Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
The needs of a cactus depend upon its native habitat. Those originating in jungles need different growing conditions than desert cactus.
Letís look at the essential requirements for growing each kind. Itís simply a matter of duplicating what the plant would have experienced in its native home. Whether youíre growing them as houseplants or outdoors in gardens, these needs remain paramount.
Many of our most popular cacti are jungle species. Take the holiday cactus, such as the Thanksgiving cactus, the Christmas cactus, and the Easter cactus. Some of these are hybrids with the parents being jungle species. However, they will still need jungle-like conditions. Orchid cactus is also in this group. They originated in warm, humid, tropical situations. All of these jungle cactus need similar growing conditions. Being accustomed to growing in full or partial shade under trees, they dislike full sun. There is no winter in the jungle. So they like to be kept more moist year-round than is true for the desert cactus.
The jungle cactus also like a richer soil than the desert species. In addition, the former need a little more fertilizer.
Most gardeners are doubtless familiar with the typical growing conditions found in deserts. There are generally hot days that can alternate with cool nights. Such areas are dry with low humidity. What little precipitation that occurs tends to be of a seasonal nature. That helps to explain why the potting soil of desert cactus should be kept on the dry side. Most of these desert species take a rest period, which is often during the winter. As a result of that, water and fertilizer should be reduced during this time when the plant isnít actively growing.
Though there are a few exceptions, most desert cacti should be watered just enough to keep them from shriveling. For those outdoor gardeners in climates where soils are normally wet during the winter, growing hardy cactus can be a challenge. Such conditions can damage the plants. In the eastern U.S., it often helps to grow the plants in raised beds or elevated spots where excess moisture can drain more readily from the soil.
So far as temperature is concerned, desert cactus vary in their winter hardiness. However, generally most do like somewhat cooler conditions during the winter months.