Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Cacti, which are among the most beautiful of plants even when they arenít in bloom, are perfect for containers. These plants thrive year-round in many homes and apartments. Thriving on neglect, they typically love warm temperatures.
When grown as indoor plants, they only need watering infrequently. You can usually leave them for about seven to ten days while youíre on vacation. They should be fine during this time. As succulents, these plants are able to store water. They rarely die from lack of water.
The stem of the cactus is actually the part which often resembles a leaf in other plants. In addition, the spines are modified leaves. As the spines grow, the plant gradually increases in diameter and height. During this process, the spines also get longer. In addition, new ones appear.
If you are concerned about having spiny plants around children or pets, you may want to grow them in hanging baskets suspended from the ceiling. You could also select the species of cacti that lack spines, or those with harmless spines, such as the holiday cactus.
When selecting the location for an indoor cactus, remember there are two major groups of cacti. These have different light requirements and growing conditions. The jungle type, such as the night-blooming cereus, Christmas
cactus, Easter cactus, rat-tail cactus, queen-of-the-night, and the lobster-claw cactus, require partial shade. Most of these have names that refer to the time of bloom.
The other kind, known as desert cacti, prefers full sun. These can bloom almost any time of the year. But, spring and summer are the usual times.
Cactus flowers are usually bell-shaped or tubular-shaped. These may be several inches in diameter, sometimes much larger than the plant itself. Very eye-catching, these usually appear over a long period, often several months for older plants. Yet, the individual blossoms may last only for a single day.
Never mix the two types of cacti within the same container. The jungle cacti are native to the warm, humid tropics. They need more water than desert cacti.
Indoor cacti may occasionally be bothered by insects. But, this is often not a major problem. Usually mealybugs are the most common kind of pests. In addition, fungus gnats can appear. These resemble small black flies. These insects live in the soil, feeding mostly eat organic matter in the potting soil. However, they can sometimes eat on the plantís roots as well.
The most common disease problem seen in cacti is stem rot. This is usually due to poorly drained soil or overwatering.
Almost any type of container may be used for indoor cacti so long as they have drainage holes. Although clay pots will need watering more frequently than plastic pots, they also provide protection from overwatering. These pots allow moisture to readily evaporate.
For jungle cacti, keep the soil evenly moist. Desert species should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Both kinds of cacti will need slightly more water when they are actively growing and blooming.
Cacti should be kept out of direct drafts, created by fans and air conditioners. Drafts can cause plants to develop brown spots. These plants are usually not bothered with low humidity, which is typical indoors during the winter when heating systems are running.
Although cacti require less fertilizer than other house plants, they need some. Normally, a special formulation for cacti are helpful. For the most part, these are low in nitrogen but high in potassium and phosphorus.
Various forms of fertilizers can be used. These include water soluble as well as slow release ones. Fertilizer should only be used when the plant is actively growing.
Cacti come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flower colors. If you have never tried growing cacti before, start with an easy kind, such as the rat-tail cactus or the orchid cactus. Local garden centers often carry a wide assortment of different cacti that can be grown indoors.
If you are interested in growing the less commonly available ones, you may need to check mail order catalogs or online. These plants are sometimes shipped bare root. Wrapped in wet newspaper, these survive shipping very well.
It isnít hard to repot cacti. With prickly species, this should be done with care to avoid getting injured by the spines. Repotting should be done only when the plant is actively growing, but not flowering. A large, dense root system means the plant has outgrown its pot.
The new pot should be one size larger and deeper. Resist the urge to use a very large pot. With so much soil around its roots, it is easy for us to overwater.
During this process, resist the temptation to pack the new potting soil around the plantís roots. As the plant is watered, the soil will settle into place. Generally, for desert cacti, a special cacti potting soil mix is best. This is designed to give these plants the good drainage they need. For the jungle-type cacti, I just use ordinary soilless mix. This tends to be well drained, and has the nutrients the plants need.