Cactus as house plants
One of the downsides of growing houseplants can be keeping the environment humid enough to maintain the health of tropical plants, which often need jungle-like conditions to truly thrive. This is not a problem for cactus, as these desert plants appreciate dry air and average room temperatures.
Although some sun is necessary for cactus health, many species can get by on three hours a day, and supplementary lighting can help specimens living in north-facing windows.
A happy cactus may even surprise you with vibrant blooms, a bonus for plants that already thrill with otherworldly shapes and spiny textures.
The slow growth and easy care requirements of these popular varieties will add charm to mixed container plantings and make elegant standalone specimens as well.
Growing cacti and other succulent plants can be an addictive pastime! Cacti are collectible and are ideal for nice, sunny windowsills as are many of their succulent counterparts.
The desert-dwelling variety of cacti can survive for really long periods of time without rainfall. They get their moisture from dew or mist and store nutrients and moisture in their tissues. The word "succulent" means “juicy.” Succulent plants have leaves or stems that are filled with juices, the stored water and nutrients that allow the plant to grow.
Normally, these leaves have a glossy or leathery appearance, and the texture actually helps protect them from excessive moisture loss. Storing moisture the way they do is what defines cacti as succulents.
What makes a cactus a cactus is that they grow growths, known as areoles. These are cushioned growing points. Spines, flowers and offsets all grow from the areoles.
A lot of succulents resemble cacti in every way except they don't grow spines. This is what makes a succulent a succulent and not a cactus. In all but one genus of cactus, the Pereskia, the plants do not have leaves.
There are a lot of succulent plants that can be grown in your home, and some of them are among the easiest plants to care for. They are actually great plants for beginners, but as with any gardening and houseplant growing, you have to know what you're doing and dealing with in order to do well at growing them.
They are undemanding and will withstand most maltreatment except for overindulgence. Overindulgence accounts for those that are sitting around all dusty on people's windowsills or those that are mushy and rotting from overwatering.
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They need bright light and fresh air, and they need a cool, dry winter rest as well.
Forest cacti tend to trail and have large flowers. This makes them perfect for individual displays in hanging baskets. The desert types have interesting shapes and textures and can be highlighted in a grouped display. Planting a group of succulents or cacti in one larger bowl is very effective.
Larger plants like aloes and agaves look best in a pot of their own. Any large shallow pot can be used as an excellent pot for a cacti or succulent garden. You want to select plants all about the same size with similar care requirements.
These plants all require a lot of light, so make sure the container you select fits near a window. A layer of fine grit over the compost gives an attractive, yet, dry surface for the cacti in the pot. You can place clean pebbles between the plants to increase the desert effect.
Some cacti look attractive in little pots all in a row. The mutant cultivars of Gymnocalycium mihanovichii is great this way because they have different colored heads.
Caring for Succulents and Cacti Plants Most succulents and cacti require a lot of light. They are suitable for the sunniest of spots in your home. If you build some shelves across a sunny window you will be providing them with what they love.
You want to be sure to turn the plants regularly to make sure all sides of the plant get equal sunny exposure. Every garden center has a great collection of cacti and succulents you can grow in your home.
Some cacti, like the forest-growing Schlumbergera x buckleyi (Christmas cactus), are sold as seasonal plants or gift plants in department stores. It's best to buy cacti that are already in flower because it takes years for this to happen.
You should check them over and make sure they are sound with no trace of rot or areas that are shriveled or dry. They should be just the right size for their pot and you should make sure that they are not exposed to drafts when you get them home.
If you purchase desert cacti, make sure they are planted in well-drained compost. They should be well watered with tepid water in spring and summer. However, the compost should be allowed to almost completely dry in winter months, especially if they are in cool conditions.
This allows the cacti to go dormant. During periods of active growth, cacti should be fed about once every three weeks. You can use well-diluted tomato fertilizer for this purpose. Also, desert cacti like temperatures of 50-55 F. (10-13 C.). in the winter. You only need to repot desert cacti when the roots completely fill the pot.
