Cacti and succulents are a very common houseplant and knowing proper cacti care for your cacti and succulents is important. They come in a vast range of shapes and sizes from the petite to the grand.
The native habitat for most cacti and succulents is a desert. Therefore, they will grow best in lots of light, good drainage, high temperatures and low moisture. However, there are some cacti and succulents, such as Schlumbergera, which have a native environment of a rainforest so prefer semi-shade and humid conditions.
To care for a cacti and succulent, it is best to try to recreate their natural habitat. Here are the main things that you need to consider when caring for your cacti and succulents.
1. Give your cacti enough light.
Cacti and succulents thrive with good light sources, and it is best to place cacti and succulents in a bright place. A south facing position will provide good sunlight.
While cacti should be exposed to plenty of direct sunlight every day, it’s also important to be mindful that they aren’t getting too much sunlight. Cacti can get sunburned. While they love the sun they can turn yellow or brown, and if that starts to happen, move the cactus away from its light source to cool down. It is also important to keep your cacti away from an air conditioner or drafty windows.
The optimum light depends on the variety of cacti and succulent that you are growing. For example, forest-growing epiphytes, such as Rhipsalis, need semi-shade, but an Echeveria needs bright light.
2. Water your cacti properly.
Give them a drink—but not too much—and give long breaks in between. There is a common misconception that cacti and succulents only require a small amount of water. Even though they have water-storing characteristics in their leaves and stems which allow them to survive in dry habitats, they will certainly not thrive with little water. If the first 2 to 3 inches of soil are dry, it’s time to give the plant a drink.
The reason most people fail with cacti is the tendency to over-water, which can lead to root rot and to scab, which appears as rusty-colored, corky areas on the stems. The best advice is to err on the side of under-watering; most of the time you can bring them back from the dehydration stage with no issues.
If you’re noticing wrinkles on your cactus, particularly towards the base of your plant, your plant is very dry and a soak-watering is in order. It may seem counterintuitive to give a cactus a large drink, but you’ll be shocked at how your cactus will absorb the water and plump back up again. After watering, always be sure to empty excess water from the saucer—your cactus never wants to sit in water as that can lead to root rot.
In the winter months, you should water your cacti infrequently. Cacti will usually go dormant during winter and not grow at all or very little.
Tepid rainwater should be used for watering, rather than tap water. This is because the minerals in tap water build up in the soil and can cause deposits on the leaves. Minerals also disrupt the flow of essential nutrients to the plant.
3. Use the right soil and fertilizer for your cacti.
Soil mix and food tailored to cacti are key to healthy growth. Cacti prefer soil that includes more sand and rocks, in order to drain water and keep the plant dry between drinks and prevent root rot. Like the soil, it is important to use fertilizers made specifically for cacti to make sure they are not over or under fed, and receive optimal nutrition.
It is best to feed during Spring and Summer to promote growth, while stopping feeding in Autumn and winter while the cacti go dormant.
4. Re-potting the right way.
If your cacti or succulent is pot-bound, then the best time to re-pot is in the spring. To re-pot:
1. Firstly water the plant and allow to drain before removing carefully from the pot. Make sure to protect your hands against the spikes.
2. Clear away the old soil from the roots with a thin stick, such as a chopstick, so that you do not damage the roots.
3. Put a layer of potting mix in the new pot, which is slightly bigger in diameter, and sit the plant on it.
4. Fill the rest of the pot with the potting mix and firm down.
5. Do not water for a few days to prevent rotting of damaged roots.
5. Be safe when handling cacti.
You don’t want to screech from a gnarly spiker from these plants. It is essential to wear protective gloves whenever you repot your cactus. You can even use kitchen tongs if it’s helpful. This way, you can avoid unnecessary spikes and pricks.