Cactus Care: How to Grow Healthy Cactus Indoors?

Although cacti thrive in hostile environments such as deserts. With the right care tactics, you can have healthy plants, in almost every room at your home

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Are you looking to spruce up your indoor space? Growing cacti at your home should be among your top considerations, and here’s why:

  • Cacti have some of the most beautiful blooms and come in different shapes and sizes, offering you plenty of options. 
  • Unlike most indoor plants, these plants need minimal care. 

When growing cacti, the first thing that you have to bear in mind is that there are two varieties of indoor cactus. Each cacti variety needs its own set of care techniques to make it thrive. The two varieties are:

  • Desert cactus
  • Forest cactus

Desert cacti are characterized by spines and can survive harsh desert conditions. Examples here include the saguaro and Opuntia. 

Forest cactus is also known as jungle or tropical cactus. Unlike their desert counterparts, these cacti do not have spines and are not resilient enough to withstand hostile desert environments. 

Examples of forest cacti are thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera truncata), Christmas cacti ((Schlumbergera x buckleyi) and Easter cacti (Hatiora gaertneri). 

As much as these two varieties fall under cactus, they both need different conditions to survive.

How to grow healthy cactus At your home

When growing either desert or forest cactus, you’ll either have to choose between the following options:

  • Growing your cactus from a seed
  • Buying a seedling from your local cactus store
  • Propagating your cactus from a pup
  • Root division

The seed method

You can also choose to buy your cactus seeds from a store or harvest them from an existing cactus fruit. While acquiring cactus seed from an existing plant is cheaper, these might require little more work than store-bought ones. 

Store-bought seeds are already pre-packaged. If you want to acquire your own seeds from a plant, look for brightly colored-offshoots on fruits that usually bear flowers. 

Remove your pods from the fruit when they are still a little damp to touch. Next, slice off the top and sides of your pods carefully using a knife to expose the seeds.  

Next, scrape off the seed from the pods using the blunt side of the knife. Finally, plant the seed in a shallow container, and ensure that you plant them on top, rather than burying them. 

Ensure that your soil is high drainage, and doesn’t allow the water to stand for long. Use a plastic wrap to cover the top of your container and place your container on a window. If the sun’s too hot, only expose them for a few hours, then put them under shade for the rest of the day.

Seedling Method

There are plenty of plant stores that sell cactus seedlings. 

If you choose to go this route, avoid planting your seedling underneath the soil and instead plant it a little below the soil surface. 

Always water your seedlings from underneath. Watering your seedling from underneath requires you to place the seed flat on a tray. Next, flood the tray with water, helping your seed soak up water from the bottom.

Ensure that the soil stays moist, but shouldn’t stand for too long as this will promote rotting. The number one reason why water would stand for too long is due to poor soil choice. We’ll discuss soil how to mix your cactus soil in a bit. 

Lighting is very important for seedlings. A window sill will do, but be careful not to scorch them. Another option is to use artificial lighting.

If you plan to use artificial lighting, be careful to expose them to the light for between 8 to 14 hours.  A simple way to do this is to switch the light on when you wake up and switch them off a night before going to bed. 

During this period, look out for the following signs, as they will indicate that your seedling is in trouble

  • Black spots which indicate a fungi
  • Algae growth from overwatering
  • Thinning seedlings as a result of inadequate lighting
Once your seedlings start to germinate, transfer them to a bigger container to encourage growth

The Cutting Method

Propagating your cactus from a cutting is perhaps the easiest and most common way to grow cactus. All you need to do is cut off the stem of an existing plant. 

Next, place your cutting under then sun, allowing it to form a callous. Soon your cutting will start rooting, eventually growing into cactus. Be careful not to water your plant until you see roots because the cutting will rot. 

Root Division

Root division is yet another easy way to grow your cactus. Ensure that you divide the root as gently as possible to limit trauma.

The best time to carry out the division is during winter. During winter, the plants are dormant; hence there is less interference with their growth.  

 Growing forest cactus indoors

Soil mix

This cactus grows well on rocks (lithophytic) and trees (epiphytic). It’s crucial to note that although the plants grow on trees, they are not parasitic. Therefore, the plants do not acquire their nutrients from the trees and only use the trees as a means of support.

In their forest or tropical habitats, these plants get their nutrients from dead leaves and branches. The leaves often fall in crevices and provide plenty of vitamins and minerals suitable for cactus survival. 

The soil type usually isn’t a big issue for growing most plants. However, when it comes to jungle cactus, it certainly helps to select the right soil if you want to successfully grow the plants indoors. 

