Here at Gardening Know How we get lots of questions, and our goal is to provide answers to those inquiries to the best of our knowledge. One of the most popular groups of plants features prominently in our readers queries – growing cactus and succulent plants in the home or garden. The following information includes the 10 most commonly asked questions about cacti and succulents.
Succulents are pretty stoic plants but they do occasionally get bugged. Mites, mealybugs and scale are the most common pests of succulents. Overly wet soil may support fungus gnats. Wipe leaves, if possible, and spray with horticultural oil to repel most succulent pests.
Succulents and cacti are notoriously easy to grow from parts of themselves. Simply take a leaf or section of stem and allow it to callus or dry for a few days. Plant the dried end in a cactus mix or homemade soil blend of half sand or grit and half potting soil. The piece of plant should root fairly quickly and become a new plant.
Desert cacti need well-draining, gritty soil, while tropical cacti, such as Christmas cactus, need slightly more nutrients and moisture. Desert cacti soil is available or make your own blend of half sand or grit and half potting soil. Tropical cacti will thrive in purchased potting soil or a mixture of 1 part top soil, 1 part compost and 1 part peat.
Contrary to popular belief, cacti and succulents need rain during their growth period. During active growth, water cactus or succulent plants when your index finger inserted to the second knuckle finds dry soil. Make sure the container has plenty of drainage holes and porous soil. Infrequent watering in winter when they are dormant simulates their wild condition.
Nobody wants to see their prized cactus suddenly begin oozing or becoming mushy. Salvaging a plant that has already begun to break down can be tricky. If there are still sections without the rot, prune away all diseased plant material and practice good care to the remainder. Use sharp, sterile instruments for removal of the damaged bits. Keep the plant on the dry side for a few weeks as the healthy tissue repairs the wounds and recovers.
Many of the taller cacti can be pruned just like a tree. You can do this at any time but during its dormancy is best. Use sharp, sterile tools to remove excess growth. Plant material that has been pruned off can then be allowed to callus and re-planted to start a new cactus. It’s also a good idea to protect yourself from the sharp spines of some cactus varieties be wearing long sleeves and thick gloves.
You may repot cactus at any time of the year but during dormancy is best. Cactus and succulents do not need to be repotted frequently and prefer crowded quarters. A general rule of thumb is to repot every 3 to 5 years. Purchase or make an appropriate potting mix for the variety of cactus or succulent you are growing and keep the plant dry for a week after transplant.
Knowing your plant’s hardiness zone can help decide which plants must come indoors. Desert succulents should be brought indoors in northern to temperate climates. In the south, these plants can persist year around outside except in areas with prolonged freezes. Once indoors, care for succulents in winter is minimal but they do need plenty of light to thrive and little water during this time.
Hardy succulents provide an interesting touch to the landscape. Choose plants such as Sempervivium (hens and chicks), Sedum, Jovibarba, and Rosularia. Each group has numerous cultivars in different shapes, growth habits and colors and they are all hardy outdoor specimens.
Succulents that are native to desert regions generally need at least 8 hours of bright, indirect light, infrequent moisture and have low fertility needs. Feed succulents once per year in late winter to early spring. Reduce water by half in winter when plants are dormant. Repot every 3 to 5 years, using a gritty, well-draining medium.
We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.