Indoor cactus care has become a popular topic. Cacti are one of the trendiest indoor plants, so there’s no wonder why caring for them is a hot topic. Not only are they small and easy to care for, but they also add to the overall aesthetic of a home. One of the best things about cacti is that they come in different shapes and sizes. And when they bloom, they look even more remarkable and attractive. Thankfully, indoor cactus care is not difficult. These plants are low-maintenance, so there won’t be any issues if you cover their primary needs.
A cactus’s natural habitat is the desert, so they prefer a lot of light exposure, dry air, and high temperatures. If you’re a beginner, it’s essential to know the basic needs of cacti to help them survive a non-familiar environment. But you don’t have to worry about doing a lot of work to keep them alive. All you must do is mimic their natural habitat.
Below are tips you can follow for proper indoor cactus care.
1. Location Consideration
Cacti typically grow in the desert, which means that they need constant sunlight for extended amounts of time. Considering the best location for your plants is step-one. You’ll want to place them where there will be ready access to direct sunlight. Also, avoid placing your cacti near cold windows or doors.
2. Get the Right Mix for Indoor Cactus Care
There are two thousand cacti species, and although they are part of the same family, they thrive in different living conditions. People most commonly know that cacti live and thrive in the desert, but some species live in the forest. If you already have your eye on a particular cactus that you want to take home, be sure to learn how to care for it.
These facts are also essential when buying compost or soil mix for cacti. Providing them with the wrong soil can cause their roots to rot. As you may guess, cacti don’t need constant watering, and overwatering them will eventually kill them. Both cacti and succulents are from the same family, which means they absorb moisture from the soil, then store it. Most soil mixes have excellent water retention capabilities. While perfect for many houseplants, these soils are not ideal for cacti. Choose a combination with good drainage to prevent cacti from being “drowned” or overwatered.
Making Cactus Soil
If you don’t want to purchase pre-mixed soil, you can try making it. However, before you start trying to mix a perfect cactus soil, you must know the difference between tropical cactus soil and arid cactus soil.
- Tropical Cactus Soil: This is the potting mix essential for the cacti species that generally live in the tropical rainforest. These tropical cacti are unlike the common cacti we usually hear of. While regular cacti can store water inside themselves, tropical cacti drain quickly due to their suspension or the way they sprout on trees. This quick draining means you’ll need a soil mix with organic materials, like sphagnum peat moss.
- Arid Cactus Soil: Arid cacti live in the desert, so sandier soil with excellent draining capabilities will be the best choice.
3. Watering Your Cactus
There is a lot of misinformation out there about watering cacti. Many people believe that cacti don’t need any water at all, but that’s not true. In fact, cacti do need water, but it’s important to water them in the right way and at the right time. Cacti can store moisture within themselves, so they don’t need to be watered as often as other plants. However, you still need to water them regularly in order for them to thrive.
It’s a good idea to water these plants at least once a week. But you have to check whether the soil is dry or not before watering. Get a rod or a stick and insert it into the soil. If the stick comes out moist, then you don’t need to water your plant yet.
Keeping the soil dry before watering is vital in indoor cactus care, so this is something you’ll want to watch out for. As for the amount of water needed, the smaller the cacti, the more water they need. They need more water in the early life stages due to their growth rate. Another factor that dictates the amount of moisture they need is the season. On summer days, they need an adequate amount of water to keep them alive, but they require less moisture in cold weather.
But always remember, no matter the circumstance, the soil should always be dry before you water them again. Overwatering and underwatering can both be bad for cacti. It may take a while to get the hang of it, but with some patient trial and error, you can become a pro at indoor cactus care.
4. Fertilization for Indoor Cactus Care
New cactus owners often wonder about whether they should use fertilizer. The answer would be, “It depends.” Cacti won’t require any fertilizers when you have newly repotted them. They need to settle in the pot and soil mix before any fertilization, which can take a couple of months.
Once a cactus has established itself in its new home, it is time to give it the nutrients it needs. The growing season for these plants is during warm months, and it is appropriate to provide them with a fertilizer made especially for cacti. Cactus fertilizer is usually rich in phosphorus but low in nitrogen, and you should only use it if growth is present.
