How To Care For Cactus Plants

Care For Cactus Plants

Cacti are like succulents, having fleshy, juicy stems, but differ in that they always have prominent spines and barbs, or bristles, and some have woolly hair, which makes caring for cactus plants much more interesting and beautiful. It’s easy to get hooked on cacti as their spiked, ridged, tall, squat and hairy forms are very collectable – especially with children as they are often sold at pocket-money prices in small pots containing a single curious-looking specimen. These quirky plants make ideal room-mates as they are very undemanding and will withstand most maltreatment, except for heavy-handed watering and feeding which make it easy to care for Cactus Plants.

They’ve learned how to compete for survival all over the world. Cacti from desert areas, like the Mammillaria and Echinocactus, are plump and spiny while those that originally grew in jungle areas are flat or thin and spineless like the Rhipsalis and Schlumbergera. There are even cacti with leaves. For instance, the Pereskia, when full-grown, looks a bit like an orange or grapefruit tree. Other succulents come from a number of families.

Also Read: How to Care For Succulents Indoors

Care For Cactus Plants on Potted Soil

In most cases, cactus will do well in pots as long as you remember three things. Food, light, water when caring for the cactus plants.


When you bring the plant home, most of the time it is in a small pot and it probably has grown there for a long time, which means it has used up most of all the nutrients in the soil. So think about repotting and setting up a feeding program. Most cacti prefer several small feedings to one large feeding. One like a time-release type in the spring will feed the plant for six or more months. The other way is to give the plants food three times a year (spring, summer, fall) with a dilute solution of plant food like (5-10-5). This should do them well for the year.


A potted cactus will live and flower in the house if given enough light. Place the plant near a brightly lit window, where it will receive light most of the day. Placement on the patio is different: Place the cactus in a partly shaded area until it becomes accustomed to the sun. Never bring the cactus home and place it in the bright sun. Just like people, cacti sunburn.


Cacti, when in pots, require more care in terms of watering than when in the ground. The general rule is: Water when dry. For plants that have already grown a stable root system in their pots, it is best to water until the water runs through the pothole. It takes cacti 4-6 months to get stable. In the growing period which can be spring & summer or fall & winter, depending on where they come from- South America or North America, the plant should not be allowed to go completely dry, just moist. In the house, watering could be as little as once a month depending on the dryness of the house.


While the amount of light should be your first consideration when placing your cacti, temperature and humidity also play a role in the success of your houseplant. Most cacti like the low humidity and warm temps indoors, but tropical cacti prefer a bit more humidity. Place those cacti on a tray with pebbles that you keep constantly wet so the air around the plant stays humid. Avoid placing tropical cacti near heating vents.

picking a pot for  Cactus Plants

Soil and Food

All cacti need well-draining soil. If the soil in your current container takes longer than a minute to drain, consider repotting with a potting soil designed specifically for cacti and succulents. Or, repot and add 2 parts of sand or perlite for each 1 part of existing soil. Fertilize cacti with a liquid fertilizer applied monthly at one-quarter the strength listed on the package when new growth begins, typically from March through October.

Observe how your plants are.

How they grow will generally tell you what they need. If the plant is growing out longer as if trying to reach more sunlight, it is probably etiolation (naks, legit plant term!) and that means it needs more sun. If your plant softens up, you may be watering too much or there may be fungal rot.

Pests and Disease

If you overwater your cactus, it could develop root rot, which stunts the plant’s growth, causes leaves to wilt and ultimately can kill the plant. Cut back on watering and be sure to wait until the soil is dry before watering again. Treat pests first with the least toxic remedies before resorting to insecticidal soap or actual insecticides applied as directed on the package.

Common troublesome insects include:

Mealybugs and scales: White, cottony-looking mealybugs appear in groups on the undersides of leaves, on leaf spines and in the soil. Scales have dome-like while shells and appear on stems and leaves. Remove either pest with a cotton swab or take the plant outside and wash the bugs off.

Fungus gnats: These tiny black flies appear above the soil’s surface while their larva stays in the soil. Trap the pests with sticky traps.

Spider mites: If you see white webbing, small brown dots on leaves or what looks like dust on the leaves, which are actually the mites themselves, your cactus might have spider mites. Wash off the mites with water.

You may choose to use a fungicide to treat your plants if you do find pests but an organic option would be a solution composed of 1 spoonful of dishwashing soap, vinegar, and water that you can spray your plants.

watering  Cactus Plants

Handle with care!

Plants don’t like being moved around so much. You may repot a plant when it gets too big for its pot. Succulents are handled like any other plant. For cacti, however, it is best to use a towel when handling the plant so that you won’t hurt yourself with the spines in the process.

