Oct 2, 2010

Cacti and Succulent Care

Let me ask you a question: do you love cacti? Are you utterly intrigued by the odd, weird shapes and flowers produced by these plants, but somehow you always kill them? Read below to find several ways to prevent this, and to help your beloved plants thrive!

1 - The most important step to not kill your cacti is this: DO NOT OVERWATER! You may want to water all your plants at the same time, on the very same day. However, this can’t be done with cacti (that is, unless cacti are the only plants you keep) because they typically need much less water than other houseplants.

I've said it before, I'll say it again (and again, and again): Overwatering is the NUMBER ONE cause of houseplant death, particularly cacti!!

Most cacti don’t like a lot of water. The reason for this is that cacti hold water inside their leaves and stems. Over time they use this stored water until it is depleted. If you accidently give your plant too much, the roots may begin to rot, so be careful.

2 - If your plant is very small, only give it enough water to completely cover the top of the soil, about once every 2 weeks or so (when it’s located in a sunny window - read on to learn about how much sunlight cacti needs). This may seem like too little, but don’t worry!The plant will tell you when it needs more water by ‘thinning out’ or wrinkling its leaves. Over time, you will anticipate the plant’s need for water and be able to water it before this occurs.

3 - If it is a larger plant, cover the surface of the soil with water – fully and evenly – until it sinks to the bottom. *Larger plants will need more water than smaller ones, since their size causes them to utilize more water. Make sure the soil is fully saturated. Water these larger plants once every month or so, unless the plant is plump and cold to the touch. This means the plant has sufficient water stored.

4 - Let the soil dry out between waterings! If your plants’ soil feels wet to the touch, don’t give it any water yet. Simply use your index finger to check the moisture in the soil. Place your finger down into the soil itself. Is it wet or dry? This method will help you keep track of your plant’s moisture level.

5 - Make sure your cacti are planted in the right kind of soil. Cactus soils are lighter and contain perlite (little white bits) which help make the soil airier and also allows for greater drainage. The soil usually contains sand as well, further adding to plant drainage. Drainage is VERY important to cacti – they prefer to be left on the drier side (i.e. think desert conditions!)

Regular potting soil will not cut it! It will retain too much water and rot your plants! Taking the extra step to have the right kind of soil will help make all the difference! If you buy a new succulent plant, check the soil. Most of the time, these plants will already be in cactus mix, but it’s a great idea to check just in case.

6 - Mind the plant pot! If you need/want to repot your plant into a decorative container you bought specifically for your new purchase, check the pot to be sure it has a drainage hole. If you leave it in the pot from the store, check for drainage holes!

7 - Give your cacti good sunlight! A western or southern window will do nicely for these houseplants. Cacti need lots of (direct) sunlight to do well, so be sure to put them in a bright, sunny window. If you don’t have a west/south window, put your plants in the brightest location you have! Shaded areas are not good for cacti, so keep this in mind when you go plant shopping! Follow these simple steps, and you'll never suffer another dead cactus ever again!