When Should I Fertilize My Cactus?

Just like any other plant, cacti need nutrients to help them grow and thrive. While they can get some of the nutrients they need from the potting mix; fertilizer will help them grow fast and bloom beautifully

A significant number of gardeners out there often think that cacti plants don’t need fertilizer. However, that is not the case. Just like any other plant, cacti need nutrients to help them grow and thrive. While they can get some of the nutrients they need from the potting mix; commercial fertilizer will help them grow fast and bloom beautifully.

So, when should I fertilize my cactus? The best time to feed your succulent is during early spring just before the growing season kicks in. But, if you are well organized, consider setting up a schedule that allows fertilizing your plant two or three times per year; in spring, summer, and fall. Be careful not to feed your plant with fertilizer that is too strong because the effects can be devastating. Most cacti species will appreciate fertilizer that is high in phosphorus than nitrogen but diluted to its half or quarter strength. A 5-10-5 (NPK) solution usually works well in most situations.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about feeding your cactus plant. We discuss essential tips that will help you take care of your plant in the best possible way to help you achieve success.

Cacti Fertilizer Needs

Alongside soil, watering, and light, cacti plants fertilizer needs are quite different from other plants. In the natural conditions where these plants grow, feeding is limited due to the inadequate availability of nutrients. Therefore, they have developed a coping mechanism of how to survive on limited nutrients.

You must stick to this principle to avoid hurting your plant with an excessive supply of nutrients. Generally, cacti plants don’t require heavy fertilization. In fact, plant experts say that if you want to achieve better results, strive to replicate the natural growing conditions of the plant.

To get the best out of your plant, consider giving it multiple small feedings instead of one gigantic flood of fertilizer.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Feed Your Cactus?

Cacti plants require fertilizer during the active growing season more than any other time. In most cases, the active growing season starts in spring and stretches to early fall. Therefore, you need to come up with a feeding schedule that focuses on fertilizing your plant during this time.

Some gardeners prefer using a time-release feeding mechanism that will automatically feed the cactus for relatively long periods, such as three months, to make sure they do not miss feeding the plant during the peak time.

The primary objective here is to ensure you provide the nutrients when the plant needs them. Keep in mind that most cacti plants wake up from dormancy in spring, and this is the time you will start to notice new growth.

If you are a beginner, it might take you some time before you establish an appropriate feeding schedule for your plant. Do not be in a rush to do things. Start small and improve with time. If you have a plant that grows in winter, make sure you fertilize it at that time.

A soil on the gravel.
Do not be in a rush to fertilize, start small and improve with time

How Often Do You Need to Fertilize Your Cactus Plant?

Now that you know cacti fertilizer requirements and when to apply the fertilizer, the next thing you need to know is how often you need to do it to achieve better results. However, before you decide how often you need to feed your plant, remember one thing; cacti plants are adapted to growing in soils that are poor in nutrients.

This is the primary reason why these plants tend to grow slowly compared to other plants. Therefore, whatever you do, ensure you stick to this principle as much as you can. Avoid overfeeding at all costs because it will only cause more harm than good.

While you can fertilize your plant as often as you want, most plants will generally be fine with one feeding session each year.

Proper and regular fertilization speeds up cacti growth, and that is what you need. Some gardeners with a huge plant collection even prefer mixing a small amount of fertilizer every time they water their plants, and it works fine.

Old lady cactus flowering.
Make an effort to apply fertilizer just before the onset of their growing season.

Generally, it is a good practice to feed your cactus two or three times a year. Make an effort to apply fertilizer just before the onset of their growing season and leave them to rest during the dormancy season.

How to Tell If Your Plant Needs Fertilization

The best way to know when to fertilize your cactus is by observing its growth. When the plant grows fast and healthy, you can skip fertilizer for some time.

However, when it starts showing signs of nutritional deficiency, that’s the perfect time to ring the peak time and give it a dose of fertilizer.

Cacti plants that show signs of nutrient deficiency have pale, yellowish leaves.

If you notice the color and texture of your plant’s foliage changing, it means your cactus needs feeding. Therefore, make sure you apply fertilizer immediately to restore the health of your cactus.

How Much Fertilizer Does Your Cactus Require?

Since most of us purchase general-purpose fertilizer for our cacti plants, you need to adjust the dosage accordingly to meet the needs of your cactus. Most cacti species require less fertilizer than other plant species. Therefore, you will need to dilute the fertilizer accordingly.

If you fertilize regularly (once every month), make sure you are using small amounts of fertilizer- about one tablespoon of fertilizer in three or four gallons of water. 

However, if you only fertilize your plants two or three times in a year, consider using one tablespoon of the fertilizer in one gallon of water.  General recommendations suggest diluting your fertilizer to ½ or ¼ of its strength before you apply it.

Be careful not to use a high concentration of the fertilizer to avoid causing harm to your plants. Plant fertilizer that is not properly diluted is caustic and can cause severe fertilizer burn, which will damage roots and eventually kill your plant.

