All about Cacti
A cactus plant is typically synonymous with prickly surfaces, dry and hot climates, and a plant that should be avoided (‘don’t touch’ comes to mind)- that may be true, but there’s so much more to this plant.
Their prickly surfaces protect them from predators and bring plenty of aesthetic appeal to your home and garden. Contrary to popular belief, they can survive anywhere and everywhere due to their excellent survival skills. They are succulents in nature, which makes them require little care, and are also used economically.
For comic purposes, cactuses are often called by names that relate to its pointed foliage, which includes Spikasaurus Rex, Prickles, Sharpie, Needles, Spike, and Porkupine.
Different types of Cacti
Cactus comprises over 2500 species with approximately 150 genera found in different parts of the world. It is generally split into two kinds: Desert cacti and Forest cacti that are so named because of their native environment and have somewhat different living conditions from each other. Following are the popular cacti types used as houseplants:
- Christmas cactus
- Christmas Cactus
- Angel Wings Cactus
Origin of a Cactus
Cactuses are found in various parts of the world. They are native to most of North and South America. Chile, Argentina, and Mexico also have a great number of species. Although few cactuses (forest cactuses) originate from tropical or subtropical areas, most thrive in dry regions.
How to (generally) take care of Cacti
Because of cactuses being succulents and resilient, people often assume that they need no care- which isn’t true, because like every plant, cactus also needs a little TLC. As long as you know how to nurture it, you’re doing well. But if you don’t, we’ve got you covered!
Being a desert plant, there’s a common misconception that cactus doesn’t need much water to grow. Even though it can hoard moisture in its plant cells to save water for drier climates or drought-like conditions, it certainly cannot live through little water. However, it doesn’t like being drowned in too much water either.
In the growing summer months, water your cactus at least once a week or when the buds begin to show. In the dormant period, water only when the soil is dry to the touch, say the first 2-3 inches. Overwatering can cause root rot and stunt growth, while under watering will lead to shriveling.
As stated earlier, a cactus can survive in any location and can live through almost every harsh condition. In particular, keep in mind the following specifications when deciding where to place your cactus:
- Sunlight exposure: Cactus enjoy the attention from the sun and grow well under bright light. A southern-facing window is ideal for a house cactus. However, don’t put it under the direct sun as it can make the plant orange or yellow.
The optimum light for this plant depends on which type you have; for example, Rhipsalis likes partial shade, Echeveria enjoys bright light, and Christmas cactus can’t stand intense, direct sunlight.
- Soil necessities: A well-drained soil is ideal for a cactus. You can also amend a regular potting soil by adding inorganic agents like perlite to increase its drainage.
- Temperature requirements: During the growth period, desert cactus prefers hot, dry temperatures ranging from 21°C to more than 26°C. Though in winter, they prefer cooler degrees, down to 12°C.
Forest cactus can thrive in a wide temperature range from 12°C to 21°C during the active growing seasons, while in the resting seasons, a colder spell of 10°C is ideal.
- Humidity preferences: Cacti prefers a humidity level between 40%-60%. Anything below this range will be too dry for the plant, although some desert cacti will be fine with it, but it’s better not to take the risk. Daily or weekly misting can help you maintain high moisture levels.
Being a succulent, a cactus is low-maintenance in this regard. Any good houseplant food diluted to half of the recommended strength containing a higher phosphorus concentration than nitrogen is suitable for your cactus. Fertilizing it once or twice a year is enough.
Cactus is an exceptional air-purifier that reduces radiation and eliminates bacteria. It also absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and releases oxygen in return, hence cleansing the air and removing toxins.
Generally, cacti aren’t too poisonous. The only thing one may find detrimental about them is their spiky exterior. Its needles can be painful if perforated to your skin and might even get to the collagen of your skin. It’s also crucial to note that a needle can have bacteria or fungi on its surface that can cause infections in your body.
Propagating a Cactus Plant
With the growing decline in natural habitats of succulents, the need to propagate is becoming more and more crucial for their survival. Not only that, growers and hobbyists find it highly rewarding and engaging to grow their plants through propagation. Like many succulents, cacti can be propagated easily through the following methods:
Stem cuttings: Cuttings are taken from an existing plant, then allowed to sit on a windowsill till the cut surfaces heal. Next, put it in a pot with cactus compost and water thoroughly. Make sure to place it in front of a brightly lit window. The cuttings eventually form roots from the cut end and start growing as a new plant. This method is the most common and easiest route to propagation.
Seed germination: This method requires a lot of time to show results. The seeds can be harvested from cactus’ flowers which are pollinated either by pollination or through self-pollination. Sprinkle the harvested seeds across the top level of the cactus soil in a pot, water them and cover the pot with a plastic container that allows light to filter through.
Once the seedlings grow big enough, transplant them to a different pot. One thing to keep in mind when propagating through seeds is that you’ll need to start with a fair amount of seeds because only a few survive to maturity.