Growing Cacti

Why are cacti popular? 

Cacti are desert plants native to a wide range in North and South America. They come in many different sizes and shapes, but are all highly adapted to growing in dry, hot conditions. Most cacti do not have true leaves and instead have spines, which defend against foragers and reduce water loss. The thick fleshy stems help store water and conduct photosynthesis.

Cacti have become popular for both indoor and outdoor growing because of their easy care nature and interesting, sculptural forms. They grow slowly and are great for small spaces or plant owners who prefer a hands-off approach. Their bold forms work well in a minimalist design and add an exotic feel to any space.

What are some cactus care tips? 

Cacti have shallow, thin, fibrous roots that are adapted to taking up water quickly, but are sensitive to extended contact with moisture. To prevent root diseases, be careful not to overwater these desert plants. When they are actively growing in the summer, you should water them when the top 3 inches of soil feel dry, or about every 2 weeks. As the weather turns cool, their growth will slow, and watering should be reduced to once every 4-6 weeks.

Plant cacti in a well-draining potting mix. I like to use a commercial mix to keep things simple, but you can make your own cactus soil by combining one part potting soil with one part grit, perlite, pumice, or a combination. These plants are light feeders and do not require any added fertilizer in the potting mix. You can feed them a couple times during the growing season, but do so sparingly. A commercial organic cactus food is a good choice to prevent overfeeding. Cacti need 4-6 hours of bright direct light daily to thrive, so set the pot in a sunny window, preferably south facing. Outdoors, plant your cacti in full sun, although cacti can get sunburned, so provide some afternoon shade if you live in a hot climate.

Pro-tip for growing cacti outdoors

Several cacti members grow in the North up to Western Canada and are adapted to cold weather. In my rock garden in Seattle, I planted several different opuntia, or paddle cacti, which can handle more moisture and cold temperatures. During the rainy months, I cover them with inexpensive plastic cloches to make sure they don't melt in the Seattle weather.