We can group under the word cactus a variety of plants that have one thing in common: they store large amounts of water in their tissues, which allows them to adapt to very dry environments and high temperatures. The fact that they are able to survive these harsh and unfriendly environments makes them very easy to care for and maintain indoors. If you are unlucky with plants and have sent a few to the next world, these may be the ones to get you out of that slump. With their tenacity and this cactus care guide, you have everything you need to succeed.
There are hundreds of species of cacti, of different shapes and colours, some with beautiful flowers and unusual structures. For ease of recognition, we could divide them into two types: desert cacti and woodland cacti or succulents. Desert cacti are those that have developed spines or hairs to defend themselves against animals, while forest cacti come from humid, tropical regions. An example is the beautiful Schlumbergera or Christmas cactus, and the epiphyllum or queen of the night.
Tips for caring for cacti
- Water carefully, directly on the substrate and avoid letting water drops fall on the cactus, as this will stain and deteriorate it. Putting pebbles, decorative material or volcanic soil on top of the substrate is a good idea to prevent water from pooling around the plant.
- While it is true that many cacti thrive in desert environments, the vast majority do not like direct sunlight. Look for a well-lit space where they do not receive direct sunlight.
- Rotate your cactus periodically so that they grow in a balanced way and so that all parts of the cactus have a chance to photosynthesise properly.
- Wear gloves and an apron every time you handle your cacti, even if their spines or hairs don't look dangerous. Sometimes they are tiny fibres that you can't see with the naked eye, but which remain on your skin and clothes, causing discomfort all day long.
- If one of these tiny hairs or thorns gets stuck in your skin that you can't catch with tweezers, use a plastic card (credit card, ID card) and slide it across your skin in different directions. Then wash your hands. Another trick is to use some white school glue, spread it on the area, let it dry and pull it off.
How to care for your cacti
Cacti and succulents store water, but this doesn't mean you have to water them sparingly, it's the frequency that should be spaced out. Having said that, it is better to water once in abundance, so that the water reaches the roots, than to do it superficially on several occasions. What will prevent the roots from becoming waterlogged is the drainage capacity of the substrate.
The frequency of watering should be increased in spring (every 15 days), maintaining the rhythm of increased watering until summer (every 8 days). At the end of summer, the watering frequency should be decreased until winter (every 20 to 30 days), which is the most critical period for the plant. It is not as complicated as it seems. All you have to do is water your plant very well and let the substrate dry out completely before watering again. any doubts? Let it dry out a bit, it's better that than over watering.
The cactus will tell you everything: if it looks brightly coloured, upright and full you have found the perfect watering rhythm. If, on the other hand, it looks wrinkled, droops a little and looks like it has been sucked out of the air, it is lacking water and is using up its reserves. If this happens to you, don't panic, just water it abundantly and it will recover the next day. A cactus that changes colour, is watery and drooping may be experiencing root rot from overwatering. It's time to cut off some sections to propagate it because it may die.
Cacti like bright, abundant light, but rarely withstand direct sun. As a general rule, the more spines they have, the better they can withstand the sun. Most woodland cacti or succulents prefer to be in the shade, as the sun weakens, discolours and burns the leaves. If you don't have much natural light, either because of the season or the location of your flat, you can use artificial light.
The substrate is essential for the happy growth and development of your cactus, not because they are too demanding in terms of fertilisers and nutrients (quite the opposite) but because you must pay attention to the drainage capacity of the substrate. Look for mixes specially designed for this type of plants or use a universal one and add sand or perlite to increase drainage.
At the bottom of the pot you should always place some material to facilitate drainage. Use a good amount of pebbles or clay chunks. You can recycle polystyrene from packaging by cutting it into pieces and placing it in the bottom. It is lightweight, does not mould or decompose and cannot grow bacteria or other micro-organisms.
When you buy your plant (especially if it is delivered) you can see that the substrate is compact. You can move it a little, as this facilitates air circulation and improves drainage, avoiding the dreaded rotting. I use a wooden stick in small pots, as this way I don't damage the roots.
Once a month, except in winter, you can use a balanced fertilizer on your cacti. Although they can live in arid soils, the addition of compost and fertiliser stimulates growth and flowering.
If there is one plant that is generous and very willing to live, it is cacti and succulents. You can propagate them from almost any part of the plant. If you have stumbled upon it and knocked off a few leaves or a small piece, don't worry, they will grow into another plant. It's very simple: you can place it in a dish of water, submerging only the tip of the leaf to stimulate root growth. You can also put it in a pot with a damp substrate, watering it as you usually do with the plant. In a few weeks you will see the roots and first leaves.
Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.