Forest cacti are very different. They usually have beautiful hanging flowers that grow from the tips of segmented stems. These stems look like chains of fleshy leaves.
They grow this way because they've been trained to grow over trees. They are used to shade, but they do need some bright light. They need lime-free, light compost that is well drained and should be misted with tepid, soft water. They can be rested in 50-55 F. (10-13 C.).
Water them moderately and feed them weekly with a weak fertilizer after winter and place them in a room with higher temperatures.
There are 50 or more families of plants that can be considered succulents. They should be watered freely in the summer but only when their compost becomes dry. In the winter, they tolerate temperatures around 50 F. (10 C.).
In the summer you should fertilize with well-diluted fertilizer every few weeks and they prefer fresh air instead of humidity.
Desert cacti, forest cacti and succulents can all be grown together. They make stunning displays for your houseplant collection. They don't take a lot of care, but you still need to know what they like and need.
1. Angel Wings Cactus (Opuntia albispina)
The angel wings cactus is a native of Mexico and is a member of the prickly pear family. This cactus grows as a short, thick shrub with clusters of small pads. On these pads they grow dense clusters of small white hairs. When given enough sun they will blossom with pale yellow flowers followed by red fruits.
The angel wings cactus may grow up to 5 feet wide if given the space but usually won't grow more than 2 feet tall.
2. Barbed Sea Urchin Cactus (Echinopsis ancistrophora)
It grows as a small flattened or spherical ball and will form large clumps when left to grow and propagate over time. They have small, yellowish radial spines that resemble spider legs. These cacti are easy to grow and they flower very willingly. When in bloom, they produce very large flowers of white, yellow, orange, or red.
3. Bishop's Cap Cactus (Astrophytum myriostigma)
As it matures, it may elongate and grow into more of a columnar shape. The bishop's cap is spineless but grows tiny white hair-like scales which protect it from the sun. They can grow up to 3 feet tall and when they bloom they produce glossy yellow flowers followed by hairy, greenish fruits.
4. The blue myrtle cactus (Myrtillocactus geometrizans)
The blue myrtle cactus, native to Mexico and Guatemala, grows in a candelabra-like style with its many bluish-grey stems growing tightly together.
If it has grown mature enough, it may produce white flowers followed by dark purple fruit in the spring. In the wild it may grow up to 15 feet tall but its growth can be controlled in an indoor garden by keeping it in a smaller container.
5. Bunny Ears Cactus (Opuntia microdasys)
The bunny ears cactus is native to Mexico and is closely related to the angel wings cactus. This cactus often grows two pads that look very much like bunny ears, hence the name. They are covered in small, whitish brown hairs that can be quite prickly to the touch, so be sure to handle these guys with care.
In the summer they produce yellow flowers followed by purple fruits if they've been provided with ample sunlight throughout the season.
6. Chin Cactus (Gymnocalycium baldianum)
Chin Cactus also known as the spider-cactus or dwarf chin cactus, is an Argentina native. These cacti stay quite small, usually not growing more than 6 inches tall. It grows in a spherical shape with thick, vertical ribs and produces curved, bristle-like spines which are somewhat reminiscent of spider legs.
It produces large pink or red flowers followed by green fruits.
7. Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi)
The Christmas cactus blooms usually right around Christmas time, hence its festive name. The best cactus for indoors around the holidays perhaps, this cactus grows its stems upward at first and they later droop down over the edges of the pot as they grow longer.
It does not have any spines or true leaves but the stems grow as flat, leaf-like segments in long, trailing tendrils. When it's time for these guys to bloom, they produce trumpet shaped flowers that may be pink or red but could be seen as a variety of different colors in the many different cultivars of this plant.
8. Easter Cactus (Hatiora gaertneri)
The Easter cactus, or whitsun cactus, is a native of Brazil. Their flattened, segmented stems grow very similar to the Christmas cactus and they too begin to droop and trail and they grow longer. The flowers of this cacti are often open up into a funnel shape when they bloom in the late winter or early spring.
9. Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
The golden barrel cactus, also known as the golden ball or mother-in-law's cushion, is native to Mexico. They grow as a large, spherical globe and may reach up to 5 feet high in the wild.
