Cacti & Succulents
Many people tend to think that cacti and succulents are too difficult to care for and decide against even buying them. As it turns out, many people are simply caring for them too much or too often. Cacti and succulents will do quite well under the same conditions, which would be considered neglect with other plants.
The most common problem people have with cacti and succulent plants is over watering. They are ‘water storing’ plants and will do better with less water than they will with more. Water cacti and succulents thoroughly and allow them to dry out completely between watering. If you are not sure if the soil is completely dried out, it is useful to stick your finger in the soil (1” or so if necessary) to see if the soil is dry. Many plants will be potted with a sand or grit topping, be sure to check the soil for moisture, not just the topping. If you are still not sure and think it may be too moist, don’t water it! Over watering can lead to disease and rot and will kill your cactus and succulent plants!
Cacti and succulent plants love bright sun and will do quite well on a windowsill or on a porch. Direct sun and light are not the same! Succulent plants need light, but they grow better if they don’t cook in the midday sun. There are some species however, that will do better in the shade, or partly sunny places. These include some species of haworthias and aloes. If you think your plant is being dried out or damages from the direct sun, move it to a less bright location. If you have a plant in a location where there is little or no sunlight and notice it is stretching, it is a good idea to move it into a bright location.
Cacti and succulent plants can survive a wide range of temperatures, but it is preferable that they are kept in a warm bright location for the best results and the most beautiful color. There are some species of cacti that are actually ‘winter hardy’ and can survive in temperatures well below freezing. If you are not sure that your plant is winter hardy, do not attempt to leave it in the cold! Most species of cacti and succulent plants will do well in a location where the temperature ranges from 40 to 95 degrees.
Succulents do not like stagnant air. Provide good air circulation for your plants.
Too much fertilizer can be worse than none at all. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer at about 1/2 to 1/4 the recommended rate.
Other succulents are more complicated. Many do not adjust their active periods because they are growing in a different hemisphere than their native land. You need to learn the winter growers from the spring to summer growers and treat accordingly.
What is the best soil for cactus and other succulents? Most commercial potting soils are too rich in fresh organic matter for these plants. The most important factor in choosing a planting medium is that it allows food, water and air to get to the roots and is porous enough to let water drain through. Many growers use a mix of a low peat planter mix and pumice (50/50). Sand, small pebbles and vermiculite are ingredients added by many successful growers and hobbyists. Experiment with different combinations to discover the right combination for your conditions. A top dressing of crushed granite or pea gravel looks good and has benefits as well. It keeps the topsoil from drying out faster than the rest of the soil in the pot, keeps the base of the plant dry and assists in the even distribution of water through the soil.
The most popular pests to cacti and succulent plants are white fly, scale insects and mealy bugs. All of these can be defeated with insecticides. You will want to be careful when buying and using insecticides, many are toxic. Read all manufacturers warnings and instructions before applying.