Follow These Simple Tips And Learn How To Look After A Cactus

Cacti and succulents make excellent indoor plants because they’re quite low maintenance and beautiful to look at. They are available in a diverse range of shapes and colours, making them suitable for almost all types of home decor. If you’ve recently jumped on the succulent or cacti bandwagon – we’re sure you’re on the lookout for a comprehensive guide about their care and upkeep.

Collection of various cactus in white and grey pots

That’s where we come in because not only have we compiled an in-depth feature on the care of cactus plants, but we’ve gone one step further and added a special section that deals with taking care of pests! All you need to do is scroll down and discover what’s required to look after a cactus.

Different types of cactus and identifying yours

Even though cacti are classified as succulents, they’re slightly different because of their areoles (the light to dark-coloured bumps found on cacti). As a result, cacti require a somewhat different care routine as compared to your average succulent. 

For instance, many succulents will thrive in high temperatures, sunny locales, and low moisture. However, some succulents are native to the rainforest (aka Epiphyllum) – meaning they don’t do too well in arid settings. That’s why cacti enthusiasts need to understand how to identify the different species of cactus available. 

Once you’re aware of the species of your cactus – you’ll be much better placed to understand what is needed to look after it. Thankfully, we’ve compiled a list of the likely cacti types you’re bound to run into and how you can identify them. Here’s what they are. 

Types of cactus plants

Opuntia microdasys cactus in a pot on a wooden table

  • Opuntia Microdasys (aka Angel’s Wings) – these cacti are easily identifiable because of the bunny-ear-shaped appearance of the pads.
  • Cereus Peruvianus (aka Peruvian Apple Cactus) – grows in singular upright columns with 3 to 5 blades and can reach heights of up to 8 feet.
  • Disocactus Ackermannii (aka Orchid Cactus) – identifiable by the brightly coloured funnel-shaped flowers and fern-like growth.
  •  Aporocactus Flagelliformis (aka Rat Tail Cactus) – grows in long, trailing stems resembling rat tails.
  • Schlumbergera Bridgesii (aka Christmas Cactus)- these plants are easy to recognise thanks to the flowers at the end of their flat, stem-like segments.
  • Echinocactus Grusonii (aka Golden Barrel Cactus) – grows in a barrel shape with almost golden spines.
  • Hatiora Gaertneri (Easter Cactus) – this cactus type includes a single stem with elongated leaf segments and tends to bloom around Easter.

Tips to take care of your cactus

After you’ve successfully identified your cactus type, it’s time to go about creating the environment it needs to thrive and grow. 

1. Watering

Carefully watering your indoor plants, like your cactus, is the most important thing in taking care of them.

Water can and cactus in a pot

Your first order of business should be to get your hands on an open, free-draining pot. Waterlogging can lead to excess water – which can end up killing your houseplants. 

A pot with drainage holes will help you avoid this roadblock and make sure that over-watering isn’t a concern. Again, we’d recommend terracotta pots because they help keep the soil aerated and offer good drainage. And if you are wondering what’s the right size for your pots, we have the answer for you.

They are built to survive in arid places, meaning they can store moisture for the dry season. Indoor cacti will be able to hold their water for longer, but you can tell when your plant is thirsting when it starts to turn a little yellow.

Summer months are a time for growth for most of the cacti, and you’ll need to be mindful of your watering schedule during this time. Accordingly, your plant won’t need too much moisture during autumn or winter. 

Typically, it’s best to use your watering can on your cacti once a week (or more if the soil dries up). You can use a watering gauge to check the level of moisture and only water your cactus if the topsoil is dry. 

Overwatering your cacti can lead to root rot and your plant turning pale. On the other hand, underwatering can lead to your plant bending in one direction and paleness of colour. 

2.  Soil

As we stated initially, cacti care depends on the species – and a big part of that is different conditions. For example, some cacti hail from dry and harsh conditions and require sandy soils, while others come from the rainforests and are used to plenty of water. 

That’s why the kind of soil you need for your cactus will depend on its species. For example, simply getting a potting mix will not suffice. You’ll need to buy a potting mix that’s suitable according to the cacti’s requirements. A potting mix for tropical cacti will certainly not do for arid ones. 

Young woman taking care of cactuses

3. Sunlight & Temperature

Most cacti require at least 4 hours of sunlight to grow strong and will do well when placed on windowsills or where they’re in direct sunlight. Nonetheless, a few cacti species prefer a semi-shade placement, such as the Rhipsalis or Christmas cactus

You can tell whether or not your cactus is getting enough light through etiolation. Etiolation is what happens when the cactus starts to stretch itself toward the direction of sunlight. So you can literally see your plant stretching away from the centre

Generally, indoor cacti will do well if they’re placed about 4 feet away from an east or south-facing window. However, remember to keep rotating the plants (at a quarter turn) to ensure all their sides are exposed to sunlight.

During spring and summer, it’s best to ensure the cacti get plenty of ventilation and fresh air to deal with soaring temperatures. Conversely, in the autumn and winter months, a temperature range of 8 to 10 degrees Celsius should be adequate. 

4. Fertilisers

All living things need nutrients to survive, and your cactus is no different. But, remember, the best time to fertilise cacti is in the growing season and after the plant has established itself after repotting

It’s best to get a fertiliser high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen because this will promote health. Also, keep a weather eye out for new growth during the spring/summer months because that’s your cue to start fertilising. 

If you have a plant like the Christmas Cactus that grows during the winter, then fertilise and look out for new growth during that time. Create a solution of one tablespoon of fertiliser to one gallon of water – and use this solution once every eight weeks to water your plants. 

Do cactuses need pruning?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record – whether or not you can prune your cactus will depend on its species. Some cacti like the Peruvian Apple Cactus don’t require much pruning to look good.

However, there are instances where some cactus species can benefit from pruning – especially when trying to maintain the look of the plant or trying to thin overcrowded areas

More often than not, it’s best to clean your plant with a damp cloth or spray bottle to do away with the dust and grime. Although, remember to put on rubber gloves (or even utilise tongs) when doing so to keep your hands protected.

Pruning cactus

Pests and diseases

Just as humans aren’t ever 100% immune to pathogens, plants can’t be entirely protected from pests and diseases.

If you notice white patches on your cacti, this can be indicative of pests like mealybugs. By contrast, bronze patches can be a red spider mite infestation. Finally, patches on the stems and leaves can mean the presence of scale insects.

Thankfully, getting rid of these bugs isn’t too tricky. To eliminate mealybugs and scale insects, dip cotton swabs in alcohol and wipe the pests away.

You can wash away the spider mites with plain tap water – but ensure the pot is covered to avoid overwatering the plant. Finally, you also have the option of using a cacti-friendly insecticide. However, note that using too much insecticide can damage your cactus.

Cacti can also fall prey to diseases like botrytis, erwinia, etc., due to excess water or cold temperatures and will require fungicide to be treated.

Be it moon cactus or any other type – cactus care will vary depending on your plant type. That means you’re going to have to do some research about your house plant to figure out a few particulars in its care routine

However, once that’s out of the way – you’ll realise that cacti don’t require too much time and effort on your part. According to us, it’s part of their charm and what makes them one of the most popular indoor plants. 

Don’t forget to tell us what you think or your favourite cactus type by commenting below. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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