A cactus can add a lot to your yard or home. They can add personality to every facet of your life, and there are more than 2,000 species to choose from. They’re also low maintenance, so almost anyone can grow them. But many people are intimidated by the cactus and need some help in learning to plant a cactus.
It can be tough to plant a cactus without getting the prickly spines in your fingers. It can also be a challenge picking the right dirt for the right cactus. Cacti need bright sunlight most of the time, along with the right soil and digging the hole to the right depth.
Read below to find out exactly how to plant a cactus, pain-free. You’ll see the correct soil type to use as well as the conditions cacti need to thrive.
Before you plant your cactus, there are some decisions you will have to make. The first decision facing you is whether you want to plant indoors or outdoors. There are pros and cons to each. Consider the below for indoor cacti.
Benefits of Indoor Cacti
Cacti need a certain type of weather to survive outside. If you don’t live in a dry, hot climate, it may be best to consider planting your cactus inside in a container.
Benefits of owning cacti include:
- Breathing Better – Your cactus will absorb carbon dioxide. That’s a very good thing for you since it will convert that carbon dioxide into oxygen for you to breathe
- Increased Productivity – Cacti improve our concentration and provide a calming effect for the home
- Healing – As well as relieving stress, some cacti, such as agave or aloe vera, have healing properties. Aloe vera treats burns and bruises. Agave can help heal cuts and burns
- Low-maintenance – Cacti can thrive in your home. Just find a sunny window, and you can add a bit of nature to your space.
There are many different beautiful types of indoor cacti, including:
- Christmas Cactus – A Christmas cactus will put off bright pink blooms yearly but requires more watering and a more humid climate
- Moon Cactus – A very bright cactus, but they have very short lifespans compared to other cacti
- Easter Cactus – Very attractive plant that blooms in early spring
Although these are just a few types of cacti that could suit your home well, there are many others to choose from.
Now that you know the benefits and a few types to choose from, it’s time to really think about your planting.
Choosing the Right Soil
If you want your cactus to live a long time and thrive, you need the right type of soil. For any type of cactus, you will need the following.:
- Good Drainage
- Good Aeration
The soil will need to be able to dry quickly after being watered. Cactus roots can deteriorate quickly if left in water.
You can get a potting mix specially made for cacti at any lawn and garden center. These mixes mimic the correct soil a cactus in the wild would normally have. If you don’t want to pick up a commercial mix, you could make your own.
Here are some great tips to have the best soil for your cactus:
- Particle size ingredients should be 1/4 inch big for aeration
- Needs soil with a PH of 5.5 or 6 – get a PH tester
- Use rainwater to keep PH balanced
- Use organic matter like peat moss or decomposed leaves
- Water the soil before planting to allow the organic material to absorb the water
- Add pumice to mix to improve water drainage
The correct soil mixture is critical to your overall cactus health. If you don’t get the soil right, the cactus will not survive very long.
Choosing the Right Container
The most important issue with picking the right container is making sure it has at least one drain hole. Cactus roots don’t need to sit in water and will rot if they do so. Drainage and the right soil will take care of that problem.
There are many different kinds of containers to choose from. Shallow containers are fine for cacti since they have very shallow roots. In fact, you should choose a container just big enough to fit the cactus.
If using a clay pot, increase the size of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots to better the drainage of the containers.
Potting Your Cactus
Once you choose your cactus, soil, and container, it’s time to pot your cactus. Here are some tips to make sure it goes smoothly:
- Get a pair of tongs or thick gardening gloves, so you don’t get pricked by the cactus spines
- After filling the pot about 1/3 full with your soil, center cactus in the container
- Use tongs to hold cactus while you fill in the remaining space with your potting mix
- Leave a little space at the top of the container with water
- Press soil gently down among the roots of the cactus
- Shake the pot a bit to settle the soil
- Try to place the container in a South or East facing window
- Water your cactus
It’s not that difficult to plant a cactus but you do have to be careful to not get stuck on those cactus spines.
If you prefer to plant your cactus outside, you’re going to have to choose a very sunny spot. Location will be everything to help the cactus or cacti thrive. Read below for the best ideas on planting an outdoor cacti garden.
Planting your Outdoor Garden
You will need a dry, hot climate to grow your outdoor cacti. These plants are drought tolerant and don’t need a lot of moisture. You can use cacti to enhance your landscape or you can do a garden completely out of different cacti.
You can also choose to plant your cacti in containers so you can move them inside in the winter. Just remember that some cacti grow very large and may prove impossible to get in during the winter after a certain point. If you do choose containers, try unglazed terra-cotta planters because they’re porous and can whisk away moisture.
You should make sure your cacti have sufficient space in your garden. Cacti can grow very large and some species even grow horizontally so you need to take all that into account and ensure your garden is not over-crowded.
Before you leave the lawn and garden center, check your plant for firmness and to see how thick it is. You will want to choose a thick, firm plant. The thick flesh will let you know if it can store water for a long period of time.
Plant selection is critical when you’re dealing with cacti. Make sure that you choose a cactus designed to grow in your region. Below are some popular types of cacti used in outdoor gardens:
- Beavertail Cactus – A prickly pear cactus with blue-green pads, this grows wider rather than taller and has deep pink blooms
- Golden Barrel Cactus – Can grow up to 4 feet tall and is very good in drought-tolerant areas
- Saguaro – Can be grown indoors or outdoors but can get to a height of over 50 feet when fully grown so best to be transplanted outdoors at some point. One of the most iconic looking cacti in the world
Depending on your region, you can choose the best cactus for your garden. Cacti can be grown in the ground or raised beds. Almost all require little water and a lot of sun.
