How to Care for a Cactus
Cacti are popular indoor plants due to their ability to thrive in dry and arid conditions. These desert-dwelling plants come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors and add a unique touch to any indoor space. While cacti are generally low maintenance, there are a few important things to consider when caring for them.
Cacti are a member of the Cactaceae family. Most of these fascinating species are considered a part of the succulent family, with a firm plant body and adaptations to store water. In terms of care, most cacti love to live in front of a bright, warm window in airy, well draining soil. Their ability to retain moisture allows for them to survive in even extreme conditions. In addition, they have evolved to be covered in protective and decorative spines. These drought-tolerant plants are slow-growers, but sometimes produce some brightly colored flowers depending on the amount of sunlight they receive.
Most cacti prefer bright light. Place your cactus near a south or west facing window as these get the most sun. Too little light can cause your cactus to become elongated and can lead to root rot. If you are unable to provide enough natural light, you can also use a full spectrum grow light to supplement.
Cacti are adapted to survive in dry environments and therefore do not require frequent watering. In the summer allow the plant to dry out 90% of the way. In the winter, water when the cactus is 100% dry. Make sure to fully saturate the soil until water runs out through the drainage holes in the pot. It is important to allow the soil to dry out adequately as overwatering can be a common mistake made by new cactus owners and can lead to rot or decay.
Despite its spiky and intimidating appearance, this plant is very easy to maintain and can go for long periods of time without needing much attention. Cacti are a low-maintenance plant and can bring a unique touch to any space.
These plants are non-toxic for humans and pets, but are dangerous due to their spines.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
How do you propagate a cactus?
It can be difficult to propagate cacti. Cactus species like the Prickly Pear Cactus that have big segmented paddles can be cut for propagation rather easily, but globular cacti like the Golden Barrel Cactus do not propagate via cutting. Instead, once they have reached a mature enough age, they put new pups out that can be severed at the root and potted as new plants. Some cactuses grow by producing more paddles but some just grow in size rather than shape.
Cactuses with paddles, pups, and/or segments (like the Christmas, Spring, and Thanksgiving Cactus) can be propagated if given the right care. Simply separate a paddle/pup from the parent cactus and gently plant it into some soil. Let pups grow in their parent pot a little before separating to give it the best shot at a happy, successful life! It will grow roots eventually, just remember that cactuses are slow growers, so you’ve got to be extra patient! Newly planted pups or paddles need to be kept slightly more moist than their mature counterparts to help them develop stronger root systems.
How do you repot a cactus?
Cacti root systems are usually shallow and sparse, making them fragile. Be very gentle when repotting so as to not damage the few roots this plant has.
These plants will need to be repotted very infrequently. If you decide that it is necessary, make sure you have thick gardening gloves to protect your hands, a shovel for the soil, and a stake to help keep the cactus upright during the repotting process. If you are attempting to repot a very large cactus, wrapping the cactus in an old blanket will help protect both the plant and yourself from any damage. Gently poke the soil with the stake to loosen the cactus, lift it out of the previous pot, and then transfer it into the new, well-draining container. Make sure to bury the cactus at the same depth at which it was previously buried.
My cactus is rotting! How do I save it?
Oftentimes overwatering or inadequate light can lead to partial or total rot. Fortunately, even if this is the case, there are ways to save the plant.
If said cactus has paddles, gently break off the paddles that have not rotted from the mother plant. Plant these paddles in soil, place in bright light, and water when the soil has mostly dried out. Eventually, the cactus paddles will root and create a new plant.
If you have a taller, round cactus with no pup offshoots, grab a clean knife. Make a clean cut right above where the rot ends. The root system and rotten base are not salvageable, but the top portion can be repotted and rooted. Allow for this new section to callus over before placing it in dirt, at least 24 hours. Then, place in well-draining soil in a bright spot and water when 90% dry. Eventually, like the cactus paddles, the cutting will root and establish itself.
These methods are not always successful. Be aware that even with the best care, the new propagations may not survive and the plant will need to be replaced.
My cactus has pests, what should I do?
Pests are a natural part of any plants life cycle. Cacti can occasionally be affected by bugs such as aphids, mealybugs, and scale. To learn how to treat your infected cactus, refer to our article about Pest Management linked here.
How do you get cactus spines out of your skin?
Cactus spines vary in shape, size, and texture. If you find a spine in your skin, use a pair of tweezers and treat it as if it was a splinter.
In addition, some cactuses have extremely skinny, invisible, hair-like spines that will stick to almost anything. When you get these spines in your skin, it can be hard to tweeze them out. Some alternate methods of removal include tape and glue. Place the tape on the impacted area and then rapidly pull it off, a similar motion to removing a band-aid quickly. The glue method involves spreading Elmers glue onto the area you feel needles. Wait for it to dry and then quickly pull the dried glue layer off. If you can’t get spines out on your own or pain persists even after the spines have been removed, please seek medical attention.