So you’re a newbie to the cactus world? Prepare to become obsessed. Once you buy one, you’ll buy another and then another. But before you go totally cacti crazy, there are few cactus care tips for beginners you should learn so that they stay healthy, happy, and beautiful.
Cacti are great because they are low-maintenance and don’t need too much attention. That’s why they are the perfect beginner’s houseplant. They are classified as a succulent, which means their stems can store incredible amounts of water and this is why they can survive in high climates and often have a plump appearance.
To get you started on your cactus adventures, we have put together our top 8 essential cactus care tips for beginners. Alternatively, you can read our article on how to take care of small cactus if you are in need of mini cactus care!
Essential cactus care tips for beginners
Most of you will probably choose to purchase a mini cactus as they are cute and can be placed indoors or outside the home. Regardless of the size of the plant you choose to buy, the fundamental cactus growing tips will stay the same.
Choose the best pots for cactus
To begin our cactus care tips for beginners, we’ll start at the beginning, which is choosing the best pots for cactus. You might be as surprised as us when we found out that actually, a lot of thought needs to go into the type of pot you decide to plant your cactus in. Primarily, you’ll want to think about a couple of things; material and size. Once you have that sorted, then you can start to think about the aesthetics.
So, what material pot is best for a cactus?
Clay pots are always a winner purely because they drain quickly. Cactuses absorb water, but the water needs to be able to drain so that it doesn’t damage the roots and rot them. Clay pots also make it easy to determine the moisture level of the soil as once the water is absorbed, the pot will turn a darker color. Clay planters are often cheaper than others too and come in a variety of colors to match your home decor.
Wooden planters are perfect if you have an outdoor cactus as they can hold water for long periods of time and don’t weather in bad temperatures. They also look great in gardens. The only negative about a wooden cactus pot is that sometimes they can be prone to rot after a while, which could affect your beautiful cacti. This is easily fixed however by lining your planter with a plastic sheet.
Convenient, cheap, and readily available, plastic pots are a great material to plant your cactus in. Plastic pots come in a variety of colors, patterns, and sizes and look fantastic in the home. They are reusable and tend to last longer than clay and wood pots. The only downside is that if left out in the sun, they can become discolored. We advise only using for indoor plants.
Once you have chosen a suitable material, you can then start thinking about size.
What cactus pot size should I get?
Luckily, when you purchase a cactus, there will usually be a sticker on the side telling you how large a planter you need. The reason they have this is that there should be enough room left in the pot for natural growth.
You don’t want a cactus pot size that’s so small it restricts the roots, but you also don’t want one that’s so big you end up overwatering. As a rule of thumb, the pot you choose should have ¼ of an inch between the main body of the cactus and the end of the rim of the pot. Size and depth should also be considered when choosing a cactus pot, you should allow only a small amount of extra space on each side and around 1 – 2 inches at the bottom for growth. A container too big will also make the roots weak and you will start to notice it droop or shrink, leading you to ask ‘why has my cactus gone floppy?‘ or ‘why is my cactus squishy?‘
Choose the best potting soil for cactus
So you have your planter sorted. Next on our steps of cactus care tips is to choose the best potting soil for your cactus. You are going to need a soil that has excellent drainage, whilst at the same time has all the nutrients it needs.
The best potting soil for cactus will be a blend of porous inorganic material mixed with a lesser amount of fast-drying organic media. The first will ensure drainage, whilst the latter will deliver water and nutrients to the roots when needed. (view source here).
A common soil used for drainage is often sand but you can also substitute this for gravel, grit, or granite. For the organic media, we advise coco coir or peat moss.
If you are not quite feeling up to mixing together your own cactus soil, then there are plenty of nutritious, ready mixed cactus soil that you can buy – just look out for the ingredients we have mentioned above and you should be good to go.
It is also vital you get a well-draining soil or else you may be opening yourself up to pests and infestations.
When to water cactus
Onto cactus care tip number 3, and maybe the most misconceived. Many people believe that you can leave your cactus for months without water and this is just not the case. Even though cacti and succulents are designed to soak up water in their stems and leaves, it doesn’t mean that they will thrive off little water. In fact, it is almost certain that they won’t. Underwatering will cause shriveling, whilst over watering will stump growth or kill your cactus. You need to find a happy medium and avoid doing too little or too much.
Spring and summer
During the warmer seasons (spring and summer), you should water your houseplant weekly. Give your potting soil a good soak and allow the extra water to drain away. Ensure that the soil dries out slightly before rewatering, but you don’t want it to be completely crisp dry. Spring is also when most types of cacti will flower, but how often do cactus bloom?
Autumn and winter
During winter and autumn, you’ll want to give your cactus a rest. Make sure that in between watering, you let the soil completely dry out. This can be anywhere between 2 weeks and a month depending on the environment they are in.
Use the best fertilizer for cactus
Cacti don’t require feeding often but when they do, you’ll want to make sure you are using the best fertilizer for cactus. You will want to use a quarter or half-strength fertilizer as strong fertilizers may cause problems. Make sure it is low-nitrogen and water-soluble.
Your cactus will only need fertilizing in the growing months and even then, should be used sparingly. You should only fertilize your plant either just before the growing season or at the very beginning and will only need to do so once. Fertilizing can help if you are wondering how to make cactus grow faster!
