Cacti are desert plants adapted to survive in arid and semi-arid conditions. In most cases, these areas are low on nutrients. Based on this fact, there is a classic misconception that cactus does not need any fertilizer when grown at home. Nothing could be further from the truth. As much as cactus is known to grow in areas with limited nutrients and water, it needs a little fertilizer to keep it healthier, stronger and better bloomers. However, cactus is notably selective when it comes to fertilization. There are specific characteristics that make up a good choice of fertilizer for cacti.
So, what is the best fertilizer for cacti? While a cactus does not need a specific blend of fertilizer, it requires preferably organic, low on NPK, containing humic acids and beneficial soil microbes like mycorrhizae and probiotics. It should also be slow release and higher in phosphorous than nitrogen.
This article will be looking at the best fertilizer for cacti regarding their characteristics, importance, and how best to apply. It will be looking at the various options available, application frequency, and soil compatibility.
Importance of fertilizer on cactus
As a cacti enthusiast, you would already know that this succulent will thrive with the right temperatures, air, water, and soil, but is that all? Once in a while, you may stumble upon some talk about fertilizer. Does your cactus need fertilizer? This may not be a simple question to answer because while research shows most cacti would survive in the barren deserts, the same cannot be said about indoor or garden cactus. You want your cactus to remain healthy, strong and glowing. This is where the importance of fertilizer comes in.
A good fertilizer is the much-needed confidence booster for your plant to bloom and flower better and deal with other environmental stresses much easily. Cactus fertilizer can be administered by mixing it into the soil, top dressing, or liquid form.
Importance of NPK fertilizer on cactus
Cactus plants need a balanced blend of NPK to help promote the growth of the plant. As such, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous come in handy. Nitrogen helps cactus plants grow healthier and more robust. This means brighter colors and brighter, larger, fuller leaves. This, in turn, prolongs the plant’s life.
Potassium, on the other hand, works best for flowering cactus as it encourages better blooms and eventually improved fruit production. Finally phosphorous helps cactus plants fight diseases and remain healthy throughout their lifetime. Notably, cactus is not affected much by diseases while in its natural habitat, but potted plant tends to be susceptible to diseases and pests.
Balancing the right amount of fertilizer for cactus
Getting the right fertilizer is one thing but understanding the right balance in terms of application is a different ball game altogether. Remember, it is not much about frequency or the amount but more about doing it right.
Succulents are known to hold on to a good amount of dissolved nutrients. As such, the risk of over-fertilization is imminent. Too much in terms of nutrient boost and the plant will grow too quickly, thus leading to some stringy cacti getting weak on the stems. On the other hand, under-fertilization could also mean your cactus run the risk of facing nutrition deficiencies. Based on this, it is advisable that you fully study your cacti type and determine the best way to fertilize for better growth. This may call for the services of an experienced arborist.
Why do cactus prefer organic fertilizer
As already established, a cactus needs fertilizer with lower doses of NPK. Based on this, organic fertilizer will work best because it contains lower doses of NPK. What’s more, nutrients from organic fertilizers stay much longer in the soil. This gives enough time for the fertilizer to work symbiotically with the soil to better feed the plant. Organic fertilizer also offers your cacti some beneficial compounds that can be taken up by the plant much naturally as needed by the plant.
The slow absorption of organic fertilizer by cacti plants means that the plant takes in just the right amounts of nutrients at a time. This prevents the plant from being overwhelmed or chocked as would usually be seen in some cases of chemical fertilizers. What’s more, organic fertilizers encourage the development of living soil microbes that help break down the plant’s nutrients for better absorption.
Importance of Humic Acid, Probiotics and Mycorrhizae in cactus fertilizers
Cactus need simple organic compounds for their nutritional needs. In this regard, humic acid comes in handy to act as chelators that break down minerals into simple organic compounds. This ensures easier availability of such compounds for the nutritional needs of your cactus. Additionally, humic acid also ensures that unwanted toxins in the soil are neutralized and do not get absorbed by the plant.
