Growing Cacti & Succulents
By Mark Saidnawey, Pemberton Farms/WBZ-TV Gardening Expert
Aired: October 11, 2011 11:40 AM
Looking for an easy and fun way to garden indoors this winter. How about creating a nice cacti and succulent garden collection. Easy to care for and very long lasting these plants are fun for the whole family. As long as you know how to care for them.
The difference between Cacti and Succulents:
The difference is actually quite easy to describe, once you are aware of it. The word succulent is a descriptive term for all the types of plants that store water in their leaves or stems. A cactus is in a large family of plants that are all succulents. There are other types of succulents besides cacti. So, a good rule to remember is that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are Cacti.
Caring for Cactus and Succulents:
During the active growth season cacti need to be watered more often than during the dormant season. There is no set watering specifications for cacti, as it depends on the pot,
the soil, the climate and several other factors. The best way to learn how much water your cactus needs and how often is to observe it. When watering the cactus, add water until
there is only about a half inch of dry soil on the surface. Be sure that the drainage holes in the pot are not blocked so the water can run out. Do not water the cactus again until the soil is completely dry. The easiest way to check the soil moisture is to carefully stick a pencil or a similar object to the bottom of the soil and check for any damp soil clinging to it.
During the dormant season (winter months), the plant should be watered no more than every few weeks.
From spring to fall, you should only fertilize your cactus once every eight to ten weeks. A low nitrogen fertilizer works best, like 5-10-10. You can also use a time release
fertilizer, but they only need to be used once in the spring. You can buy specific cactus fertilizer at your local garden supply store. Do not fertilize during the winter months.
Cacti need bright light and inside, southern facing windows are best. If the cactus does not receive enough light, artificial light should also be supplemented.
Cacti can tolerate heat up 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit during their active growth season. During the dormant season, cacti do best in temperatures from 45-55 degrees, which they
would encounter in their natural habitats. Studies have also proven that low temperatures during the dormant season encourage flower growth.
Next you will need soil for your cactus. The best kind is cactus soil, made specifically for cacti, which you can find at home improvement centers and gardening stores. If you
cannot get cactus soil, then you can make your own with one part potting soil and one part sand. Adding a little gravel to the mixture will also aid in drainage.
When repotting your cactus, break the old pot if possible and remove the pieces. Digging the cactus out of the pot can cause root damage and should be avoided. Put some of
the fresh cactus soil into the bottom of the pot and placethe cactus on top. Then fill in the sides with more soil. The cactus should not be heavily watered or placed in direct
sunlight for about a week after repotting to allow it to adjust to it’s new “˜home.’ After the initial repotting, the cactus should only be transferred to another pot when
absolutely necessary. After the repotting is over, caring for your cactus is a breeze. The most important thing to remember is that cacti have two seasons, the active growing season during the spring and summer and the dormant season during the fall and winter, when they go into hibernation so to speak.
Issues with Cactus:
Over watering is the biggest problem which faces cactus owners, but can be easily be avoided with proper care. Over watering can cause root and stem rot. Unfortunately, once a
cactus’ roots or stems start to rot, there is nothing you can do to save it. Relatively few pests bother cacti but there are a few, such as aphids, red spider mites and mealy bugs. When you purchase a cactus, make sure it is free of insects before bringing it home. If your cacti at home have insects, treat them with an insecticide. As you now see, growing cacti can be fun easy. Just follow the rules and especially remember, DON’T OVER WATER.
If you would like more information on Cactus and Succulents you may email me directly at Mark@Pembertonfarms.com or check out the Massachusetts Cactus and Succulent Society Blog.