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Everything You Need to Know About Cactus Gardening

Updated on May 27, 2014

Cactus Gardening

Some cactus have the most beautiful fragrant flowers.
Some cactus have the most beautiful fragrant flowers. | Source

Difference Between a Cactus and a Succulent

Cactus or cacti are succulents but here is the thing, not all succulents are cactus.

The Latin word “succulentus” means juice or sap, and refers to the ability of cactus and succulents to store moisture. If you look at a cactus you will find that it has small cushion likes structures which are called areoles. Spines, branches and even flowers grow from the areoles. Succulents do not have these structures.

Succulents can be found in many parts of the world whilst cactus can only be found on the American continent.

Gardening with cactus


Cactus plants are very versatile and can make a wonderful addition to any garden or container garden. They can cope with stifling heat and even with freezing cold temperatures. There are a lot of things to learn about growing cactus and there are some cactus which are easier to grow than others.

Also cactus fit in perfectly with modern lifestyles as they are relatively easy to maintain and do not take up to much time.

Here are some top tips when it comes to growing cactus in a garden or container.

Watering Cactus

A cactus can easily start to rot if you water it too much.
A cactus can easily start to rot if you water it too much. | Source

Watering Cactus

Watering Cactus in the Garden

Even though you may not initially think so, water is important in a cactus garden. Cactus plants have many clever ways in which to absorb water. Some cactus plants even collect their own water, and let it drip down to the soil. Taking the lead from the plant itself, it could be an idea to install a drip watering system in the cactus garden. A drip water system requires a relatively small amount of water but is still highly effective when it comes to watering cactus plants.

Watering Container Grown Cactus

Container grown cactus will need water as well so try to remember to water your prickly friends at least once a week. When watering by hand it is really important to not over water. Too much water will cause the cactus to rot or it may attract pests so do be careful.

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Planting Cactus

Planting Cactus in the Garden

When planting cactus, it is important not to place plants too close together. The root system of a cactus is very spread out and close to the surface. If you place a cactus plant too close to another, you risk stunted growth and poor plant quality. Plants will compete for any water which is available. By placing plants too close together, you also risk damaging the delicate roots. Cactus plants do not have large chunky roots but rather a delicate root system. It is better to place plants a decent distance from each other especially as cactus plants like to spread.

It is often thought that cactus grow in sand but this is not true. Cactus grow in a mixture of sand and soil. Often, they grow in very poor quality soil, but as they grow very slowly, soil quality is not that important.

Planting Cactus in a Container

Container grown cactus do have similar requirements as cactus that grow in a garden. Tall narrow pots do not work so well but rather you should try some wide more shallow pots.

Some cactus can become leggy when grown in tall pots are more likely to suffer rot and other problems. Stick to shallow narrow pots if you.

Plastic pots are not suitable for growing cactus. They retain more water but this is something cactus are not to keen on so terracotta pots are much better.

Cactus with Echeveria and Aloe vera

Cactus like container look great in pots and containers.
Cactus like container look great in pots and containers. | Source

Different Cactus Plants

Low
Medium Height
Tall
 
Gymnocalycium
Cylindropuntia spinosior
Opuntia
 
Mammillaria
Opuntia cacanapa
Neobuxbaumia polylophus
 
Rebutia
Trichocereus aff. candicans
Trichocereus camarguensis
 

Christmas Cactus

The most popular cactus grown in homes is the Christmas Cactus.

They are very tolerant and reward their owners by flowering every year at Christmas.

Christmas cactus don't mind a little excursion to the garden during the summer but it is better to keep them in their pot. Once summer is over, repot, feed and sit back and wait for an abundance of flowers.


Find out how to look after your Christmas Cactus.

Feeding Your Cactus Garden or Container Cactus

There is a lot of debate as to whether plant food should be used in cactus gardens. In nature, cactus do not receive a lot of nutrition, but most of the nutrients are provided by the process of photosynthesizes.

Cactus plants have the ability to store their own nutrition in their fleshy cores. To encourage better and more rapid growth, a potash fertilizer is often used in cactus gardens. Not only does this support a strong root system but potash also encourages flowering.