Probiotics and Mycorrhizae, on the other hand, help ensure that the soil remains ‘alive.’ Over time, it improves the soil’s nutrient content and its ability to keep plant growth for much longer. This symbiotic relationship helps keep the soil improving over time. Considering that cactus live longer, this comes in handy.
However, as a word of caution, do not use fertilizer meant for lawn care on your cactus. As much as they may contain the same composition, these have high nitrogen content that can be detrimental to your cactus. The high nitrogen content speeds up vegetative growth, and this is counterproductive when applied to cactus plants.
Top 6 Best Fertilizers for Your Cacti
1. Compost manure
Compost manure is as natural as Mother Nature can get. Compost manure from grazing animals like goats, sheep, horses, and cows have been proven to be the best fertilizer for cactus. This type of fertilizer is slow to break down and stays longer in the soil thus keeping the plant healthier and more productive for longer.
Compost manure is ideal for outdoor cactus owing to its strong lingering smell. However, it can still work for indoor plants that do not need frequent attention with just the right mix. This fertilizer works by releasing beneficial carbon content, revitalizing the soil composition, and improving aeration for better plant growth.
2. Dr. Earth Premium Gold Pure & Natural Fertilizer
With just the right balance of NPK, Dr. Earth Dr. Earth Premium Gold Pure & Natural Fertilizer proves to be the best option for your cactus. This is especially so in cases where you notice your plants changing color. With a concentration of 10-10-10, the fertilizer works its magic to improve the health of leaves, fight diseases, improve root growth, and encourage better blooms.
When mixing this fertilizer, practice much caution to ensure that it is not too concentrated. Too much of the same, and you run the risk of burning up the roots and eventually killing the plant. For better results, apply this fertilizer by mixing it with water during watering. One teaspoonful of the fertilizer will work with one gallon of water.
3. Organic Worms
Are you looking into going fully organic with your cactus fertilizer? Then it may be time to get yourself some wiggly worms. Organic worms are known to release some nutrient-rich waste in the form of castings beneficial to your cactus. These worms can be bred in small containers and fed on vegetable waste.
As these earthworms eat away, they, in turn, excrete waste that helps enrich the soil around. With time, they will multiply and release enough casting to help improve the soil’s organic matter. Worms are known to release up to 60 different nutrients that include calcium, carbon, magnesium, nitrogen, and much more. You can apply worm castings by working into the soil, side dressing or top dressing.
Worm castings come in handy to help balance the soil’s pH, thus making it easier for your cacti to absorb all the much-needed nutrients. For better results, ensure that you mix your worm castings with soil during potting.
4. Grow Better Organic Cactus & Succulent Fertilizer
Your cactus needs enough food for an extended period. As such, you need just the right slow-release fertilizer for this cause. Grow Better Organic Cactus & Succulent Fertilizer is the best choice in this case as it takes at least two months to release all its nutrients. This means a longer time for your cactus to receive enough nutrients. This keeps the cactus healthy and productive all through its growth period.
Grow Better Organic Cactus & Succulent Fertilizer works for both indoor and outdoor cactus. What’s more, it blends well with a variety of soil types. You can choose to apply by either adding to your top dressing or mixing it when making your potting soil.
5. Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food
Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food is a liquid-based fertilizer that helps give your cacti a healthy boost. Cactus love liquid fertilizer as it seeps deep into the soil much faster to offer the much need nutrition to the thirsty roots. In cases where your cacti portray signs of being a little under the weather, Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food steps in to improve its nutrient uptake and offer the plant the much-needed strength.
Since the fertilizer comes concentrated, it helps offer an instant boost to weak plants and restores them to their healthy ways in record time. When using Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food, make sure that you read its instructions carefully as the wrong portions could be detrimental to your cactus.
You can choose to apply the fertilizer directly to the soil or, better still, mix it with water and include it in your watering regime. The frequency of application may vary based on the season and weather conditions but once a week is the recommended frequency to help keep the cacti vibrant.
