Cacti may be one of the most underrated and unique plants in the houseplant world. 

Although often confused with succulents, cacti are completely different plants. You can tell them apart quite easily as a cactus has indentations in its stems called areoles where spines protrude.

Originating from desert climates, the cactus is a highly adaptable plant species, giving them the ability to grow in various climate types. They have been found growing in the tropics, as well as on snow-covered mountains such as the Alpines. Their adaptability, however, is not the only thing that makes these spiky plants unique; a cactus can live anywhere from 10 to 200 years if they are in the ideal environment. Here is all you need to know to help your cacti thrive for years to come:

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Light

Seeing as they are from the desert, it is no surprise that cacti love the sun, and they need as much bright indirect, light as you can give them! They even appreciate direct sun if you introduce them slowly to avoid sunburn. The ideal location for a small Cactus pot is on the windowsill of a south-facing window. 

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Water

A Cactus requires more water in the spring, summer, and early fall when it is growing than in the winter. In cool weather, a Cactus can survive on a tablespoon of water a month. Over-watering is the main reason Cacti die – especially during winter months. Misting is not a great method of watering cactus or succulents; often it is better to keep the foliage dry if possible.

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Soil

Because they prefer their soil to stay dry, cacti favor a sandy and porous soil mix. We recommend G&B Palm, Cactuc & Citrus Planting Mix to keep your plant thriving.

Vertical Cacti need pots that have a diameter of about 1/2 the height of the plant. Horizontal Cacti need pots that have a diameter 2″ larger than width of the plant. If the plant starts to topple, place it in a deeper pot. In general, shallow containers are better than very deep ones. Porous containers such as un-glazed terra cotta are ideal since moisture evaporates from the sides of the container helping to keep soil dry. Drainage holes are essential!

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Temperature & Humidity

Unlike many of the popular plants today, cacti prefer to live in low humidity to mimic the desert air. However, they do like to be in higher temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Fertilizer

To help your cactus flourish, make sure to fertilize once a month during the growing season, from March through September. The best fertilizer to use will be high in potassium and low in nitrogen (best if you find a 2-7-7), at about a quarter of the recommended strength.

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Propagation

The best way to propagate a cactus is through plant cuttings. However, you can also propagate cacti by division or by seeds. It is best to propagate during the growing season (March through September).

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Flowering

Under the proper conditions, a Cactus may flower yearly, after a 3-month resting period during the late fall and winter.

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Toxicity

Cacti toxicity is quite low, but it’s best to avoid the spikes which can poke you, your kids, or your pets, and cause irritation.

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Troubleshooting

Strange growth pattern: Is your cactus growing small pieces to the top or side of its current growth? This is usually due to the cactus trying to reach for more light. Move the plant to a brighter spot in your home. If you want to place it in direct sunlight, you will need to slowly introduce it to avoid sunburn.

Note: the strange growth will not go away once it has started. If you do not like the look of it, try cutting that part off.

Leaning to one side: Your cactus is starting to have unbalanced growth. to remedy this, give it a 1/4 turn each month.

Underwatering: Signs of underwatering can be similar to those of overwatering. but if you tend to water your cactus very little, you can assume the issue is underwatering. If this is the case, the cactus will start to pucker and wrinkle when not given enough water.

Overwatering: Similar to underwatering, if a cactus is being overwatered it will begin to pucker and wrinkle. However, if you have overwatered, it may also feel mushy to the touch.

Mealybugs: This pest is a small white bug that will crawl around your cactus (and can move to others in your home). They may also look like small patches of an almost cottony substance.  You can help prevent mealybugs by regularly spraying the cactus with neem oil, a natural pest preventative. If your cactus contracts mealybugs, fill a spray bottle with water, add a little bit of dish soap, and spray on the leaves and stems to drown them, or use neem oil or a commercial houseplant spray such as MiteX and apply as directed on the label.

Spider Mites: If your cacti contracts spider mites (very fine webbing will be seen with close inspection), fill a spray bottle with water, add a little bit of dish soap, and spray directly on the cactus to drown the spider mites or use a commercial houseplant spray such as Neem Oil or MiteX as directed by the label.

Scale: This pest presents with small clusters of small, round, gray bumps. You will need to start by scraping the bumps off with a brush or other tool while trying not to damage the cactus. After they have been scraped off, you will want to spray with neem oil and apply as directed on the label. 

The wonderful thing about cacti is how unique each and every one of them is. Grab a small 2-4 inch baby or an even larger 10-inch cactus to add a whimsical, yet elegant touch to your home and plant collection.

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