So you’re considering growing your own cactus plants or succulents! You’ve seen the pictures on Pinterest, and you love the arrangements – but you think you may never be able to quite recreate what you see. Well actually, how to care for cactus plants and succulents – is the perfect place to start for beginning gardeners. Once planted, Cactus and Succulents will thrive and generally require minimal care and maintenance.
Cactus plants and succulents are beautiful spiny plants that are very hardy, so a little neglect will not kill them. They can be grown both outdoors or indoors, which is great for those of us who don’t live in the warmest of climates. If you’re thinking of adding a cactus or succulents to your home garden, here are some simple guidelines on how to care for cactus and succulents.
How to choose the perfect plant
When planning to purchase a new plant, whether it is a cactus plant or succulents for your home or yard, you want to think about where you are going to put the plant. As this will help determine which plant will thrive best in that “Space”.
You should also consider the following questions:
Is the room or garden too humid or too cold? Is there enough space for the plant to grow? How big will the cactus or succulent get? Does the room or yard have sufficient light?
Before purchasing a cactus or succulent, stand in the room or observe your garden at a few different times throughout the day. This will help you determine how many hours of direct sunlight the cactus and succulent will actually get. You will want to make notes of all the possible variables and do some research to find out which type of plant will flourish best in your chosen space.
Once you have an idea of what you would like to get, it is important to read the care labels of the plant in the store. You can also ask the retail staff any questions you might have about cactus care. You do not want to come home and find out that what you thought was the perfect spot, is not the perfect spot for your cactus or succulent.
Do cactus need sunlight?
Cacti and succulents love the light but not too much. Different cacti and succulents need different quantities of light, but typically they all need plenty of sunlight, but not necessarily 12 hours of direct sunlight. It is best to place them near the south or east facing a window, where they will get multiple hours – usually 4-6 hours of sunlight every day.
When picking cactus plants or succulents to grow indoors, you want to look for ones that don’t need full light. Succulents with bright colors will need more light, so they will thrive better outside in temperate weather. Succulents that are green are better suited if you have to grow them indoors.
Plants that receive optimal light will flower. Not all cacti and succulents like direct sunlight as they can become scorched. You can tell if a plant is getting too much sun if the foliage or branches are losing their pigmentation or in other words, they are becoming bleached out.
If the plant is getting too little sun, you will see that the succulent or cactus will be drawn towards the light, almost as if the branches are reaching for it. If you notice your plant leaning toward the light, you will want to rotate the pot so that different parts of the plant are getting sunlight. If you are having trouble finding sufficient light, you can supplement the lack of light with a grow light.
If you notice any of these signs, whether it is too much sun or too little sun, you can move the plant as necessary so they will get the perfect amount of sunlight to grow.
What temperature is best for cactus plants and succulents?
Cactus plants and succulents prefer a dry and warm climate
However, you do not want to expose them to extreme heat. If your cactus or succulents are planted outside, you will need to provide some sort of shade to protect them. You can do this with a cotton sheet, umbrella or burlap. Cacti and succulents will rot if the temperature is too low.
What types of pots are best suited for cacti and succulents?
When picking the perfect spot, you want to ensure that you are picking a pot that will allow the soil to dry quickly which will prevent the roots from rotting. You will want to make sure there is at least one hole at the base of the pot to allow for sufficient drainage. It is also important to consider the size and breathability of the pot.
Breathable pots are best, like clay, terracotta or ceramic, but really any type of pot will work well. Unglazed clay or ceramic is best, but plastic pots are also fine. Clay and ceramic pots are heavy, which will provide stability for larger cacti that are heavy with water. Clay and ceramic pots are breathable and allow the soil to dry evenly. Plastic pots are light and easy to move and clean. The style of pot that you choose should be determined by the type of succulent or cactus you purchased.
If you find a pot that you absolutely love but it does not have a hole in the bottom to allow for draining, you can consider drilling a hole. You can also place mesh tape above the hole to keep the soil from coming out.
To add your own drainage holes, you will need a drill and carbide or ceramic drill bit. One to two holes is usually adequate for small pots. you will need to apply firm pressure straight down but do not push too hard as this may cause the base of the pot to crack or shatter. Practice makes perfect, you will want to practice drilling holes a few times on small pieces of clay or ceramic.
Looking for a Creative way to transplant Cactus- Without getting poked? Check out this great method in the video below
Although they look pretty, succulents do not like glass pots, as they are non-breathable and lack drainage. It is best to avoid them and choose plastic, clay, or ceramic.
When considering the size of the pot, you will want the pot to be big enough to anticipate growth, but not too big. If the pot is too big, it will actually prevent the succulent from growing much larger. The roots will spread out before the succulent has time to catch up.
You will need about 1/2 an inch of space available for the roots and plant to grow. If your succulent is about 1 inch, you will want to plant it in a pot about 2 inches wide. You will need to keep that in mind if you want to add more succulents. Some cacti have roots that will grow near the surface, so a tall narrow pot would not be a good choice.
