Cactus plants are popular in many households, known for their low-maintenance and drought tolerant qualities. Cacti are most popular for their unique, organic shapes, succulent pads, and sharp spikes, but all varieties are different. Though you can grow them outdoors depending on the plant and your zone, cacti add a wonderful touch to your collection of houseplants.
Many desert or tropical varieties, such as golden barrel (Echinocactus grusonii), prickly pear (Opuntia species), and pincushion (Mammillaria species), are ideal for growing indoors, so long as you can provide the right conditions. Have you been considering adding a cacti to your home but don’t quite know where to start? Learn how you can grow and care for the plants with step-by-step directions to providing the best conditions, as well as a few tips for inducing blooms.
Tools You’ll Need
To ensure you provide your plants with the proper care they need to grow, there are a few tools you’ll need.
- Sunlight or grow light
- Pot with drainage
- High-quality, well-draining soil
- Cacti of your choice
- Protective gardening gloves
- Sterilized scissors or pruning shears
How to Grow Cactus Plants
With the right tools under your belt, learn how you can properly care for and grow cactus plants.
Light and Placement
Cacti can generally handle partial shade in warmer weather, but depending on the variety, they can tolerate more or less direct sunlight.
For example, desert cactus plants, such as sea urchin (Astrophytum asterias), hedgehog (Echinocereus species), and bunny ears (Opuntia microdasys) prefer direct sunlight for four hours per day.
On the other hand, tropical cacti like Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis species), and orchid cactus (Epiphyllum species), prefer partial shade and periods of darkness are essential during their growing season.
It’s important to note that the active growth period depends on the type of cactus so always do your research. Generally speaking, a south or west facing window works best.
Placement is just as important as lighting. Cacti like temperatures around 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the spring and summer and 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. Tropical cacti tend to prefer around 50 percent humidity, though they can handle less. Avoid placing the plants near heating vents or cold windows and drafty areas as this can cause shock.
Pro Tip: If your plants are paler than usual or stretching towards the light, it means they aren’t receiving enough light! Place them in a sunnier spot or supplement with grow lights. Place the grow light about 6 to 12 inches above the plant and leave them on for 14 to 16 hours per day.
Potting Media and Fertilizer
Clay, terracotta, and plastic pots are best for planting succulents and cacti. Drainage is essential, so look for pots with proper drainage holes. Otherwise, you can use them as a pretty cachepot (cover pot) and place a proper pot inside. Remember that cacti planted in clay or terracotta pots dry out faster since the material is moisture wicking, but don’t fret as these plants are drought tolerant. Cacti have small, fibrous root systems and are best planted in shallow pots rather than deep pots.
The potting media you choose is incredibly important to the life of your cacti. Regular potting soil is too dense and holds too much moisture, which can quickly kill many cactus plants. Instead, look for a well draining soil specifically made for cacti or succulents, or make your own with a mixture of two parts potting soil, two parts sand, and one part perlite.
Fertilize your cactus plants monthly from June through September with a fertilizer low in nitrogen, such as 5-10-5. Otherwise, use a time-release fertilizer once, applied in late spring. Remember, all plants are different so research your specific variety before fertilizing.
As a member of the succulent family, cacti store water in their leaves, which makes them prone to root rot when they suffer overwatering. They should never sit in waterlogged soil and watering too frequently can be damaging to the health of the plant.
Since you might not want to put your fingers near the spikes of the cactus, use a moisture meter to test the moisture levels of the soil. If there is room in the pot or your cactus isn’t spiky, use your finger to test the soil. In summer, water cacti when they are dry about 3 inches down. In winter, water when the soil fully dries out. Wrinkling skin is generally a sign that cacti need water. When you water, water thoroughly, ensuring water drains out the bottom of the pot.
How to Induce Cactus Blooms
You can encourage flowering in cacti by adjusting their nighttime temperatures, your watering routine, and how much sun and fertilizer the plants receive. The specific requirement for each plant depends on the variety.
For example, holiday cactus flowers need 16 hours of darkness at night and 8 hours of sun daily, temperatures around 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and undergo a period of drought in the fall in order to bloom. Other tropical cacti follow similar care suggestions to induce blooming but always do research on your specific variety so you can provide the best care.
Desert cacti, on the other hand, flower when they receive optimal care conditions during their growing period. Ensuring you provide the right amount of sunlight, temperatures, water, and fertilizer for your specific variety is the best way to see their pretty blooms. Generally, cacti like to be pot-bound, so you might not see blossoms if you plant in a pot that is too big.
Cactus plants are popular for good reason, as they are low-maintenance and add a touch of beauty to your home. Keep them in a warm spot with bright, indirect light and avoid overwatering. With the right care, you might even spot some beautiful blooms! If you are following these steps and something is still going wrong, like your cactus turning yellow, there are plenty of ways to revive the plants to ensure they are happy and healthy.
With the right care, your plants will be thriving indoors year-round, and there are a number of creative ways to display them.
Do you have any tips for cacti care? Share in the comments below!