If you want your forest cactus to survive indoors, ensure that your soil mimics the natural environment in which these plants thrive as much as possible.  

When choosing the soil, the first thing that you have to focus on is drainage. Your soil needs to easily drain water, to prevent waterlogging, which might make your plant rot and eventually die. 

Look for a container that is large enough for you to mix your ingredients. An example of suitable containers is a wheelbarrow. 

For consistency, use a measuring device to ensure that you get the right proportions. Use a small shovel to mix all your ingredients. 

ensure that your soil mimics the natural environment in which these plants thrive as much as possible

To create a suitable soil mixture to grow your forest cactus, mix the following ingredients;

Potting soil

Avoid soil that has too much forest products such as wood chips or bark because they eventually rot. The products also don’t mix well with other ingredients. 

Pumice

Pumice comprises of large volcanic rocks that are light in weight.  This ingredient is excellent for drainage as it’s porous and airy and allows water to quickly pass through.  If pumice is not available in your area, substitute it with perlite, turface or aquatic plant soil as these have similar features.

Coir

Coir is a fibrous coarse material that comes from shredded coconut. Although the material is organic, it does not compose easily.

Coir is excellent for holding moisture and doesn’t compact after rewetting. Coir might need a bit of loosening before adding it to your soil. Rub it on a mesh to break it into smaller pieces. 

Peat

Peat is a great substitute for coir. Please bear in mind that most potting soils already contain peat, so ensure that you don’t put too much of it in your soil mixture. 

Orchid bark

Orchid bark serves the purpose of aerating your soil. The bark also holds moisture for your soil so that it doesn’t dry out too quickly.  

Oakleaf mold

Oakleaf mold provides nutrients for your plants, just like in the forest or jungle.

The following proportions should work well for your potted cacti;

Mix 25% or potting soil with 25% orchid bark

Next, add 25% peat

Lastly, add 5 coarse gravel, then pearlite

You can play around with the ingredients to find a mixture that works well for your plants. 

It’s crucial to note that orchid bark eventually disintegrates turns into soil. Remember that your potted plant needs only 25% of soil. When the soil starts becoming more than the other ingredients, it will interfere with drainage, and your plants might start rotting.

Therefore, repot your plant every two to three years using a fresh mixture. A good time to repot your plants is also after they bloom. After blooming, your plant will start growing again, and this will require fresh soil, full of nutrients, has aeration and great drainage.  

Watering

Generally, you should water your jungle cactus once a week. Remember that your cactus is used to a humid jungle/forest environment so regular watering is a necessity. 

Always water jungle cactus more during the summer and spring, and taper off during the winter. Twice a week should work well during the hot months and every other week during the cold months. 

Water regularly but be careful not to underwater or overwater

The best indicator that your plants need more water is to check your soil’s top 2 inches. Another indicator of whether your plant needs watering is to check the stem segments. If the segments look dry and shriveled and the soil is dry too, it’s time to water your plant. 

However, if your soil isn’t dry but the stem segments look shriveled, do not water your plant yet. Watering your plant when the soil is too damp will cause your plant to start turning yellow, and eventually rot.  

Lighting

Lighting is essential for the stems, as it makes them healthy. Optimum lighting is also essential for blooming. 

Unlike desert cacti that can take in plenty of direct sunlight, too much light can damage forest cactus. These plants will do well in natural light. However, be careful when it comes to direct sunlight, and ensure they get not more than 5 hours per day. 

A good way to ensure that your plants get sufficient light is to place it in the sun during morning hours, then moving it away when it starts getting hot. 

Generally, the sun starts getting hotter from midday. However, sometimes climate patterns change. The weather might be hot during morning hours and cold in the afternoon. Therefore, be keen on the climate in your area to see the best lighting needs for your plant.

Temperatures

During the warmer seasons like summer, these plants will do well in temperatures of between 55 to 75 degrees. In winter, temperatures of between, 55 and 60 degrees will do. 

Fertilizers

It’s paramount to use a cactus fertilizer. Start fertilizing during summer and spring, when the plants are out of their dormant phase and are growing in size and height. 

Growing desert cactus

Soil mix

It might appear that desert cactus can only grow in sandy soil, but this is not the case. Even desert cactus needs nutrient-rich soil, which also has good drainage and aeration.