A great cactus care tip is to remember that using too much fertilizer can actually cause more damage than harm, so be careful. Use about one teaspoon of your cactus feeding blend and mix with a gallon of water. Start off slow and if you don’t see results you can always add a touch more fertilizer down the line.
Does a cactus need sunlight?
If you’re wondering ‘does a cactus need sunlight?’, then the answer is yes! Another crucial cactus growing tip. Seeing as most cacti originate from hot desert countries, you will need to ensure your indoor plant is getting enough sunlight it requires for it to grow and bloom. However, too much sunlight can cause sunburn, which will lead to your cactus turning white. You should be frequently rotating your plant if it is placed near a window.
A south-facing window is usually ideal as this will give the cactus the most sunlight. If a cactus doesn’t get enough light then you may encounter some common cactus problems. Often the tell-tale signs will be discoloration. A beautiful deep green cactus will start to turn pale green, whilst the purple, yellow and pink cactus will turn back to plain green. You will also notice odd growth patterns that may look smaller than the rest of the plant. This is known as etiolation. If you notice your cactus turning black, then it could be down to temperature trauma too!
If you really want your cactus to thrive, then you should be looking at around 4 – 6 hours of sunlight a day.
Pests on cactus
Occasionally you might find that your houseplant has been infected with pests. The most common types of pests you will find on your cactus are mealybugs and spider mites. Controlling and eliminating these pests from attacks can be difficult as they are small and hide in places that make them hard to see. They will also often have a cotton type covering to protect them.
So, what cactus care tips are there on protecting your plant from pests?
Mealybugs are quick to spread from plant to plant, so once you have noticed them it is important to act quick on eliminating them for good. They like to feast on the new growths of your cacti and you will spot them in all the nooks and crannies of your plant. They have a white substance and are hard to spot. We can’t be 100% sure of what initially attracts mealybugs on cactus but overwatering and over-fertilizing have an effect for sure.
If you are looking for a natural remedy to get rid of mealybugs then try dabbing the white substance and bugs with a cotton bud covered in denatured alcohol. Do this as often as needed to kill all the bugs and you should be checking around once every three weeks.
On the other hand, a great chemical solution is Imidacloprid. This chemical is effective against mealybugs and is lower in toxicity to animals than other options. You should water your cactus once every few months with Imidacloprid during active growth.
If you have spider mites on cactus, then you will notice that they stunt growth and will damage your cactus by sucking at the plant’s juices. They are tiny little brown insects and from a human eye can look like brown dust. Because they are so small, they are often hard to identify. You will find them in colonies and you will probably notice the small webs they form to protect them from predators before you notice the mite itself.
To get rid of spider mites, you should use a good miticide and follow instructions carefully. If you are looking for a home remedy, then you should try neem oil. As spider mites get underneath the plant, you’ll need to make an effort to do this with the neem oil too.
Although cactuses are low maintenance and don’t need repotting often, it is important that you are aware of when you will need to do so. The most common reason you will need to repot your cactus is for soil replenishment and when you need a bigger pot.
If you’re wondering when to repot cactus, then a great tip is to repot when you see the roots coming out the bottom of its container. Seeing roots means that it is ready for the next size pot. Cactus like to be snug and can live in the same container for years, so ensure you are only going one size up. The best time to repot your cactus is during active growth. If you don’t use fertilizer, then you should be looking at repotting once every 2 years for soil replenishment.
There are so many cactus care tips on how to repot a cactus but one thing to remember for sure is to wear gloves! You don’t want your spike friend to hurt you.
Maybe not a care tip as such, but if you own a cactus plant then propagation should definitely be on your mind! Plant propagation is the act of reproducing through cuttings of your cacti. It’s a great way to grow your collection, whilst saving money.
The great thing about cactus is that it is commonly known that propagating is very easy. Propagating cactus is fairly straightforward and there are a number of different methods you can use including division and cuttings.
Division is great if you only want to reproduce a few plants or if the plant itself has become overcrowded. It is essentially where you divide your current plant by the root ball and repot.
Using cuttings is the most common type of propagation as most succulents root easily from its leaves. Cutting is where a piece of root, stem, or leave is taken from the plant and encouraged to grow under favorable conditions. It is important to let the cutting dry out before replanting. This is popular because it is cheap, effective and you will see results fairly quickly.
Cactus care tips for beginners recap
So there you have the 8 most essential cactus care tips for beginners. I know it may seem like a lot of information but if you follow these rules then your cacti collection will soon grow and thrive into something beautiful. Cactus are great beginners’ houseplants because they are low maintenance and are easy to look after. With so many varieties and species available, you’ll be able to find one perfectly suited to the feng shui of your room. To quickly recap, the 8 cactus care tips we have provided you with are:
- Choose the best pots for cactus
- Choose the best potting soil for cactus
- When to water cactus
- Use the best fertilizer for cactus
- Does a cactus need sunlight
- Pests on cactus
- Repotting cactus
I hope that you have found this blog helpful and are now fully prepared to show your cactus the TLC it deserves! We have more helpful content below that will answer all of your cactus and succulent questions and goes into each topic discussed above in a lot more detail. Succulent Care Guide aims to provide quality tips on how to best care for your cactus and succulents.
Can’t find what you’re looking for? Comment on this post any questions or queries you may have and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction. Likewise, if you have any of your own cactus care tips, let us know in the comments! We’re always open to learning new awesome cactus techniques.