The best practice for applying fertilizers is to do it during their growth period, in an eight-week interval. Also, some cacti species have dormant phases, which usually occurs during the winter. These types require fertilization during the cold months as well.
5. Your Cactus Needs Light, and Lots of It
As with every plant, sunlight is essential for the growth and life of a cactus. Since you will be growing cacti indoors, you will need to provide direct sunlight or use a grow light. Desert cacti typically have more light requirements than tropical cacti. While the tropical ones only require partial light and heat, desert cacti can spend hours in direct sunlight with no adverse effects.
When it comes to growing cactus indoors, providing adequate light is relatively easy. But keep in mind that you need to rotate cacti from time to time. Cacti tend to bend towards the sunlight, and this will give them a leaning structure.
6. Keep Pests and Diseases Away
When a cactus’s roots stay submerged in moisture for too long, not only will it rot but also develop fungal and bacterial diseases. Therefore, keeping the soil dry before watering them again is a crucial step in indoor cactus care. However, this is not the only issue you need to look out for. Some pests can attack them and do a lot of damage. Here are some of the insects and other problems that can be harmful to your cacti.
Mealybugs are a known cacti attacker. They can get past the cactus’s spikes with the help of their armored bodies. They appear like a small patch of powdery mass, and they feed on plant juices and roots. This behavior is why they are potentially dangerous. These pests are always in clusters and can kill your cactus if you don’t act quickly.
A simple method to remove them is by using a toothbrush or cotton swab. However, it would be best if you first used preventive measures to keep them from coming in the first place. Using an organic pest control product on the roots can do the trick.
Scale insects are domed in shape and usually dark in color. Like mealybugs, scale attacks in groups, covering a cactus entirely in a short amount of time. After the “attack,” they leave the cactus heavily scarred, making them vulnerable to diseases. Using pest control products may help prevent scale infestations.
If you notice a web-like substance on your cactus, there might be spider-mites around. As the name suggests, they look like a crossbreed of spiders and mites, and they are red. Spider mites are known to directly consume a cactus’s outer layer, causing the plant to die. There are pest control products made specifically for spider mites. If you see that an infestation has started, treat the cactus and quarantine it immediately. Doing so will help ensure the spider mites won’t infect other plants in your home. These mites spread rapidly from one cactus to another, so it’s best to get rid of them as early as you can.
Cactus Longhorn Beetles
The cactus longhorn beetle is the most distinguishable of all the cacti pests. They are black, with long antennae, and they can grow to up to 1-¼ inches. But since they are a little larger than most plant pests, they can be easily removed by hand.
Cacti don’t usually need too much maintenance and care, but preventing them from being infested with bugs is essential. It’s better to use pest control products for prevention than wait for the bugs to show up. Moreover, if you have previously infested plants with either bugs or diseases, it’s better to keep them away from the new ones. If the infection is too severe, you may have to dispose of the plant to be safe.
7. Keep a Chart of Indoor Cactus Care Progress
Even if you did your homework on the basics beforehand, you might sometimes face some issues regarding your cactus’ growth. You were so sure that you were following the guidelines, but still, something is wrong. You might need to take a few notes and observe how your plant is growing. In indoor cactus care, growth results may vary. You must know how to tweak a few things if what you’re doing is not working. It may seem complicated at first, but you’ll get better results in no time.
For example, if the plants seem to be whitening or becoming pale, they might be getting too much sunlight. Try to move them where there is shade for a while. Another example is if you see them leaning in a particular direction, you’ll want to rotate them to grow in an upwards manner.
8. Use the Right Kind of Pots
It was mentioned multiple times above that cacti need to be potted in soil that has fast-draining features. But choosing the correct pot can also help. Always use plant pots that have drainage holes, especially for desert cacti. Clay pots are more practical since they are more porous than plastic ones, helping with the draining process.
9. Repotting Is Essential to Indoor Cactus Care
Indoor cacti can be small, but it doesn’t mean that they will not grow out of their pots. You may notice that while growing, their roots are already crawling out of the soil. This means that a repotting could be in order. However, you won’t need to repot them for at least two years after they have first settled in their place.
