Cactus Care 101 -Easy Cactus Care Guide for Beginners!

Written by: Yuvika Iyer

Published on: Sep 14, 2020

Cactus Care 101 -Easy Cactus Care Guide for Beginners!

cactus care guide for beginners
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Last Updated on September 21, 2020 by Yuvika Iyer

Are you thinking how to care for a cactus? 

You are in the right place, my friend!

In this blog, I am going to share with you the top tips you should know about cactus care, even if you have never grown cactuses earlier or are a complete beginner! 

What You Should Know About Cactus and Caring for Them?

All cacti belong to the Cactaceae family. 

Common Name – Cactus, desert cactus, forest cactus

Botanical Name – Cactaceae

You can find around a thousand species ranging from common to rare cacti. 

Many of them are highly popular as houseplants and grown in large numbers by cacti enthusiasts.

All houseplants are highly effective at purifying indoor air, including a cactus.

Being a desert plant, cacti require little maintenance. 

These beautiful plants can thrive and bloom in your bright, sunny windowsill or under grow light. 

Another advantage of cacti is that you can keep many exotic varieties in a small place. They can surprise you with their tolerance level and never-say-die attitude.

What are the Different Kinds of Cactus?

Desert Cactus

Most of the cactuses are traditionally found in the dry and arid desert. 

Their outer surface is mostly covered with fine hair, small thorns, or spines, and they can even grow well in balls, stones, obelisks, or paddles. 

Forest Cactus

You can find another type of cactus species in tropical, subtropical, and temperate forests. 

These plants are commonly referred to as forest cacti and scientifically known as Epiphyllum. 

19 types of epiphytic cacti form the group of Epiphyllum. Some common ones are Epiphyllum Oxipetalum or Queen of the Night, Epiphyllum Anguliger or Ric-rac cactus, and Epiphyllum Hookeri or Hooker’s orchid. 

These cacti are fondly called orchid cacti by the houseplant enthusiasts primarily due to their large, gorgeous, and orchid-like flowers.

Cactus Care – Indoor Growing Guide 

Desert cacti are known for their rounded or oval shape and spiky thorns, but some have the prettiest blooms in the houseplant universe. 

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Growing and nurturing desert cacti is easy if you know some simple tricks. They are the hardiest houseplants with the highest tolerance to neglect. 

While keeping cacti, you need to stick to three core principles – porous potting mix, infrequent watering (water only when the topsoil is completely dry), and bright sunlight for 5-6 hours. 

You can get huge varieties of desert cacti these days in online stores and your nearby garden center. 

You need to follow these 3 thumb rules in growing all of them. 

cactus care guide for beginners

Remember, patience is key if you want to become a cacti hobbyist. Most of these plants are slow-growers and will start flowering after the first 3 to 4 years of planting. Others may take even longer to bloom indoors.

If you live in tropics, growing forest cacti is the best option. 

These plants are epiphytes. Most of them are climbing varieties and need to cling to large trees or thick moss sticks. 

Some of the most famous epiphyllum cactus varieties are Fish Bone cacti, Queen of the night, and Christmas cacti. These plants look beautiful in the flowering season with colorful blooms of pink, yellow, white, purple, and red. 

You can grow them in hanging planters, and a fully-grown epiphyllum will look gorgeous in them. Hot and humid climates are ideal for these tropical beauties. 

Since they grow under the canopy of large trees, you should keep them in bright and indirect sunlight. Too much exposure to direct sunlight can fry their leaves.

It takes a little planning to make your cactus special to get colorful blooms from your lovely Christmas cactus. 

You also need to keep your plant cool and maintain a steady temperature between 50 to 55 F. 

If you have grown your plant outdoors or in the patio, try moving them indoors under grow light or near an east-facing window sill. 

Let your cacti settle down in the new atmosphere for a month or two. After that, move your plant in a warmer place and resume the previous watering schedule. 

If all goes well, buds will start sprouting. It’s important to shift your cacti outdoors in summer. They love to soak themselves in the bright morning sunlight.

How To Care For A Cactus

Cactus Sunlight Guide

Strong and direct sunlight is the most crucial element for a healthy and thriving desert cactus. Some varieties just love to get drenched in the direct afternoon summer sun. 

Remember not to expose your desert cacti in direct sunlight immediately after buying them, especially if they are small. 

Slow and gradual exposure to direct sunlight will help your cacti withstand it better and turn it into its favor.

Forest cacti love to soak in the bright morning sunlight, but direct afternoon sun may scorch their leaves. It’s important to move them outdoors during summer for faster and steadier growth.