Therefore, it’s paramount to mix cactus-friendly ingredients, all of which collectively create the perfect mix for cactus growth. Here, we’ll use most of the jungle ingredients mix, with a few additions like sand and gravel. Some ingredients that are suitable for a perfect cactus mix soil are;

  • Potting soil
  • Pumice
  • Pearlite
  • Peat 
  • Coir
  • Sand
  • Gravel
  • Rocks

Remember that there’s no one size fits all when mixing the ingredients. Experiment with different proportions to find one that works best for you. 

All you have to focus on when finding a good soil mix is aeration, drainage, easy re-wetting, and nutrients. To test the soil, pour some water through it to see how fast it goes through the soil.

If water sits at the top, this soil might retain too much water and harm your plant. If your soil quickly passes water, this is the ideal candidate. 

Watering

Although desert cacti are the more resilient of the two groups, they still need regular watering. Most people assume that desert cacti don’t need water because it primarily grows in the desert.

What people don’t know is that the cactus is only able to survive in deserts where it hardly rains, because of its ability to store water. In addition, cactus also has other adaptations that limit water loss such as stomata only opening at night, lengthy dormant periods and lack of true leaves.

Check the soil every two weeks to assess for dryness. The top two inches should be dry before your water; otherwise, you might be overwatering. 

You might need to water more during the summer because temperatures are high. Weekly or bi-weekly watering is sufficient during the hot months. During winter, it might take longer for the soil to dry up so you might need to water once or twice a month. 

Temperature 

During the summer, spring, and autumn, this plant thrives in temperatures of between 70 and 85 degrees. During winter, the plants can withstand temperatures of between 50 to 60 degrees. 

Lighting

Desert cactus loves light. Keep this plant in an area where it can bask in the sunlight. However, you must be careful not to let the sunlight scorch your plants. 

If you live in an area where it’s impossible for your plants to get enough sunlight, try using fluorescent tubes. Ensure that your tubes are full-spectrum, to ensure that your desert cacti get lighting that is similar to that of natural sunlight.

How do you know whether your plants are getting enough lighting?

If your lighting is insufficient, the plants will start to exhibit a stretchy thin look. 

Keep this plant in an area where it can bask in the sunlight. However, you must be careful not to let the sunlight scorch your plants

Fertilizing

Look for a fertilizer that is specific for cactus. This will give the plant the right nutrients requirements, unlike general fertilizers.

It’s crucial to re-pot both desert and forest cacti when they start growing too big. Pull out your plant gently, being careful not to shake off too much soil, leaving the root ball with sufficient amounts of soil.

Mix your soil in the right proportions depending on your cactus category. Next, plant your cactus in a bigger container.  

What to do when things go wrong

As much as cactus requires little attention from you, it’s not completely self-sufficient. If your plant is starting to look unhealthy, it’s possible to revive it once you identify and fix the problem. 

Common cactus problems and how to fix them

Shriveled or limp cactus

Inadequate watering makes your plant looks shriveled while overwatering gives your plant an abnormal limp look. Depending on the weather you need to water your plants once every week (dry areas/summer) or twice a month (wet or humid climate/ or during winter). 

Overwatering can cause your plant’s roots to rot. If you want to check your roots’ health, gently pull out your plant from the soil. Healthy roots should be white, while rotting roots should be either black, brown or look mushy. 

If left unchecked the rot could spread to other parts of your plant, killing your plant. Save your plant from root rot by scrapping off the rot. To ensure that your plant does not get a re-infection, repot it with fresh soil. 

Sunscald

Too much sunlight is bad for your plant. If your potting container heats up too fast or your plant is on a window sill, this could amplify the amount of heat your plant receives, leading to burns.

The burns could encourage the growth of fungi such as Colletotrichum (Gloeosporium). 

Initially, your plant will have small spots that will later turn brownish. Later, your plant will produce pink spores that will spread to other parts of your plant, destroying it. You can avert this problem by applying a cacti fungicide. Thereafter, avoid subjecting your plants to extreme heat and sunlight.

Insect infestation

Mealybugs can infest your cacti, and often spread fast to other plants in your home within a short period. Since the bugs sap nutrients of your plant, it may have stunted growth, which can be frustrating.

A simple way to get rid of the bugs is to spray them with water from a hose.  You can also visit your local cacti seller for a mealybug insecticide.

If you plan to buy a potted plant from your local cacti shop, inspect it for bugs. Sometimes, bugs start growing in the shops, and your seller can treat your plant before you go home, or give you a bug-free one.  

In conclusion

When growing cactus, it’s paramount to create an environment that will favor your plants. Set up the right soil, lighting, and temperature right from the start, and you will have healthy plants.  If you’re a first-time plant owner, things could go wrong, but fortunately, there are a few simple things that you can do to correct the problems.

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