Most cacti prefer warm conditions but can survive a wide range of temperatures. During the summer, they can withstand temperatures up to 100°F (37.7°C). In the winter, cacti go dormant and can survive temperatures as low as 45°F (7.2°C). As desert plants, they prefer a dry environment and can suffer in high-humidity spaces.
Watering Your Cactus
A common mistake cacti owners make is overwatering. Remember, cacti are designed to survive drought. The frequency of watering depends on the season. In summer, watering your cactus once a week should suffice, while in winter, once a month is adequate. When in doubt, err on the side of underwatering.
Potting and Soil
Cacti prefer well-draining soil to prevent waterlogging and root rot. Commercial cactus or succulent mix is readily available and usually consists of sand, perlite, and soil. When choosing a pot, opt for one with drainage holes, and never let your cactus sit in water. Repot your cactus every 2-4 years or when it outgrows its pot.
Feeding Your Cactus
Cacti don't require much feeding. Using a specialised cactus fertiliser during the growing season (spring to autumn) should be sufficient. Make sure to follow the instructions on the fertiliser package to avoid overfeeding.
Pests, whilst rare, can be a problem for cacti. The most common pests are mealybugs and spider mites. Overwatering or excessive humidity can also lead to fungal infections and root rot. If you notice changes in your cactus's appearance, identify and treat the problem as soon as possible.
Cacti make delightful houseplants, offering beauty, ease of care, and a piece of the desert's allure right at home. With understanding and a bit of effort, you can create the perfect environment for your cactus to flourish. Whether you're a seasoned plant parent or a beginner, cacti offer a fantastic gateway into the world of home gardening.