Easy care cactus plants (aka: cacti) are hardy plants with very thick, succulent cells. With very few exceptions, these plants do not have leaves. Instead, they have areoles, where clusters of spines gather into small tufts.
Cactus plants all hail naturally from the Americas, but since the days of Columbus, they have been carried around the world to be enjoyed as house and garden plants.
How many types of cacti are there? Why are they so popular? How do you care for them? In this article, we will explore these questions and more.
Table Of Contents
- Where Do Cacti Grow Naturally?
- Cactus Offer Variety and Rugged Individualism
- Are Cactus Really “No-Care” Houseplants?
- Choose The Right Container For Your Cactus
- Feed & Water Your Cactus Carefully
- How Much Light & Heat Do Cactus Plants Need?
- When Do Cacti Bloom?
- Your Cactus Can Become An Old Friend
Most North American cactus plants grow in dry, challenging areas where they get a good watering seasonally, store up water in their fleshy limbs and otherwise glean water from the surrounding air, mist and dew.
You will find cactus in deserts, canyons and on the prairie. Their hardiness, combined with their interesting appearance makes them a popular choice for a neglectful gardener.
Most North American cactus plants (Opuntia – Prickly Pear Cactus) grow in dry, challenging areas where they get a good watering seasonally, store up water in their fleshy limbs and otherwise glean water from the surrounding air, mist, and dew.
You will find desert cacti in or course the desert but also canyons and on the prairie. Their hardiness, combined with their interesting appearance makes them a popular choice for a neglectful gardener.
Some South American types of cactus are epiphytic. These plants grow from the bark of larger plants, but they are not parasites. They simply anchor themselves on the bark of trees and glean sustenance from the atmosphere.
Examples of this type of cactus include Christmas and Easter Cactus, but we do not know them as epiphytes. The specimens of Easter and Christmas cactus we know have adapted to being kept in a potting mix as potted indoor plants. [source]
If you are looking for low-maintenance plants with lots of visual interest you cannot go wrong with a cactus.
Every type of cactus is intriguing (aka old man cactus – Cephalocereus senilis care) in appearance and remains perfectly happy if kept in bright, airy conditions with the right kind of substrate. They do well in high temperatures, and they like bright light.
One of the best things about keeping cacti and succulents is the huge number of choices you have. There are over 2000 cactus species, and each species boasts hundreds of varieties.
That makes it easy to find just the right cactus to suit your space and your ability to provide care. It also makes it easy to gather an interesting and varied collection of very undemanding plants.
It also makes it easy to gather an interesting and varied collection of very undemanding plants. Consider cactus propagation with:
The names of each cactus are listed below the video.
Because of their interesting appearance, all types of cactus provide an intriguing presentation year-round, but the real treat comes during the blooming season.
Cactus flowers come in all sorts of colors and sizes. Some are small and lightly scented or unscented. Some are large and showy and richly aromatic.
No living thing is “no-care”. If you take on a living plant or animal, you have to be prepared to provide it with some care and nurturing.
Cactus are fairly close to being “set-it-and-forget-it” plants, though. If you provide a good setting with plenty of air circulation and sunshine, you are well on your way to keeping happy, healthy cactus.
After setting, the next most important aspect of cactus care is soil or substrate. The vast majority of cacti come from rugged, rocky environments, so the soil you provide should be sandy and gravelly.
You can make your own cactus potting soil by mixing equal amounts of finished organic compost, sand, and gravel.
If this prospect sounds unappealing to you, just pick up a bag of a well-drained soil at your local nursery or garden center.
Cacti that have lots of thorns or furry filaments need soil that is slightly more alkaline.
If you have this sort of cactus, you will want to mix horticultural chalk, crushed oyster shell or an alkaline formula fertilizer into the substrate.
Getting the right amount of these substances can be a bit tricky, especially if the pH of your water tends to be alkaline.
It’s a good idea to pH test your water or take it to your local agricultural extension for testing to determine its level of alkalinity or acidity.
This knowledge will help you provide the right kind of soil and the correct type and amount of amendments.
If you notice that your cactus is turning a pale and wan shade of green, it means their environment is too alkaline and that they are not able to uptake enough iron. If this happens, you may need to repot your plant and use a substrate with less alkaline material.
Provide a container that is heavy enough to prevent your cactus from tipping. Terra cotta and other natural materials are desirable because they allow good air circulation to the plants’ roots.