Here are the essential tools for repotting cacti:
- Potting mix
- An adequately-sized clay pot
- A pair of thorn-proof gardening gloves
- A Dull garden trowel (for loosening the soil)
- A Soft gardening brush
A cactus is obviously very prickly, and different species of this plant mean different spike sizes. Keep your hands safe by using thick gloves. You can also cover them with newspapers or manila papers to keep them from hurting you.
For the next part, it is essential to use a dull knife or trowel to avoid damaging the roots when you transfer. Keeping the roots intact is vital to keeping your cactus from dying. A sharp knife can cut the roots and harm them. As an alternative, large tongs can help with the removal.
Additionally, you’ll need to inspect and clean the roots to see if there are pests or rotting. Check if there is a pest infestation and do the necessary pest control procedures mentioned above to eliminate them. After a thorough cleanup, let the roots dry for a while before transferring to another pot. Allowing them to dry will help prevent any infection or diseases from manifesting.
Be very gentle while placing the plant in the pot, then add the necessary quick-drain soil to cover the roots completely. When you’ve finished the planting process, make sure you don’t water the plant immediately. You will need to give it more time to dry out and recover from the repotting.
10. Proper Plant Aeration
Like all plants, proper air circulation is essential for cacti. Fresh air is needed for them to grow well, so opening a window where air can pass through is excellent for them. Doing so is an outstanding practice during the summer. If you think the air they’re getting does not suffice, try investing in a standalone fan to keep the air moving.
Indoor Cactus Care – The Wrap-up
As a beginner, you need to consider a lot of things before growing cacti at home. But knowing the basics will take all your fears away. They are popular for various reasons; they are gorgeous and can increase your home’s aesthetic value. You can get creative and arrange them in a way that will enhance your home. Use beautiful decorative pots if you want to.
Additionally, they are low-maintenance plants that do not require much work, which is perfect for people who have busy lives. By following the above tips, you’ll be able to care for cacti in a breeze. Indoor cactus care is easy, exciting, and fulfilling.
Frequently Asked Indoor Cactus Care Questions
Proper soil mix, adequate water, aeration, proper drainage, and of course, sufficient observation is needed. Keep notes of how your plant is growing given your current practices. Adjust a few things if you notice things aren’t going as well as you would like. If they are whitening or turning pale yellow, they are probably getting too much sunlight, so you’ll want to move them to a different spot. Rotate them once in a while for even sunbathing and healthy growth.
Pests can be a big problem for cacti, and there are multiple kinds of bugs that feed on these plants. Common bugs are mealybugs, scale insects, spider mites, and cactus longhorn beetles. To prevent an infestation, use proper preventive practices like using pest control products on the roots. In some cases, like spider mites, you can wash them off with water. Just make sure you have proper coverage for the soil to prevent any direct contact with water. You can also use cotton swabs or a gentle brush to remove some bugs in hard-to-reach areas. And if an infestation happens, it’s better to put the plant in quarantine to prevent other plants from getting infected.
Bacterial and fungal diseases and rot can infect them, and they can die if there’s too much water. Don’t submerge the roots for too long. Here’s a tip: make sure you only water your cactus once a week, and before you even do that, do a stick test. Insert a stick into the soil. If the stick comes out with dry soil, then it is ready for watering. But if not, you will need to wait a while until the soil is dry, or else it can kill the plant.
You can apply fertilizers for optimal growth, but there is an appropriate amount. You don’t need to use fertilizers when you first plant your cactus. You’ll want to let them settle first in their new pot before giving them nutrients. The wait can take about two months. During months where a cactus is dormant, you can use fertilizers in an 8-week interval to help with their growth.
No, there are two types of cactus; the tropical type and the arid type. The tropical one mostly lives in rainforests, while the arid type lives in the desert. A desert-dwelling cactus requires less watering because of its ability to store moisture and keep it for a while. The soil needed for arid type cacti should have water draining properties to keep them dry. However, a tropical cactus is a different story. They need more moisture because they drain water immediately, so they need a different kind of soil.