is a commonly held belief that cactus plants are tougher
and more resistant to neglect than other types of plants.
The reputation of cactus plants for toughness is most likely
due to two factors: their spiny, well- protected exterior
tends to give them the appearance of being able to look
after themselves, and they are also slower than most plants
to show symptoms of distress. While most plants will yellow,
drop leaves and wither soon after experiencing stress, a
cactus will often simply suffer in silence until it suddenly
drops overbeyond hope of recovery.
The first step
in ensuring success in growing a healthy cactus plant is
to purchase one that is already in good health. Avoid any
plant that has damaged spines, obvious signs of bruising,
or that has lopsided or uneven growth. A plant that has
put on new spindly growth during its time in the store should
be avoided. Even under ideal growing conditions, the spindly
growth produced in a dimly-lit store will never broaden
out to normal size, leaving the plant with a permanent disfigurement.
Ideally a cactus should be purchased in the greenhouse where
it was grown, or as soon as possible after it has been shipped
to a retail outlet.
care required by a particular type of cactus is largely
dictated by the climatic conditions where that cactus would
be found growing in nature. A good rule of thumb for looking
after any plant is to provide conditions as close as possible
to those under which the plant would be found growing naturally.
In general, the two most common classes of cactus are those
of sun-loving and shade-loving.
plants are those that appear the way we normally expect
a cactus to look. They are native to arid desert regions
where they receive direct sunlight for a large portion of
the day. In the home, these plants should be placed in a
window with a south or west exposure where they will receive
direct sunlight for at least a few hours each day.
quantity and frequency of watering provides one of the biggest
dilemmas to cactus owners; and since a cactus does not wilt
at the first sign of drought stress, the plant itself offers
few cues to a need for water. A good rule of thumb is to
water when the top 2 to 3 centimetres of soil is dry.
This should be
adjusted with season, however, as plants will require more
water during the period of summertime growth than they will
during the slowed, or halted growth of winter. In winter
the plants may require water only once a month. During winter
you should supply just enough moisture to prevent the roots
from drying and dying. One of the most important considerations
in watering a cactus is that the pots must never be permitted
to stand in water. Waterlogged soil can quickly lead to
rotting of the roots with disastrous consequences for the
The growing medium
also plays a role in watering and plant health. Contrary
to popular belief, most cacti do not prefer to live in pure
sand. In nature, they may be found growing in sand, but
this is only because they are able to survive in conditions
where the plants which compete with them for space cannot.
Cacti are not found naturally on rich soils, simply because
the other plants that can survive on these soils have crowded
the cacti out. In the home, where competition from neighbouring
plants has been eliminated, cactus plants will respond favourably
to a rich soil that is free-draining. While cactus soil
mixes are available, you can make your own by combining
two parts peat-based potting soil with one part very coarse
sand or grit. Fertilizer can be added to every second watering
during the summer, with the frequency and concentration
of fertilizer being reduced in winter. Either a specially
formulated cactus fertilizer can be used, or fertilizer
such as 15-15- 30 which includes minor or trace elements.
most cacti tolerate a wide range of growing temperatures,
most will do best at temperatures similar to that of most
other house plants. When temperatures are either too hot
or too cold, a cactus will often simply go dormant. An ideal
placement for a cactus in winter would be a sunny cool room.
During the summer, cacti will appreciate being moved outdoors
where they can receive brighter light in combination with
cooling breezes during the day and cool humid conditions
during the night. If moving your cactus outside for the
summer, be sure to place it in a position of partial shade
for the first few weeks, and slowly move it to a sunnier
location. A plant going directly outside into full sun will
likely be scorched by the more intense light found outside
cacti are those members of the cactus family that would
normally be found growing in moist tropical jungles. They
frequently have a trailing growth habit and flattened stem
segments like those seen on the familiar Christmas cactus.
Since they are native to the same areas where many of our
more familiar tropical plants originate, they tend to thrive
under conditions similar to those for other house plants.
They do not tolerate intense sun, but will thrive in an
east window. They also grow quite well under artificial
lights. Since flowering on many tropical cacti is begun
in direct response to the length of day, plants grown under
artificial light should have the daylength reduced in winter
so that they are in darkness for more than 12 hours each
day. Without these shortened days, such plants will not
Like many jungle
plants, these types of cacti do not have an annual period
of dormancy and will require even moisture throughout the
year. Since shade- loving cacti continue to grow throughout
the year, they require a more regular supply of nutrients
and will benefit from mild fertilizer at the time of watering.
They can be fertilized at the same strength as sun-loving
cacti, but on a more regular schedule. Like other cacti,
they require a free-draining growing medium, and should
never be permitted to stand in water.
cacti tend to be less tolerant of temperature extremes.
If a tropical cactus is placed outdoors for the summer it
should be placed in the shade of a tree where they will
receive bright but filtered light.