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus | Source

How to grow cactus from seed

Cactus Hygiene

Like in all other gardens, good plant hygiene is important. When constructing a cactus garden, remember to include easy access to the plants for general maintenance tasks. Cactus plants do not like being covered, so any fallen leaves or other debris should be quickly picked up. A covered cactus plant can suffer rot and fungal growth. Access paths also give visitors a wonderful opportunity to wander in the garden and enjoy everything cactus plants have to offer.

Easy to Grow Cactus – Five Starter Cactus

There are many cactus plants that flower prolifically and there are even cactus varieties that bear fruit. The Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa) provides a profusion of small juicy fruits which are rich in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids. Including them in cactus gardens makes a wonderful contribution to the interest and color and also showcases the diversity of cactus plants

Rebutia Flowering
Rebutia Flowering | Source

Rebutia Cacti

Rebutia cacti are very tolerant. They can be found in Bolivia and Argentina, and they can grow as high up as 12,000 feet.

They are quite slow growing which make them ideal for a cactus dish garden or grown in a small pot. One of the main advantages of a Rebutia cactus is their flowers. They love to flower in abundance and are one of the few cactus apart from the Christmas cactus, you can rely on for annual flowers.

The Echinocereus cactus does not need a lot of water.
The Echinocereus cactus does not need a lot of water. | Source

Echinocereus Cacti


These cactus are native to the Western United States but can also be found in Mexico.

If you live in a centrally heated home this could be the cactus for you as they love warm temperature and require little water. They also flower but not on a regular basis but do expect purple or pale pink flowers if your Echinocereus cactus is happy in its location in the home.

A flowering Mammillaria cactus
A flowering Mammillaria cactus | Source

Mammillaria Cacti

This cactus has the most delicate pink flowers which it loves to send up in random pattern at the top of the cactus. The Mammillaria cactus originates in Mexico and is very tolerant to both heat and cold. It is slow growing and a great choice for an outside potted cactus garden during the summer months.

Buds on a Gymnocalycium
Buds on a Gymnocalycium | Source

Gymnocalycium Cacti

An other low growing South American cactus which would probably prefer to have its own pot. It flowers on a regular basis and may develop a multitude of bulbs in the spring which will turn into vivacious showy flowers on quite long stalks by the middle of summer. They flowers are very fragrant with a sweet smell of honey.

Opuntia Cactus

Be careful when you buy this cactus as you may end up with a very tall cactus bush.

Opuntia cactus originate in the United and the famous Prickly Pear cactus belongs to this genius. They have tendency to grow into a very large plant under the correct conditions, and is one of the few cactus which will flower and produce fruit. They flowers range from red, yellow to dark orange.

Opuntia can quickly become a very large cactus
Opuntia can quickly become a very large cactus | Source

Cactus are vital to wildlife

Many humming birds feed of cactus flowers
Many humming birds feed of cactus flowers | Source

And finally . . .

Everything you need to know about cactus gardens does not end with the cactus plants themselves. It is important to encourage wildlife into your cactus garden. A small pond will encourage birds and insects to visit. Both birds and insects are invaluable in cactus gardens as they are great pollinators.

Finally, don’t forget to plan your cactus garden. They are many different cactus plants which are suitable for gardens, but keep in mind the size of your garden and its location. If your garden is in an exposed windy location, you may not want to plant tall cactus. Some cactus grow very large so it important to bear in mind the size of your garden and make sure that you do not plant cactus which will outgrow your garden.

© 2014 Healthyannie

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    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting and informative. I did not realize that cacti were not found throughout the world! Thoughtful, too. Thanks for adding encouragement to include planning for wildlife in cactus gardens.

    • Crystal Kamm profile image

      Crystal Kamm 3 years ago from Indianapolis, IN

      This is great advice. I absolutely love growing cacti and succulents, and yet I know lots of people have a lot of trouble when it comes to repotting these plants. Do you have any recommendations about soil choices?

    • Healthyannie profile image
      Author

      Healthyannie 3 years ago from Spain

      Thank you for dropping by. Sadly we often forget that cactus are important to wildlife. Many species of humming birds depend on cacti flowers for nectar.

    • Healthyannie profile image
      Author

      Healthyannie 3 years ago from Spain

      Thank you, and yes I do. It is best to make your own and I reply mine in 3 parts soil and one part gritty material. Mix well and reply. It is all about drainage. Terracotta pots work best but they have to be unglazed.

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