Most people have turned off buying cacti and succulents believing that they are quite difficult to care for. Actually, just the opposite is true. Most are very hardy and, unlike many other houseplants, thrive on abuse! Many of these plants require minimal care and, by following just a few simple guidelines, will do well in most homes.
The light should be your first consideration when placing your cacti, temperature, and humidity also play a role in the success of your potted plants. Most cacti like the warm temperature and low humidity indoors, but tropical cacti prefer a bit more humidity. Place those cacti on a tray with stones that you keep constantly wet so the air around the plant stays humid. Avoid placing tropical cacti near heating vents.
Soil and Food
All cacti need well-draining soil. Cacti like soil that is well aerated and fast draining. Perlite or pumice mixed with soil work well for this, or you can pick up cactus mix from your local nursery. Fertilize cacti with a liquid fertilizer applied monthly at one-quarter the strength listed on the package when new growth begins, usually from March through October.
Watering relies on the type of cactus you have and the time of year. For most of the year, water only when the soil has dried out, which you can check by pressing your finger into the soil; the soil is dry if no soil particles hold tight your finger after you take away it. For some cacti, you might have to water weekly, while for others, watering every two to three weeks. During winter, cut back on the water for desert-type cacti and water once a month is okay. For torrid cacti, water regularly year-round but also keep in mind the soil moist instead of dry while the plant is in flower.
Light and Temperature
Light place plant in a brightly lit south facing window indoors or an area with bright, indirect light outdoors. Some plants can tolerate full sun but must be slowly acclimated to obstruct sunburn. If the light source is inadequate, etiolation will occur and your plant will become leggy as it stretches out towards a light source.
As for temperature, most of these plants generally can tolerate more than we can! You will want to prevent freezing and temperatures above 95 degrees. As a matter of fact, fresh air can be as important to vigorous growth as the good sun!
Pests and Disease
If you overwater on your cactus, it could reveal root fester, which stunts the plant’s growth, causes leaves to wilt and ultimately can kill the plant. Cut back on watering and be sure to wait until the soil is dry before watering again. Treat pests first with the least toxic remedies before resorting to insecticidal soap or actual insecticides applied as directed on the package. Common troublesome insects include:
- Mealybugs and scales: White, cottony-looking mealybugs appear in groups on the undersides of leaves, on leaf spines and in the soil. Scales have dome-like while shells and appear on stems and leaves. Remove either pest with a cotton wipe or take the plant outside and then wash the bugs off.
- Fungus gnats: These tiny black flies appear above the soil’s surface while their larva stays in the soil. Trap the pests with sticky traps.
- Spider mites: White webbing, small brown dots on leaves or what looks like dust on the leaves, which are actually the mites themselves, your cactus might have spider mites. Wash off the mites with water.
Fortunately, desert plants are very tolerant of imperfect conditions. Our busy lifestyles and the constant demands on our time and the fact that they look so wonderful and take very little care to grow well. These sort of plants do not require a lot of time and maintenance. Happy gardening!