Cactus come in Many Varieties, Sizes, and Costs
It is estimated that there are about 2,000 varieties of Cactus in the world, which makes them not only highly sought after but even “collectable” to many people.
The Saguaro Cactus – Hailed as the largest in the Cactus family can grow up to 75 feet tall, and live to be up to 200 years. I don’t think they make a pot big enough to hold this one!
While most Succulents are relatively inexpensive, cactus such as the Giant Saguaro found only in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, most of Baja California, and half the state of Sonora, Mexico – can be quite costly. Because of their slow growth rate, of about 1 foot every 10 years, Saguaro Cactus are generally the most expensive cactus you can buy This older Giant Saguaro are also pretty scarce, which can lead to restrictions for their sale In many parts of the U.S.
How expensive you ask? Well, you’re likely to pay as much as $100/foot or more for a giant Saguaro, and Because of their weight of 100 lbs/foot, and spines, of course, they are also left to the professionals to install, adding again to the overall purchase. So a 7 foot cactus at $700 or higher, and labor to install of $100-$200 will set you back close to a grand!
Fun fact: Saguaro Cactus don’t grow their first “arm” until they are approximately 70 years old, which is about 7 feet tall!
Does it matter what type of soil I use?
Yes. Special soil for cacti and succulents can be purchased commercially, however, you can make your own. The soil should be coarse and sandy, you can mix houseplant soil with sand.
It is important that the soil allows for quick drainage. You don’t want the roots to become too saturated with water, which will cause them to rot.
You should also add fertilizer for each time you water when cacti and succulents are in their growing period. You don’t need to add the fertilizer during the dormant period.
How much water does my cactus or succulent need?
Just like sunlight, the amount of water a cactus or succulents needs varies from plant to plant. Make sure you read the care label carefully. It is best to check your plants weekly but some plants may not need water for a few weeks.
If the soil is dry, you should add enough water so that the soil is saturated but do not overfill the pot. If the soil is damp you can wait a little while before watering again. The worst thing you can do is over-water. Make sure you allow the soil to dry between watering. If you find the leaves of the succulents are drying out but the soil is still moist, a misting bottle can be used to keep the tops moist in between waterings.
Cactus and Succulents will want more water during their blooming period, which is April to September and they will require less water during their dormant period, which is September to April. It is important to fertilize your cactus or succulent at least once a year during the blooming season.
Can I grow Multiple Succulents in one pot?
Here’s an awesome video with some great tips about Growing Succulents
We’ve all seen those beautiful potted succulent plants on Pinterest. The different shapes and colors intertwining together. Here are a few guidelines on how to care for succulents, so you too can grow beautiful succulents.
There is a fine balance to growing multiple succulents in one pot. If you plant succulents close together, they will grow more slowly, creating an exotic arrangement. However, it does become more difficult to water, as it will be harder for the water to reach the soil. If the water pools over the edge of the pot, the leaves will rot. The more space they have in between, the easier it is to water. Typically, 1/2 an inch between fully grown plants will allow for easy watering and proper growth.
The great thing about succulents is that once they start to grow you can off tops and replant them in new pots to create new arrangements. You can design different arrangements and give them as gifts.
Do I need to re-pot my cactus?
Yes, cactus and succulents should be repotted nearly every year. Replanting cactus can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you through this prickly task.
You will want to prepare the new pot in advance. Make sure the pot is big enough to accommodate further growth, you don’t want to have to re-pot in a few months. Add half the soil and sand and make sure there is enough drainage.
You will need to wear heavy duty gardening gloves if you’re dealing with a particularly prickly cactus. You can wrap the cactus with newspaper, paper towel or foam to protect your arms from the quills.
Tilt the pot to one side and pull the pot away from the plant. If you are having trouble getting the cactus out, you can tap the pot to try to loosen it or you can break the pot if you are not planning on re-using it for a different plant. Dust away the soil and inspect for insects and rot.
Place the cactus in the new pot and add the remaining fertilizer, soil and sand, and water. Replanting is essential in cactus plant care, it also gives you the opportunity to inspect the cactus for rot and pests.
Do I need to worry about bugs?
Like any other plant, succulents and plants get pests. Two very common pests to watch out for are gnats and mealy bugs. Gnats can infest when the soil is too wet, giving you another reason to make sure you don’t over water. The easiest way to get rid of them is to re-pot the plant. Dust off the gnats and allow the soil to dry. To get rid of mealybugs, you will need to spray them with rubbing alcohol.
This seems like a lot of work.
Although it may seem like a lot of work to grow cacti and succulents, once you have done the base work, they are actually easy to grow and enjoy. The majority of the work is done when you plant them, and then once a year when you need to re-pot. The rest of the year you can admire your cactus plant and succulents as they grow and flourish. You will not have to worry about your cactus or succulent if you go away on vacation for a week. Growing cacti and succulents is a great hobby. If you enjoy it, the possibilities are endless.