Indoor Cactus: Bringing the Southwest into Your House

Growing cactus in the house is very easy with a little knowledge. Like any other plant, a cactus will have the usual needs of correct soil, correct water and correct sunlight. With these needs met, anyone can have a beautiful cactus garden inside their home instead of outside.

The simple factors needed for keeping a cactus healthy and happy while indoors are very simple. Bright light, well draining soil, and of course, water.

The first factor to think about is light. A cactus will need a lot of sunlight to stay healthy. The most popular area for a cactus is in a south facing windowsill. If this is not possible, then an east or west windowsill can be used. Just keep in mind, that these plants will need as much direct sunlight as they can get, they are desert loving plants and will need to be treated as such, even indoors.

Cactus should be planted in well-draining soil, usually made up of a good amount of sand. A couple characteristics of sand need to be understood when using it as a soil for your cactus. These characteristics will aide when trying to decide when to water the plant. When sand is dry it will be powdery and will not hold together, but when sand is moist, it holds together. When repotting your cactus, a soil mix for cacti can be bought or you can make your own using one part course builder’s sand, one part loam soil and one part peat moss.

The main factor when growing a cactus is watering it. The soil must be allowed to dry out before watering again. When the soil is dry and it is time to water, the root ball must be allowed to soak up the water, so it may take quite a bit of water to actually do a good job. The amount of water needed may depend on the seasons. Cactus will usually use more water in the spring and summer and less in the fall and winter. The reason for this is the difference in the amount of sunlight and heat. Days that are longer and warmer will dry out the soil more than days that are shorter and cooler.

There are three methods of checking to see if your cactus needs water. The first one is to stick your finger in the soil. Try to get your finger down into the pot as far as possible, not just on the top of the pot. If it is dry and crusty, it needs water. The second method is to check the leaves of the cactus. If the leaf is soft and pliable when you touch or squeeze it, it has used the water it has stored and needs more water. This method is easy to use if you are aware of how this cactus feels when at different stages as it uses its stored water. Another method is to stick your finger in the drainage holes, found on the bottom of the pot. If you find the soil is dry here, then there is definitely no moisture left in the soil throughout the pot and it needs to be watered.

Even cactus can have health problems. Generally, these are mealy bugs and scale. Mealy bugs can often be seen, they are a white cottony pest. Scale is harder to see as it is often more camouflages, but knowing where to look usually helps. Scale is usually found around the thorns and may look like part of the plant, but it can easily be scraped off with your thumbnail. These pests can be treated easily by spraying the cactus with oil soap or diluted alcohol. Removing the pests with a scrub brush is also an option. Cactus can also have aphids and spider mites.

Occasionally a cactus will need to be pruned. It may have rotting stalks, or just seems to be getting unruly looking. The problem with pruning a cactus is that they scar easily, so any cuts should be made should angle inward and be out of sight. Another thing to keep in mind is that branches will not grow from where the cut was made and that a cactus grows very slowly. Cactus will generally only grow a few inches a year, but will live for many years.

Cactus are really easy to care for, even down to repotting them. Since they grow very slowly and they actually like to be somewhat pot bound, they do not require much repotting. If your cactus does need to be repotted, April is the best time to do it, just before they begin their summer growth. The main thing to remember when repotting your cactus is to protect yourself and to put it in a pot just a little bit larger than the one you are replacing. After repotting, wait awhile before watering it, several days would be best.

There are several popular cacti varieties to choose from, they are star cactus, golden barrel, old man, bishop’s cap, bunny ears, rat-tail, pincushion, Turk’s cap and ball cactus, just to name a few. The differences between these are size, color, shape and even their flowering habits. If you are in the market for a cactus to put in your house, they can be found at plant shops, garden stores, florists or even grocery and discount stores.

If you already have a cactus and would like more, propagating them can be accomplished by seeds, cuttings, grafting or offsets. Just keep in mind that if you decide to do your own propagating, it takes cactus a long time to grow because they do it so slowly. If you want a larger plant quicker, it may be better to buy one.

One last thing, if your cactus happens to attack you, the needles can be removed with a pair of tweezers or with duct tape.

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