Cacti are well known to thrive in places with warm and dry conditions. This is why they are often associated with dry, arid deserts. This also makes them an interesting, low maintenance choice for gardeners around the world. Today we’ll look at all the things that go into cactus plant care, and how you can start growing these beautiful plants today.
These days cacti are commonly found inside homes as ornamental plants. Cacti can adapt well to heated homes, are very hard, and can be very hands off. These plants are loved by many due to its low maintenance requirement and the variation of its species which come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Whether it’s on a windowsill or in a hanging plant, these plants add vibrancy to any living space.
These flowering plants have about 2,000 species, the majority of which do not grow leaves. This large variation in species gives gardeners a huge range to choose from. Many of them also have very similar care requirements. We’ll provide some general advice which should apply to most varieties, but make sure to confirm the care requirements for your specific plant.
Common Indoor Varieties
If you are looking into getting your first cactus to look after at home, there are several types you can choose from.
Christmas Cactus - originated from Brazil and produces a bright, fuchsia flower. This type of plant can survive days to weeks without being watered.
Chin Cactus - known as the naked kalyx, this type does not grow spines on its flowering buds.
Bunny Ear - from the name itself, this desert cactus takes the shape of a bunny’s ear and produces a white flower. This type originated from Mexico and can grow up to two-three feet in length.
Old Lady - these desert cactus are rich in hair and spines, you can find around 250+ species of this type. Old lady thrives well in sandy soil and should be kept underwatered.
Easter - a forest cactus which produces flowers with bright colors.
Saguaro - this type originated from Sonoran Desert and should be placed under direct sunlight.
Star - a desert cactus which blooms a yellow flower and takes the shape of a star; this type is also called as sea urchin cactus.
Moon Cactus - originates in South America and thrives in partly lighted places. You can find red and orange types of this plant.
This is just a short list of the many, many varieties of cacti available. You should absolutely look to find the perfect one for you; with so many different varieties, there is sure to be one that speaks to your sense of style.
Cacti General Care Tips
Unlike other plants which need close care and a lot of attention, cacti are pretty much independent and very low maintenance. If you think you don’t have a green thumb, you might want to try your luck with this kind of plant.
Cacti are considered tough plants and can survive dry, airy and warm conditions. Some varieties are in need of direct sunlight while others depend on a few hours of sunlight per day. This makes sense if you consider many cacti’s native environment.
House cactus are generally divided into two types: the forest cactus and desert cactus. Forest cactus, usually found in rainforests, do not require direct sunlight. Desert cactus, on the other hand, need lots of sunlight mimicking their desert habitat. Depending on your growing location one or other might be a better choice. Rest assured that there are plenty of varieties between these two types to choose from.
One thing that you need to look out for is root rot amongst your cactus. This is why having a moist soil for your cactus is not encouraged. You can add nutrients to your plants by including some peat, vermiculite and coconut coir to your plant. We’ll talk more about watering below.
Soil & Container
Unlike many other indoor plants, you’ll want to avoid standard potting soil for cacti. Succulents and cactus require specialty, well-draining soil. This encourages good aeration and avoids overwatering. These concerns are universal for nearly every type of cacti.
It’s possible to create your own cacti friendly soil. For those opting a Do-It-Yourself approach, you will need a mixture of rock dust, perlite, builder sand and potting soil. For the forest varieties you’ll want to include orchid bark, peat, and coconut coir. This mimics the forest-like environment these plants grow in; they actually look to take moisture from trees and surrounding debris rather than right out of the soil.
Of course, there are always commercial potting mixes available that are easier to get started with. The key thing to remember is that soil for cacti is extremely well draining, much more so than standard potting soil you might use with your other plants.
For containers you’re free to use whatever you like, provided it has proper drainage. Clay pots are some of our favorites, but feel free to experiment here.
With cacti, your goal should be to provide light that mimics their naitve environment. While the requirements differ by variety, generally speaking more light is better.
Desert variety cactus generally need lots of bright light, on the order of 12+ hours per day. They tend to like a mix of bright direct, and indirect light.