Also, Read How To Care For Hibiscus Plants

Care For Cactus Plants Outside in Ground

Only a select few cactus will survive this climate in San Antonio, because of our winter rains. In selecting plants for use here, one must look at the habitat from which the plant originates. Most of the cactus that grow in Texas, and some parts of Mexico and even some from South America will survive here.

First, one must look at how and where to place the cactus.

Selecting a location is a good place to start. It must have sun most of the day. The morning and afternoon sun is better than the two ‘o clock sun. The area should have very good drainage. If the yard is level you will have to use above-grown beds. I like to make my beds by placing several large rocks in a circle or some odd shape, remove about a foot of dirt from the centre, and then, replace it with a good mix to the top of the rocks. This will assure that the plants will not stand in water. This is more important in the winter than in the summer.

Most cactus are not killed by the cold, but when the water inside the plant freezes it expands and splits the outer layer of skin. This allows bacteria to enter the plant and kill it. In the winter, I listen to the weather report. If we are to get rain then a freeze, I will cover my more tender ones with a box or tarp (not plastic) to help keep them dry.

Potting mixes can be made by mixing one part potting mix, one part washed sand & one part course fill (rocks, pumas, broken pots, etc.) Don’t worry- too much drainage is better than not enough.

Let’s talk about the shade.

Most cactus can use a little protection from the two o’clock sun. A small plant nearby or a large rock will work. Just a little help. A large rock next to the plant will help hold heat in the winter and will cut down on watering in the summer.

How to Build a Cactus Garden

Materials – Large rocks, potting mix

To start your garden, look for a sunny, well-drained area. For a lot of us, this will be hard to do. Our yards are too flat, so we have to build raised beds. I like to build my bed so that there will be no chance of the plants becoming waterlogged.

First, draw an outline on the ground of the garden. Don’t make it too large. You can always expand. Now take out some of the topsoil (6″ to 12″) deep. Place a narrow strip of plastic where the rocks will be, let it extend into the hole a few inches, this will help control grass from getting in the garden.

Now place the rocks around the hole, don’t make it round or square, do a natural look. If the garden is to be facing the street you can go two or three rocks high in the back. You can now fill the hole to the top of the rocks with your soil mix.

A good cactus mix is one part potting mix, one part washed sand, and one part large (gravel, pumas, broken clay pots,) mostly anything that will help keep the soil loose. If the garden is to be level, mound up the mix to make it show better and increase drainage.

Now, Lets Plant

Take all your plants and set them in the garden to give you an idea as to where to put them. Dig a small hole in the mix, just deep enough to cover the roots, leaving the cactus body on top of the soil. Cacti that are not winter-hardy can be used by leaving them in the pot. Just bury the pot so they can be removed and taken in for the winter. Give the plants a small amount of water ever two or three weeks until they root. Then let nature pay the water bill. Feed once a year with plant food like 10-10-10 fertilizers or good house plant food. Never overfeed. This is where a little does better. A few large well-placed rocks will add protection from the hot sun, and help hold moisture, and it just looks good. Now go build that garden and save water.

Additional Tips for Caring for Potted Cactus Plants

  1. Never feed in winter, as plants must have a rest. Most cacti don’t mind being a little pot-bound but if you need to repot after three to five years, wrap a folded piece of newspaper around the spiny plants to handle them without injury and use a gritty, well-draining compost.
  2. If you do happen to get spines stuck in your fingers that won’t come out with tweezers, use heavy-duty duct tape, placing the sticky side to the spines to pull them out.
  3. To keep plants in peak condition, you should also consider putting them outdoors in summer. Stand them in a sheltered spot and don’t just move them from lower light indoors to a south-facing patio. Also, don’t let them get soaked during rainy weather. Protect the plants from slugs and snails, otherwise, they’ll gorge on their juicy stems.
  4. Pests can be a problem, especially mealy bugs, which occur as white woolly patches on the leaves – these sap-sucking parasites can be removed using a cotton bud soaked in methylated spirit. Other pests to watch out for are red spider mites and scale insects, which tend to piggyback into your home from poorly plants bought from the garden centre.
  5. Rots are the biggest bane for owners of cacti and occur when plants are overwatered and temperatures are low.
  6. Lack of light will produce weak and misshapen specimens and corky patches of oedema is a condition brought on by high humidity and overwatering.
  7. A shallow dish container works best and putting a layer of fine grit over the compost will give an attractive, yet dry surface.
  8. To reinforce the desert effect, consider placing some pebbles between the plants.

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