This cactus produces many long, straight yellow spines that give the cactus a bit of a golden glow. They love sun and require only very small amounts of water in order to thrive.
10. Golden Rat Tail (Cleistocactus winteri)
The golden rat tail cactus gets its name from its long, furry looking stems which grow in large mounds. These long, thin stems may grow up to 40 inches long but only about 1 inch wide. They're covered in bristly yellow spines that give the cactus it's furry golden appearance.
The golden rat tail will freely flower in the spring and summer, producing orange or pink flowers that grow up to 2 inches wide.
11. Golden Torch (Echinopsis spachiana)
The golden torch, also known as the torch cactus or golden column, is native to South America. It grows in a columnar shape and may grow up to 7 feet high with the branch thickness reaching only about 2 inches in diameter.
These tall, thin cacti can produce large, white flowers that may grow up to 6 inches wide and will bloom only at night.
12 Kingcup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)
The kingcup cactus, also known as caretcup and Mojave mound cactus, is a type of hedgehog cactus native to Mexico and the United States. This cactus grows in dense clumps with many cylindrical stems that often are covered in long, bristly spines.
When in bloom, they produce stunning red and orangish-red flowers that grow up to 3-4 inches wide.
13 Moon Cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii)
The moon cactus is a very interesting and unique type of cactus. The cacti are developed as mutants that produce absolutely no chlorophyll, thereby causing their stems to show unusual shades of pigmentation, such as red, pink, yellow, and orange.
Because they produce no chlorophyll, these cacti must be grafted onto another cactus that does produce chlorophyll in order to be able to photosynthesize and survive. They produce small, pink flowers in late spring to early summer. Their beautiful colors make this one of the best cactus for indoors.
14. Old Lady Cactus (Mammillaria hahniana)
The old lady cactus is a native of Mexico and it gets its name from the long, furry white hairs it produces. These cacti are an adorable type of pincushion cactus that grows in small clusters of spherical globes.
When in bloom, they produce small pink flowers that grow in a circular pattern around the top of the cactus, creating the appearance of a crown or a halo atop a head.
15. Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)
Native to eastern Mexico, the old man cactus grows a similar type of fuzzy white hair to the old lady cactus, which can help to protect this cactus from the sun. The thin hair-like spines on the old man cactus cactus can grow quite long, giving the appearance of a head of billowy white hair.
The population of these cacti are diminishing in the wild but thanks to their popularity as houseplants and their widespread commercial cultivation, the wild populations are under less strain. When these cacti are in bloom they produce thick pink flowers and may, on rare occasions, produce fruit.
16. Rat Tail Cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis)
The rat tail cactus, similar to the golden rat tail cactus, produces long, thick stems that may grow up to 4 feet long.
They produce gorgeous magenta flowers which have traditionally been used in medicines for heart problems. The cacti are fast growing and make an excellent choice for any hanging baskets or high ledge.
17. Star Cactus (Astrophytum asteria)
The star cactus, also known as the sea urchin cactus or sand dollar cactus, is native to Mexico and the southern United States. They will only grow to be about 2 inches high and 6 inches wide, making them very suitable for houseplants.
Their small, rounded body is segmented into 7-10 ribs that feature furry areoles down the middle of each rib. Large red or yellow flowers may bloom from this cactus in the spring and green or pink fruits may follow.
18. Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)
The queen of the night, also known as the dutchman's pipe cactus, is a native to Mexico and regions of Central and South America.
The queen of the night gets its name from its large, elusive white flowers that will only bloom on rare occasions and only at night, usually wilting before sunrise.
Using slightly acidic soil and providing it with plenty of bright, indirect light will encourage this cacti to produce its amazing flowers.
Cacti are an incredibly diverse and beautiful type of plant. They can look so intimidating with their sharp spines or so delicate when in bloom with their gorgeous desert flowers. Some types can fit on a tiny windowsill while others can grow up to 60 feet high. A room or garden with multiple different species of varying heights and colors can create a truly stunning visual display.