Keep your cacti family growing and thriving with these 3 important and simple steps.
1. Start with the soil.
The soil your cactus is planted in should be well-drained and fairly lean. What does this mean? Found in most garden stores, this is commonly known as cactus growing mix. It's typically comprised of up to 3 or more of the following: general potting soil, pumice, gravel, washed sand, and coco coir.
Making your own mixture can save a couple bucks with the simple recipe of one part potting soil, one part washed sand, and one part small gravel.
2. Assess your climate, keep watering to a minimum.
Here in Idaho, we have cold winters, hot summers, and generally low humidity. The moisture in the soil will evaporate and the soil will dry out pretty quickly. Since cacti are naturally water conserving, their roots will absorb the water they need and thrive off of a dry climate. To avoid rot, well-drained soil is key.
Our best results: Only water your cactus when the top 1/4 of soil has dried out completely and/or pulls away from the edges. With 2-6 inch pots, I prefer to bring them to the sink and fully saturate the soil until water comes streaming out of the drainage holes. Don't have any drainage holes? You will have to watch the soil even closer; wet the surface of the soil only when it's completely dry. I don't always water my cacti every week! I watch the soil.
NOTE: Each pot is different depending on soil, pot size, location and how large the cactus is. Keep an eye on each until you get the hang of the patterns of each. General rule of thumb: Most plastic pots will dry out faster than ceramic ones (less insulation). Or a 14" pot will generally be deeper and hold onto moisture for much longer than a smaller one.
They typically benefit from low water vs. what you would normally water your other houseplants.
3. Bright light.
Bright light keeps your cactus vibrantly green and encourages new growth. I recommend finding a bright spot in your house (morning sun is the best) and have your cactus live there. Cacti can thrive in direct sun, with dry soil.
Troubleshooting + common issues:
Is your cactus turning brown and/or getting mushy? Usually the cause of over-watering. If it turned to mush, you'll probably need to throw it away and start over, but if you've just begun to notice browning areas and wrinkly looking epidermis (outside of the cactus), you can save it! Cut back on watering by about half and see if it improves.
Falling over or shriveling up? Possibly not enough water. A common misconception is cacti don't need any water. But with today's nursery-grown cacti, they need water! They come from a nursery that's been providing close-to-perfect conditions to grow them quickly and efficiently, then we bring it into our homes and neglect to water it. It will react and start to conserve energy, and since plants adapt, they'll conserve energy by shriveling or partially dying back. Keep your cactus watered! Find the happy medium and watch it grow!
In Idaho (dry climate), two of the most common pests of indoor cacti are mealybugs and spider mites. Both spread quickly in dry climates and dry soil. This doesn't mean keep your cactus soil wet, just keep an eye on all your houseplants, this is natural since plants are living and will attract pests every once in awhile. If you think your plants always have some sort of issue, assess your lighting, quality of soil and watering schedule.
Mealybugs appear in cracks and crevices, and look like clusters of fuzzy, cotton-like spots. We've found the most effective way to get rid of them is spraying them with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Use any old spray bottle, up to 3x per week for about 2-3 weeks. You can also wipe the clusters away with a rag or paper towel and spray the entire surface of the plant with the alcohol.
Spider mites typically appear at the top of plants forming an extremely fine spiderweb-like coating with little specs of white or reddish-brown (the mites). You can take the alcohol approach to them as well but a good natural/organic insecticidal soap works the best in my experience.
- First (if possible) rinse the plant off with cold water. We've used the garden hose with large plants (if it's winter, try the shower), and the sink for smaller plants.
- Let the water dry, and evenly spray the affected area and the entire surface of the plant with the insect soap.
- Continue spraying the plant with the soap once a week for up to 3 weeks. The spider mites will be unable to spread and your cactus should be cured!
Thank you for reading!