Although most people will associate cacti and other succulents with deserts and other extremely arid areas, they are some of the most adaptable and hardy species around and can thrive in most climates.
Additionally, as they store their water supply in their thick leaves and stems and can do so for a considerable length of time, they are some of the easiest plants to look after and can be kept either indoors or outside in a greenhouse without requiring too much tending.
This makes them ideal if you like plants but haven’t got the time or the inclination to spend too much time looking after them. For these kinds of plants to thrive, there are basically three main things you need to consider – water, heat and light.
One of the most important things you shouldn’t do is to overwater them. Basically, all you need to do is to stand them in their pots in a shallow tray of water and when the top of the soil is wet, then that’s sufficient. You also need to remember that it’s only really during their growing season over the spring and summer months where they’ll require watering as they lie dormant over the winter months and it’s only if you keep them indoors that they may require a little water perhaps once a month. In the summer, a good watering once a week is usually sufficient.
If you keep cacti and other succulents indoors there should be no problem with heat as your normal room temperature will be perfectly adequate for them. However, if they’re kept in a greenhouse or perhaps in a conservatory, then over the winter months, you should make sure you use some kind of heater that doesn’t allow the temperature to dip much below 10C or 50F as they do not acclimatise well to any sign of frost.
In the summer, in the UK at least, there will be little to worry about but if there is an extreme heatwave and they’re being kept in a greenhouse, make sure you leave the windows open so that they can receive some ventilation.
Because their natural origins were borne out of existing in sunny climates, it’s beneficial if they receive as much daylight as possible. Kept in a greenhouse, this is unlikely to present much of a problem but if you keep them indoors, make sure that you place them on a window sill which receives the most light during the daylight hours so in the UK, for example, a south facing window is preferable, although they won’t die if they don’t get access to a lot of sunlight, they’re just unlikely to fare as well.
It’s not so much the type of soil that is important when growing cacti and other succulents as they are designed to survive in harsh, arid landscapes where the soil may be of a poor quality but you do need to ensure that they’re potted in sandy, free-draining soil because if their roots remain wet for too long, they’ll eventually rot. Likewise, if you decide to re-pot them, you should try to keep any disturbance to the roots as minimal as possible.
Clay pots are better than plastic ones for cacti and other succulents as water can soak through them and evaporate which means that the soil will dry out more quickly which is better for these types of plants and don’t forget to choose a slightly larger pot than the previous year to allow for the continuation of plant growth.
Because cacti and other succulents have evolved to be very adept at absorbing the nutrients from even the most sub-standard type of soil, they require very little else above watering. A much reduced strength of tomato feed once a month or even using the water from a fish tank if you keep one will help them though as these types of plants can even extract nutrients from any of the fish waste products that remain in the water.
However, overfeed a cactus and it will grow too quickly and become too spindly and they might grow so tall then that they might not be able to support their own weight.
Red spider and mealy bugs are probably the biggest dangers in terms of pests that can harm these types of plants but your local garden centre will be able to offer you a number of products to choose from and other ideas which should keep these insects at bay and it’s obviously much better if you choose an organic solution as opposed to using chemicals.
By following this advice, you should find that your plants thrive with very little effort required on your part which is why they are so popular with both gardeners and non-gardeners alike who simply like to have a few plants around the house without them having to take too much time and effort to tend to them.