Picking the Right Soil
Choosing where you plant your cacti outside will be of major importance. Like real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. To make sure you have enough drainage and aeration, you may choose to use a potting mix rather than the soil found naturally in your yard.
You can even make this potting mix at home, using only three items::
- Potting soil
- Coarse sand (like sandbox sand)
- Pumice or Perlite (for good drainage)
Whatever potting mix you use, make sure your cacti has a lot of drainage. You do not want root rot on your cacti so drainage and aeration will be key.
Here’s how to figure out if you need to alter the soil in your yard for your cacti: Dig a hole. Yep, it’s that easy. Dig a hole about a foot deep and fill with water. Wait 30 minutes and check it. If water is still standing in the hole, that soil is not draining well enough and you will need to add rocks or sand to the soil to create better drainage.
Here are some other items you could use to supplement the natural earth in your yard:
- Japanese Hard Akadama – A clay-like material that can be combined with sand for a rich soil mixture. It retains water so don’t use too much
- Pumice – A volcanic and porous rock that’s great for drainage. Leaves a lot of space for air
- Perlite – This retains moisture and drains water well, making it a great fit for cacti
- Vermiculite – Good at soil aeration and water retention
- New Zealand Pine Bark – Can last for years and holds water
- Haydite – Absorbs excess water and slowly releases it back into roots
- Coco Coir – Absorbs excess water and dries out quickly. Rot-resistant
- Sand – Excellent for drainage. Mix with potting mix for better drainage. Use construction-grade sand
Your soil mix will be critical to your growing success. Make sure you match the potting mix with the cacti, as some need more water than others. If you don’t choose the right soil mix, or work the soil to make sure it is correct for your cactus, you will not have a lot of success in growing cacti.
After you mix your soil and put it in your hole, make sure you water the area for about an hour. You want the absorbent materials in your potting mix to absorb all the water it can so it can slowly release it back to the cactus roots after planting.
Planting Instructions for Outdoor Cacti
You will want to plant your cactus when the roots are actively growing, preferably from late spring through summer. You will also want to pick your location, which should be in an area that gets mostly to full sun.
After choosing your location, here are the instructions for planting cacti in your outdoor garden:
- Prepare the soil in your planting area
- Dig a hole that is as deep and 1 1/2 times as wide as the root ball or stem
- Get some tongs or thick gardening gloves to handle cactus
- Set the cactus in the hole so that the north side of the cactus faces north. You may have to ask at the lawn and garden store which side of the cactus is north
- Fill the area around the root ball with potting mix and pat down gently
- Lightly water (remember you should have prepared soil previously with water)
Immediately after planting, you may want to give your cactus some shade until the roots become attached. You can use shade cloth or some type of plant near it that offers temporary shade.
After initially watering, wait at least a week to water again to give the cactus a chance to heal and take root. After that, all you need to do is weed your garden and throw out some occasional fertilizer.
That’s all there is to it. Planting a cactus is easy if you do the prep work right. Choosing the right cactus with the right location and soil is important to your overall success and will mean the difference between a thriving garden and one full of dead cacti.
Growing Cacti From Seeds
You can grow cacti from seeds rather than an already growing plant, but it will take some time since cacti are notoriously slow-growing. Below are the items you’ll need to grow cacti from seedlings:
- Cacti seeds
- Small plastic pots
- Clear plastic bag
- Free-draining compost
Fill the small plastic pot with the compost and gently tamp down on the mix. Scatter cactus seeds on the top of the compost and place a small layer of vermiculite over the seeds and compost, covering completely. Leave on a warm east or south-facing windowsill and cover with a clear plastic bag. Remove the plastic bag and spray with water regularly, to keep the compost moist. In a few weeks, you’ll have your seedlings.
Remember you will have to transplant your seedlings in the following spring to a small terra-cotta pot.
Tips for Growing the Best Cacti
Cacti are incredibly low-maintenance succulents but there are some tricks and tips to get the most out of these plants. Whether you grow inside or outside, consider the below to grow your best succulents ever:
- Always grow in bright light, either inside or outside
- Make sure all cacti have access to direct sunlight
- Wait to water until the top 2 inches of soil are dry
- Don’t underwater cacti, especially during the growing season of spring and early summer
- Do not prune cactus
- Using gloves coated with Nitrile will protect your hands from getting pricked by spines
- Consider layering gloves
- Use a soft grip
- For most cacti, you will need at least 6 months of 70+ Fahrenheit weather
- Do not use large pots for your cacti – they typically grow very slowly
- If grown in a container, you only have to transplant every 3 to 4 years
- If you use fertilizer, it should be specialized for cacti
- There are different potting mixes for tropical cacti than there are from desert cacti – use the correct mix
- When planting a cactus garden outside, mix in some other succulents and aloe to give a professional look
- Adding small pebbles will also give your garden a professional look
These are simple tips and shouldn’t give you much trouble but they can make a big difference in either an indoor or outdoor garden.
The Final Word
Any type of cacti will be a great addition to your garden. They’re easy to grow and easy to maintain. The main problem cacti have is that most people either over or under-water them.
Other than watering, the main items you’ll have to remember are the type of soil to use and the location of your cacti. Remember that cacti need full sun and little water. Watering two or three times a week for an outdoor garden and once or twice a week for an indoor cactus should be sufficient.
Being so low-maintenance, they also make great gifts, as it can be hard for anyone to completely kill a cactus. Whichever cactus you choose for your garden, remember not to stress and just enjoy the process. Happy gardening!