Cactus Chic

Ever considered cacti as houseplants? They thrive indoors, need almost no care and are extremely decorative, with their dramatic shapes and spikes.

There is no denying the appeal of cactus. They are striking, unusual plants that mix and match with any contemporary décor. What’s more, they are easy to care for, and don’t mind being neglected or underwatered.

The best place for cactus is a warm, light and airy room, as well as on a sunny windowsill, shelf, or desk. However, a plant should not receive more than four hours of direct sunlight a day. More than that and it could burn.

Winter watering
Cactus plants go dormant in winter and may not need to be watered at all or at most, once every six to eight weeks if the plant is placed in a sunny spot. Make sure the soil is completely dry before watering.

Summer watering
The active growing period for cactus is spring and summer and they need water to encourage new growth and flowers.

However, be careful of overwatering. Cactus store water in their fleshy leaves, stems and roots, and release it as they need it. With too much water, the roots will  rot.

How often to water depends on the temperatures and whether the plant is placed in a sunny spot or just receives bright, indirect light. Generally, plants in summer can be watered once every 10 to 14 days. Let the soil almost dry out before watering. To test, push your finger into the soil.

How to water cactus
The most effective way to water is to drench the cactus until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Let it drain completely. If possible, water in the morning so that the soil can dry out by evening, and the roots won’t sit in cold, wet soil.

Prickly business
The cactus spikes are very much part of the appeal, especially the pincushion types . But if there are small children around, rather opt for less spiky types put them out of reach in hanging pots.

Did you know…that many cactus varieties actually flower? The flowers appear on new growth. To encourage your cactus to flower, over-winter your cactus in a cold, dry and bright room and don’t water it at all. In spring, move it into a sunny spot and start to water it, but sparingly so that it doesn’t rot.

The Moon cactus (Gymnocalycium) has fewer spikes and very colourful tops, usually red or yellow. These aren’t flowers so the colour is there all year round.   

What about repotting?
Cactus bought from a garden centre or as an indoor plant should be planted in the right kind of soil. Because plants grow slowly, they can probably stay in the same pot for about three years, depending, of course, on the size of the pot.

When repotting or making an arrangement of several cactus in a single container, use a potting medium that drains well. Half potting soil, half washed river sand should be adequate. To test the mix, wet it and squeeze it in your hand. If it falls apart, the texture is right. Pots must have drainage holes.

Use thick gloves or wrap a towel around the cactus to protect your hands from the spikes. If you get stuck by a spike remove the large spikes with tweezers and the smaller types using duct tape, putting it on the skin and pulling it off. Very fine spikes can be eased out by rubbing with olive oil.


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