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Cactus Care

Cacti are so easy to grow and care for! They require much less water and fuss than "foliage" type plants. The most important thing to remember about cacti is that they require BRIGHT LIGHT. Cacti are happiest in a container on your patio or in the ground in your landscaping.

Cacti may be transplanted into CONTAINERS at any time of the year. Use ice or barbecue tongs, or several folds of newspaper to hold the cactus while transplanting. Try not to damage any of the roots. Use a cactus/succulent soil mix, and wait one week after transplanting to water. You don't need to apply any special transplanting solutions (such as B-1) to cacti- they don't shock like foliage plants do. If transplanting June thru August, give the container cactus only 1/2 day's sun the first month.

For TRANSPLANTING CACTI INTO THE GROUND, fall is the very best time in the desert southwest (this is also true of trees and shrubs).This is because the soil is warm but the sun is lessening in intensity- the plant will have all fall and winter to acclimatize itself and establish roots out into the soil before the sun again becomes more intense in the spring. You may also transplant cacti into the ground in early spring as soon as the soil warms up. This is usually late March/early April. I DO NOT recommend planting cacti in the ground in the full sun June thru August. The full intense sun of this period is very hard on newly planted cacti! Transplanting cacti into the ground is easy: you only need to dig a hole as big as the root ball of the plant- cacti are perfectly adapted to most western soils, and break thru difficult types like caliche on their own. Use tongs or newspaper to hold the cactus while transplanting ; for larger plants, use several thicknesses of old cloths like towels, or a piece of old carpet. BEWARE of using gloves- some kinds of cacti will leave spines in the gloves and your gloves will be ruined! Try not to damage any of the plant's roots, and wait one week after transplanting to water. If it has recently rained and the soil is very wet, wait till it dries out to plant the cactus.

A word about RELOCATION OF CACTI IN THE GROUND. It's really not very hard to dig up and move a cactus in your landscaping- the most important thing to remember is that in this process, it is inevitable that you will break some of the plant's roots. And whenever you break the roots on a cactus, you MUST allow them a few days to heal before you replant the cactus. If you do not, you run a high risk of bacteria entering the open wounds in the roots, which will cause a rot to set in, leading to the eventual death of the cactus. To avoid this, after you take the cactus up from it's old location (and be sure to mark the north side of the plant so that you can orient it properly when you re-plant it!), move the cactus to a place in full shade a few days (at least 3) and keep it perfectlt dry. After this healing period re-plant the cactus following the transplanting instructions above. And the cactus will be just fine. PLEASE REMEMBER; Preserve our desert- DON'T dig up native cacti in habitat: it destroys the delicate desert ecosystem, and it's against the law.

WHEN YOU WATER, be sure that you WATER THOROUGHLY. This means that if the plant is in the ground, soak the soil around the plant to the depth of the roots. For cacti in containers, always make sure the water runs out the holes in the bottom of the container. If you want to reduce the amount of water a cactus receives, reduce the frequency of watering, never the amount given! To MAINTAIN your cactus outdoors (to achieve very little growth and minimal flowering), water once a month in winter, once a week in summer. For MAXIMUM GROWTH AND FLOWERING, water once a month in winter, twice a week in summer, and feed once a month March thru September.

FEEDING YOUR CACTI is IMPORTANT, but you don't need any special food. Whatever you feed your other plants or landscaping is fine (Miracle Gro or Osmocote are great). Cacti in the ground also love horse or steer manure.

A little about INDOOR CACTI. Since cacti need the brightest light possible, they really don't do very well inside most homes. Right behind a big bay window (where other plants "cook"), in an atrium or bright entryway are O.K.- on your coffee table with the drapes drawn is not! Water the indoor cactus once a month; year round, and feed twice a year, spring and fall. Unfortunately, the indoor cactus will probably never bloom- just not enough light.

Please remember that these are general instructions- yet all plants are individuals, and adjustments to care must often be made accordingly. For more in-depth information on desert plants and their care, you may want to pay a visit to some of the desert horticulture pages listed on my LINKS page!

Arid Lands, and the Plants That Make Their Homes There: the introduction to the plant pages.
Desert Questions: Answers to some questions you may have about the Sonoran Desert.
Caring for Traditional Herbs in the Desert: Help in raising non-native (but very useful) herbs such as mints, thymes, scented geraniums, and so forth in our desert climate.
Desert Plants: Shrubs; Ocotillos; etc.: Information on caring for drought- tolerant natives and non- natives; perennial wildflowers, too!
The Sonoran Desert and Her Plants: back to the Home Page
TurtleWoman Site Archive: back to the OLD Home Page