Cactus Soil Care

A porous and fast-draining cacti potting mix is ideal for growing your desert cacti. 

We would recommend planting your cacti on soilless media – with a balanced ratio of cocopeat, cinder, garden sand, and perlite. 

Cacti are slow-growers and take a long time to outgrow their pots. Unlike other plant species, cacti will thrive and bloom better when a little under potted.

We would also recommend using soilless media for forest cacti. You should only use a higher percentage of cocopeat than desert cacti for better moisture retention. 

Forest cacti are far bigger and need repotting at the start of the growing season.

Watering A Cactus 

We often encounter a common question: How often to water a cactus?

Your desert cacti will smile at the outset of spring and summer. They actively grow and bloom at this time, and you need to water your cacti when the topsoil is dry. 

Make sure to water your plants thoroughly until it pours through the drainage holes. Desert cacti will hibernate in winter, so water them sparingly around this time.  When your cacti start shriveling, only then water the plant. 

Over-watering in winter can harm your plant’s health and may result in the root or stem rot. 

Always treat your forest cacti or epiphyllums as regular house plants during summer. Water them thoroughly when the topsoil is dry. Any excess moisture will help them thrive and bloom faster. 

During the hibernation period, water only when your plant droops. Using this thumb rule for your desert and forest cacti will keep their roots healthy and set the stage for colorful summer months. 

In winter, under-watering is always better than over-watering. Excess water may clog and suffocate your roots and makes it difficult for them to breathe. 

cactus care guide for beginners

Before watering, check the first 2-3 inches of your cacti mix either by poking a dry toothpick or your index finger. If it comes out dry, then your cacti are thirsty and need thorough watering.

Cactus Temperature and Humidity Guide 

Your desert cacti will love to soak in scorching sunlight. 

They prefer dry and hot temperatures ranging from 70 to 80 F in the active growth period. In the winter, they like to rest in the colder weather around 55 F. 

Think of a desert – the cacti love its boiling hot morning, afternoon, and chilly nights. If you live in a place with frigid winters and snowy days like me, it’s vital to save your cacti from those harsh winter drafts.

Forest cacti are less fussy about temperature during their growing season. They can thrive in a wide range of temperatures between 55 to 70 F. 

It’s essential to keep your forest cacti in a place with extra moisture and bright indirect sunlight. 

During winters, your forest cacti will have slow growth rates, so keeping them around 50 F is vital for survival.

Fertilizing a Cactus

Using a liquid soluble cacti fertilizer boosts the growth of your desert cacti. Always fertilize your cacti only during its growing period – Spring & Summer. 

I have experimented with different organic and chemical fertilizers on my cacti and analyzed the outcomes. 

From my experience, I can tell you that specialized cacti fertilizer works 10x better than standard fertilizers. 

However, forest cacti are considered as normal tropical plants. 

Apply standard fertilizer (pro tip: go for organic instead of chemical ones) during the growing months. 

Reduce the frequency and amount of fertilizer in the winter.

Keeping Pests Away from Your Cactus Plants

Pests are more common in forest cacti than desert cacti. You may find different types of pests like scales, fungus gnats, spider mites, and mealybugs if you observe. 

cactus care guide for beginners

I would recommend to wipe and wash the pests off your cacti with clean water and cotton swabs. Spider mites and fungus gnats are less common compared to the other two pests. 

Mealybugs and spider mites suck out the juice of pulpy stems and leaves of cacti and succulents.

Here are a few simple pest control tips that you can try when required:

  • Follow the basic principles of SSW – Soil, Sunlight, and Watering method. Use a highly porous cacti mix, keep your desert cacti in direct sunlight and forest cacti in bright light and water only when the topsoil is dry.
  • When you bring home new plants, quarantine them at least for 7 to 10 days or until you are 100% sure that they are pest-free. After the plants don’t show any signs of weakness and shoot new growth, it’s time to integrate them into your plant family.
  • If you happen to spot mealy bugs or spider mites on your cacti, wash them with a strong jet spray of water. After you trace the pests, it’s essential to treat them right away to get back your healthy and hearty plant. Pro tip: Make an alcohol solution with water in a 1:3 ratio and rub the solution gently on the affected part and see the result. If the plant responds well to the treatment, apply the same solution to other infected cacti.
  • I recommend that you should apply organic pesticides like Neem oil or other potent ones like Pyrethrins or acephate or imidacloprid strictly in the manufacturer’s recommended ratio. These insecticides may be volatile organic compounds; any over-exposure may be fatal for your cacti.

I would love to know your experience of keeping these lovely cactuses to purify your home!

Let us know your experiences in the comment section below.

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