Forest varieties on the other hand can often do with a bit less light. While some do like brighter conditions, others prefer partial shade and indirect light.
In either case, you should consult your specific variety to figure out exactly how much light it needs one. One thing you will want to consider is the less intense light you’ll likely have during the cooler, winter months. In these cases, especially with desert variety cacti, you may want to supplement with a grow light. This can help ensure that you’re getting the proper amount of light even when the sun isn’t providing it naturally.
Depending on the variety of your cactus, the water requirement varies, but there are some general rules to keep in mind.
To start, you’ll typically need to water cacti significantly less than other plants. Cacti like their soil to get completely dry, and don’t mind going long periods of time between waterings. This is even more the case during the winter when they may go upwards of 2 months between waterings.
When you do water, you’ll want to completely soak the soil. This mimics the desert environment where they may go a while without water, but then get a large amount all at once. During the summer growing season, you’ll probably end up watering once every 1-2 weeks. Jungle varieties may need a bit more, so keep that in mind.
Always check the soil to make sure it is dry before watering. Cacti are very susceptible to root rot when overwatered. Having very well draining soil certainly helps prevent this, but it also takes some care on the gardeners part.
Humidity and Temperature
Most cacti like warm environments, with desert varieties liking it a bit more than their forest cousins. In general, typical home temperatures are perfectly suitable for all types of cacti.
You will want to avoid cold temperatures though. Anything under 55°F is likely to cause problems, and you should absolutely avoid any frosting conditions. You also want to make sure that they are placed away from any cold drafts.
For humidity, anything above 40% is usually fine. This usually isn’t an issue in the summer, but can sometimes become one in the winter. If that’s the case, check out our humidity guide for tips on how to handle this.
Growing From Seeds
Most people prefer propagating cactus but if you are up to the challenge of having it grown from seeds make sure to have a lot of patience. Cacti can take a long time to grow, but it’s a rewarding experience when they finally do and well worth the effort.
You’ll want to follow the instructions on your seed packet for depth and starting conditions. Keep in mind that some cacti like to start in a moistened peat mixture before being placed into their final growing container. Instructions differ between varieties, so follow the instructions provided for your specific type.
You can also start with a cacti kit. These will get you started with everything you need to grow your very one cacti.
Pruning & Propagating
Cacti and succulents as a whole very rarely require any sort of pruning. Just make sure that old stems or damaged offshoots are removed, but outside of that they require little to no maintenance.
Cacti are also very well known for being easy to propagate. The most popular way to do so is with a cutting. Using a sharp, steril knife, take a cutting a few inches long from an existing plant.
Once you’ve done that, allow it to dry over the next few days. The wound on the plant will begin to callous over and heal. After a few days, you can take this cutting and place it into a cacti potting mix leaving the top ⅔ exposed. If properly cared for, this will flourish into a new cacti.
Although cactus are known to be tough plants they are still sometimes susceptible to pests. In most cases, you’ll be able to wash your cacti with a mixture of soapy water to deal with any pests. If you’re looking for more information on common household garden pests check out our guide.
Cactus Plant Care
Cacti are a great choice for those looking for an easy and low maintenance plant to grow. They come in a huge variety of types, colors, and styles, so there’s sure to be one that fits your own personal taste. Stick it in a sunny spot, and water from time to time, and you’ll have a beautiful and hardy plant that will last for years!
What is Most Important for Cactus Plant Care?
The two biggest things are water and sunlight. Most cacti need lots of sunlight but only a little bit of water. Many gardeners tend to overwater their cacti at first. Keep in mind that cacti will generally need less water than other plants.
How Long Does It Take To Grow a Cactus From a Seed?
It can take up to several months for a cactus seed to germinate. Expect several years before the plant is fully grown.
How Long Does a Cactus Live For?
It depends on the variety, but indoors many cacti can live 10 years or more. In the wild, cacti have been known to reach over 100 years in age.
Do Cacti Have Flowers?
It depends on the variety, but many do. They generally only will when getting enough sunlight and proper watering.