6. Authentic Haven Brand Manure Tea
If you prefer going organic for your fertilizer, then you may be tempted to create your own manure tea. While this may be possible, it may call for enough expertise, time and resources to make it a reality. Based on this fact, you are better off going for a tried and tested option in the name of Authentic Haven Brand Manure Tea. This cactus fertilizer has been expertly balanced to ensure that it works best for your succulents without the risk of burns to the roots.
Preparation for this type of manure is similar to that of your regular cup of tea. Steep your manure tea into some water to help tap into the nutrients. Let it sit in the water for more than 24 hours. The result will be some dark brown water. You can then use this solution on your plants once the soil is dry. The manure tea, just like a teabag, can be used a second time. For the second time, however, you will need to steep a while longer than the first.
The best option for manure tea comes from horse and cow manure. This is closely followed by goat and sheep manure. However, manure from pigs and chicken may not be ideal, thanks to their high nitrogen concentration. You may opt to make your own fresh-cured manure or go for the ready-made manure tea bags.
Best Season to apply cactus fertilizer
You may have the best fertilizer, but if you do not understand the right timing for application, this will be all in vain. When planning to fertilize your cactus, keep in mind the weather conditions and growth progress of the cactus. Usually, cacti experience slow growth during the winter, which may not be the best time to apply fertilizer.
Fertilization of cactus should be done when the plant is growing actively. Doing so will help deter toxic salts from multiplying in the soil. This is, preferably, during the summer months. However, if you are using true organic fertilizer like compost manure, you may need to worry too much about timing as these can remain in the soil much longer and will only be sued by the plant when the need arises.
How ideal are chemical fertilizers for cactus?
While chemical or inorganic fertilizer could be an option when seeking cactus fertilizer, its application can be tricky. To start with, chemical fertilizers are made from fast-acting, unnatural elements, and procedures. This gives it the ability to feed the plant directly with high supplement concentration for rapid nutrition. While this can be advantageous to other types of plants, the same cannot be said about cactus. Being a plant adapted for arid areas with limited nutrients, cactus is not accustomed to rapid intake of nutrients. As such, inorganic fertilizer may lead to the plant getting overwhelmed and shocked.
If you have to use chemical fertilizers for cactus, it is recommended that you dilute the same to the right proportions. The dilution ratio may differ depending on the type of soil, size and type of cactus in question. As such, you may need the services of an experienced arborist to complete this feat.
Consideration when using cactus fertilizer
Cacti and succulents, in general, are specific on the type of fertilizer and soil needed to remain healthy and flourishing. However, you would also appreciate the fact that this specification may differ from species to species. For better fertilization, it is important to keep in mind the following factors in relation to soil and type of fertilizer:
Well-draining – For success in your fertilization endeavor, it is prudent to make sure the soil in question is well-draining. When potting your cactus, ensure that the potting mix contains lighter material like gravel, sand, and such other small but hard matter. These are well suited for cactus since they are not tightly packed and thus allow room for both water and fertilizer to filter through and feed the plant in the right portions. In the case of excess water, the soil can easily drain off to avoid cases of root rot.
Balanced nutrition – since cactus requires a balanced combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, it is crucial to ensure the fertilizer you go for adhere to the right ratios. Nitrogen is the most important element among these, and so getting fertilizer and soil with just the right amounts of nitrogen is a win for cactus growth.
Neutral pH – Soil pH is an important factor when determining the right fertilizer for your cactus. Ensure that your potting mix has a neutral pH. This should be anywhere between 6 and 8 on the pH scale.
Cactus is one of the most resilient plants that can withstand the harshest of weather. This makes them low maintenance even when grown at home. This is especially so in terms of watering and fertilization. Cactus does not need a specific blend of fertilizer but will thrive best on organic fertilizer made with low NPK. While chemical fertilizer can still be used on cactus, it is not recommended if you do not understand the right proportions, thanks to its high concentration of NPK.