Caring for Cacti

Cacti grow wild in the Americas, from Canada in the north to Argentina in the south. There are at least two hundred varieties in all shapes and sizes, many producing an impressive show of flowers every year.

They are easy to care for, providing you give them comparable conditions to those experienced in the wild, including high temperatures, plenty of sunlight and seasonal watering. Cacti are popular plants which thrive for years with a little care. Provide conditions similar to those in the wild and be rewarded by a fantastic variety of shape, size and colour.

caring-for-cacti

All cacti, apart from the leafy varieties, thrive in sunlight. In general, the varieties covered with hair or thick spines enjoy the hottest temperatures and are happiest on a sunny, south-facing windowsill. Stand them outdoors during summer. Most cacti will over-winter in normal room temperatures, hut keep flowering cacti cooler, :it about 10°-13°C (50°-55°F), to encourage flowering. The amount of light also has an effect on flowering: short winter days trigger the plant to begin producing flower buds.

Choosing a compost for cacti

Cacti which come from desert regions need a well-drained soil. Either buy a commercial cactus compost or make your own from an equal-parts mixture of soil-based compost, sand and gravel. Leafy cacti, such as Easter and Christmas Cactus, come from tropical rain forests and need compost with added peat. Hairy and waxy cacti require an alkaline soil, so add crushed shells to soil-based compost. Be careful not to add too much as the plants may develop an unnatural, light green colour. Careful watering is vital.

In their natural surroundings, cacti absorb water in the rainy season and store it to see them through the dry season to come. When grown at home, cacti grow during late spring and summer and rest during winter, living off their stored water reserves. It is essential to water your cacti regularly in summer. Don’t allow the compost to dry out completely, but on the other hand, never let cacti stand in water as this may cause rot. Add a suitable liquid fertilizer to the water every fortnight during June and July. Most flowering varieties of cacti are in bloom from May to August. Gradually reduce watering in autumn and keep plants dry during winter. However, water occasionally when plants are overwintered in a warm location. Begin to water regularly as temperatures rise during late March.

Repotting cacti

  • Repot every 2-3 years, in spring. Wrap plant in folded newspaper for protection. Carefully remove it from its pot and tease the compost from the roots.
  • Repot in fresh compost. If the roots fill the pot, repot in a pot one size larger, and if there is still room for the roots to grow, clean and re-use the original pot.
  • Mature cacti should not be disturbed. Instead of repotting, use a spoon and gently scrape away the top layer of compost, but don’t disturb the roots.
  • Spoon fresh compost into the top of the pot, and spread it evenly around the plant. Always use special cactus compost, either bought or home-made.

Repot cacti into new pots every two or three years, depending on how vigorously they have been growing. Top-dress mature specimens every three years. Do this by removing and replacing the top 5cm (2in) of compost. In the case of plants which have spread to the sides of the pot, making top-dressing impossible, take the plant out of the pot, gently remove some of the old compost and then replace the plant in the pot, adding fresh compost. If the roots have expanded so much that the plant is difficult to remove from the pot, break the container with a hammer.

To avoid damaging yourself and the plant, wrap cloth or newspaper around the plant while you knock a cactus out of its pot. If you need to break the pot to free the plant, be careful not to damage the fragile roots. Use a pot one size larger when repotting and plant at the same depth.

If a plant cannot be removed from its pot, it may be necessary to break the pot. Do this by giving the pot a sharp tap with a hammer.

A selection of easy-to-grow cacti

red-crown-cactus

  • Red Crown Cactus, Rebutia miniscula
  • Fire Crown Cactus, Rebutia senilis
  • Ball Cactus, Notocactus species
  • Golden Ball Cactus, Notocactus leninghousii
  • Golden Tom Thumb Cactus, Parodia aureispina
  • Lace Cactus, Mammillaria elongata
  • Rose Pincushion, Mammiliaria zeilmanniana
  • Golden Barrel Cactus, Echinocactus grusonii
  • Hedgehog Cactus, Echinocereus species
  • Closed-Cactus, Cleistocactus species
  • Barrel Cactus, Ferocactus species
  • Myrtle Cactus, Myrtillocactus geometrizans
  • Old Man Cactus Cephalocereus senilis
  • Peruvian Cereus, Cereus peruvianus
  • Peanut Cactus, Chamaecereus sylvestrii
  • Oriental Moon Cactus, Gymnocalyciurn mihanovichii v. friedrichii
  • Golden Lily Cactus, Lobivea aurea Coryphantha, Coryphantha erecta
  • Sea Urchin Cactus, Echinopsis eyriesii
  • Peach Monarch Echinopsis

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