Be sure any container you choose has ample drainage holes as cacti do not like to have wet feet. Put a layer of broken pot shards or rough gravel in the bottom to add weight and drainage to the container.
Repotting cactus can be a bit of an adventure. You must be careful not to harm the thorns, and you must be careful not to let the thorns harm you. Placing a paper bag over your cactus and wearing gardening gloves are both good ideas to help prevent injury all around.
Luckily, cacti do not need to be repotted very often. Once every three years in the early spring should be enough.
It’s always a good idea to water first to avoid stressing the plant. This also makes the task easier for you as moist soil is more cooperative than dry soil.
Loosen the soil around the edges of the pot with a trowel or other thin, slightly sharp implement. Remove the plant from the pot carefully. Avoid injuring the roots.
In fact, if the roots have grown out through the drainage holes significantly, it is better to break the pot than to damage the roots.
The new pot should not be a great deal bigger than the old pot. An inch of new space all around should be just about right for another three years of happy growth.
Gently shake old soil off the roots, and surround the plant with new cactus mix. Tamp it down gently. Be careful not to let the substrate rise too high around the plant.
Give your cactus another good watering and a light feeding of fertilizer. Keep it in a bright, sheltered, warm place for about ten days to give it a good chance to establish itself in its new container.
Cactus don’t need a lot of fertilizer. An annual feeding at the start of the growing season should be enough.
For most types of cactus a weak solution of a high nitrogen, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer or a product especially prepared for cactus will work.
Most cactus live in areas where they are able to take in lots of water during the rainy season and then pretty much do without the rest of the time.
For cactus kept as houseplants, this means more water during the late spring and into the summertime and less during the autumn and winter.
During the summer months, you should check the soil fairly frequently and water deeply when it feels almost completely dry.
Don’t allow the soil to dry out entirely as this can cause root damage. Don’t provide scant, frequent watering as this starves the plant’s finer, smaller roots at the bottom of the pot.
Be sure the plant is allowed to drain well and is not left standing in water as this will promote root rot.
After the growing and blooming season is over and the weather begins to cool, gradually reduce watering.
During the winter, you should not need to water at all unless your cactus is kept in a very warm, dry, sunny place.
Continue to check the soil periodically. It should never be allowed to become bone dry.
If it dries out too much during the winter, naturally you must give your cactus a moderate drink, but for the most part it should be able to survive well on the water it has stored in its flesh.
Most cacti enjoy full sun. The only exceptions are those such as African Milk Tree which has actual leaves. Generally speaking, a cactus that has a lot of thorns or hairy filaments prefers a very hot, sunny setting.
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These are the best candidates for your sunny south window or bright, open, full-sun outdoor settings.
Cactus are happy kept indoors at normal room temperature in the winter. The only problem with this is that keeping your cactus warm all winter may discourage blooming during the growing season.
If you hope for blossoms, keep your plants at temperatures ranging from 50°-54° degrees Fahrenheit through the winter months. This hiatus from growth will spur blossoms when the growing season returns.
Your cactus should get ample light in the winter-time but take care. Too much light will also discourage blooming. It’s best to keep your plant in an area that gets lots of bright, indirect sunlight and just a few hours of direct sunlight through the winter months. [source]
During the growing season, your cactus will enjoy the direct sunlight. You may even wish to transition it to an outdoor setting to get full days of natural sunlight, fresh air and rainfall.
Be careful not to let the container overheat as cactus roots should not be kept too warm. Elevate the container on gravel or bricks to allow for air circulation. This will also ensure that rainwater runs off and does not puddle up causing root rot.
If you have given your cactus the right environment and care, you can expect to see blossoms sometime between May and August. You may have to keep a close watch so as not to miss your cactus flowers. Watch the buds. They usually open up at dusk and last overnight.
When you see that the buds have become very thick and swollen, you can expect them to open soon. Have your camera ready to catch it! The flowers will die back within 24 hours.
The exception to this is leafy cacti, such as Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus. With careful manipulation, they bloom in the winter-time (November to May) and their blossoms last for several days.
The wide variety of cacti available make them an excellent choice as windowsill plants, in rock gardens, in a terrarium as a desktop plant or towering alongside the entrance to your driveway. Some types of cactus stay small for life. Others grow to lofty heights.
With minimal care, a cactus can live many decades. What starts out as a happy companion on a sunny kitchen windowsill can eventually become an imposing outdoor specimen plant. Good selection and simple, consistent care will ensure that your cacti stay healthy and look gorgeous for many years.