Cactus 101

There are few plants as self-sufficient and independent as a cactus. Although they have a hard, sharp exterior, it’s hard not to appreciate their beauty and want one for yourself. Luckily, they make great houseplants, as long as you look but don’t touch! While most are grown in containers, our subtropical climate allows us to grow them outdoors, too. Some cacti, like prickly pear and dragonfruit, grow naturally here in Florida.

Cactus Plants

All cacti are made of special, fleshy tissue that holds moisture. In fact, 90% of its body is designated for moisture stores! This quality classifies them as succulents, though not all succulents are cacti. They hail from some of the most extreme environments, from arid deserts to tropical rainforests, so our SoFLo weather is like a walk in the park for them.

For cacti to survive in such unforgiving habitats, they have to be able to reserve their moisture stores for a long time. This is actually what their prickly thorns are for. Not just for protection from predators (although they work pretty well for that, too), each protrusion provides the tiniest amount of shade to the plant. It might not seem like much, but with thousands of thorns, it all adds up. In the middle of the desert, where there’s no cover from the sweltering sun, this self-shading feature is super important for reducing evaporation.

How to Grow Cacti

Since cacti are more or less self-sufficient, they’re exceptionally easy to grow. They adapt to dry, indoor conditions and require little maintenance, making them the perfect houseplant. Follow a few simple steps, and you’ll have a thriving cactus in no time!

  • Plant in a shallow container. Most cactus plants have very shallow-growing roots that like to spread out. If they don’t have enough room width-wise, their growth will likely be stunted. A large pot will only take up extra space and drive the roots down deeper, instead of wider.
  • Ensure adequate drainage. The most important thing when choosing a container is to ensure it has lots of drainage holes. You don’t want water pooling up at the bottom of your pot and drowning your new plants. You can also spread a layer of rocks on the bottom before adding the soil for extra drainage.
  • Use cactus soil. Cacti aren’t fans of wet feet. They store so much water in their fleshy foliage, they don’t need any extra moisture around their roots. It’s important to use a special potting mix specifically designed for cacti and succulents. Regular soil mixes hold too much water.
  • Be careful when you plant them! The trickiest part about planting cacti is trying not to get pricked by their thorns. We recommend using tongs to relocate your new plant, and protecting your hands with some thick gloves.

How to Take Care of a Cactus

Once your cactus is cozy in its new container, the hardest part is done. Although cacti grow from spring right up until fall, they usually only gain a few inches a year. Don’t fret if it seems like your cactus isn’t growing much, as long as you provide them with the right conditions, you can be confident that they’re happy and healthy!

During their growing seasons, cactus plants require lots of bright light and warm temperatures. Place them near a bright window, but be careful that their stems don’t burn. In the winter, mimic the desert chill by placing them in a cool room or near an open window. This resting time will allow some species to gather the energy to flower beautifully when spring arrives! At this time, you can encourage new growth and flowering with a low-nitrogen or cactus blend fertilizer. Reapply every few weeks throughout the growing season.

The biggest myth when it comes to taking care of a cactus is that it doesn’t need water. Sure, they thrive in arid conditions, but that’s because they can store water for such a long time. Plus, their extensive, wide-spreading root system is able to seek out and suck up any amount of water.

With your cactus plant confined to a small container, it’ll naturally need more water. Water your plant thoroughly, but infrequently, allowing it to flow freely from the drainage holes. Wait until the soil has dried out completely before watering again. Remember, it’ll need much less moisture during the winter since it’ll receive less heat and light!

Types of Cactus

From small to tall, prickly to smooth, flowerless to brightly-colored blooms – there are thousands of different types of cactus to choose from. To help you narrow down your choices, here are some of our favorite, easy-to-grow, cactus plants:

  • Prickly Pear: This fruiting cactus provides a mesmerizing display of club-shaped pads. Their bright yellow blooms are followed by fleshy, red fruits. Be careful, though – the entire plant is covered in sharp spines, including the fruit! We recommend using gloves to harvest, and boiling the fruits right away to get rid of the sharp glochids. Trust us, the sweet, tropical flavor is well worth the effort!
  • Christmas Cactus: Popular for their bright, colorful winter blooms, the Christmas cactus makes a stunning centerpiece for your dinner table. Their longevity, low maintenance, and ability to brighten up the bleakness of January make them a great holiday gift.
  • Star Cactus: These cacti bear a closer resemblance to sea creatures than plants! Some are round with small white dots, like a sea urchin, while others bear more of a starfish shape. Their small size and gorgeous yellow spring flowers make them ideal houseplants.
  • Moon Cactus: The moon cactus is known for its two distinct parts, which are actually two different plants, grafted together. It’s composed of a bright, neon-colored, thorny ball that sits atop a smooth, fleshy green pedestal. These small plants are perfect for adding color to your windowsill!

Cactus plants offer endless choices in size, shape, and color, and their incredible adaptability makes them super easy to grow and maintain. Visit our garden center today and we’ll help you find one that prickles your fancy.

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