A soil on hand.
Most cacti species require less fertilizer than other plant species. Therefore, you will need to dilute the fertilizer accordingly

Highly concentrated fertilizer can also cause a sudden change in the pH of water. The ideal pH for most cacti plants and other succulents is around 6.5. When properly diluted, fertilizer cannot impact on water and soil pH.

However, highly concentrated fertilizer can significantly lower the soil and water pH, which is dangerous to the survival of the plant. In case you don’t know how to dilute the fertilizer appropriately, seek help from a plant expert.

Signs That You Are Overfeeding Your Cactus Plant

You should avoid overfeeding your cactus plant by all means. Overfeeding can lead to various plant problems, such as fertilizer burn and root rot.

Some of the common signs that you are overfeeding your cactus include yellowing foliage, wilting leaves, poor growth and development, and brown spots on the stem.

If you suspect your plant is getting too much fertilizer, stop feeding it immediately until the symptoms subside.

Once the symptoms subside, adjust your feeding schedule accordingly and stick to it. Doing this will help you achieve better results without risking the health of your succulent.

Can I Use Mineral Fertilizer to Feed My Cactus?

Mineral fertilizer is a popular choice for many gardeners and farmers because it is readily available, affordable, and easy to apply.

But while mineral fertilizer may be suitable for other plants, you should refrain from using it on cacti since it produces an unbalanced ratio of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Regularly applying mineral fertilizer to your cactus can cause more harm than good because it can cause root burn, eventually leading to your plant’s death.

So, if you plan to feed your cactus, use a balanced liquid, slow-release organic fertilizer, or an all-purpose gardening fertilizer specifically formulated for cacti plants. This will help you achieve better results without risking the health of your succulent.

Remember to dilute the fertilizer appropriately before applying it to your plant. As mentioned earlier, using an undiluted or too-strong solution on your cactus can lead to root burn and other problems.

So, ensure you get the right ratios when preparing the fertilizer solution for your cactus.

Fertilizing Indoor Cacti

Many of us might have discovered the beauty and low-maintenance of growing cacti plants in pots. Potted plants are a welcome beauty to our indoor spaces and will always make you feel better and happy.

While growing cacti plants in containers is more of a low-maintenance option, you still need to feed them regularly to achieve better results.

Golden Barrel cactus flowering.
You should start watering your indoor plants at the start of spring through summer and early fall.

Keep in mind that cacti plants grown in the ground get most of their nutrients from the surrounding soil. The numerous amounts of microorganisms in the soil constantly break down organic matter, adding nutrients to the soil.

However, the potting mix you use in your growing container doesn’t undergo this process. Therefore, potted plants need supplemental nutrients to thrive. The additional nutrients come in the form of fertilizer.

Below is an outline of the essential things you need to keep in mind when feeding your indoor cacti:

  • Consider using a liquid, low-nitrogen, and high-phosphorus fertilizer, or find an appropriate organic fertilizer alternative.
  • If you water your potted cactus regularly (at least twice every month), apply fertilizer at its quarter strength. Don’t go beyond this proportion because it may be dangerous.  If you don’t water your plants regularly, consider using fertilizer at its ½ strength.
  • The best time to apply the fertilizer is when you are watering your plant. Generally, you should start watering your indoor plants at the start of spring through summer and early fall. Do not water your plant during winter unless it is absolutely necessary.

Inducing  Flowering with Fertilizing

If you are like most people, your biggest joy is to see your cactus bloom and beautify your home. Unfortunately, not many people enjoy the privilege of seeing their desert plant flowers. Our bonus fertilizing tip may help you with that problem.

One of the secrets our experts have learned over many years of growing cacti is that proper fertilization can get your plant bloom almost on-demand.

We know how useful this technique can be because some cacti species don’t bloom easily. Some may even take up to 30 years before they start flowering!

The secret to getting your cactus plant flower fast is to add a small amount of dissolved ammonium sulfate to the water. Alternatively, you can dissolve the ammonium sulfate powder into the water directly.

Ammonium sulfate is a specialty plant fertilizer that is hard to find at local garden shops, but you can find it online.

Make sure you apply the ammonium sulfate early in spring when your cactus plant is just coming out of the dormant winter phase. This is the time your plant is starting to prepare for the flowering season that mostly happens in summer.  Therefore, the ammonium sulfate is meant to give it some little head start.

Since you don’t need a lot of ammonium sulfate to do the trick, one bag should be enough to last for years.

A cactus blooming.
The secret to getting your cactus plant flower fast is to add a small amount of dissolved ammonium sulfate to the water

Final Thoughts

Fertilizing your cactus plant shouldn’t be a difficult task. We hope the information you have read in this post provides you with a good headstart you need to do a good job. So, if you are now itching to fertilize your cactus, find a good fertilizer, and get started.

Also, if you have enjoyed reading this post, and you want to share it with your friends, feel free to hit the share button and keep the conversation going.

Last update on 2024-02-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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