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What You Need to Know About Growing Cactus VS Growing Succulents

I have been a long time enthusiast of gardening and plants, and grow many different types of plants in my home.

What You Need To Know About Growing Cactus

Some cactus have the most beautiful fragrant flowers.

Some cactus have the most beautiful fragrant flowers.

What Is The 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. They 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 but cactus plants are only found on the American continent.

How To Grow Cactus

Cactus plants are very versatile and can make a wonderful addition to any outdoor 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 some cactus which are easier to grow than others.

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

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

Watering Cactus In The Garden

Even though you may not initially think so, water is important in a cactus garden. Cactus plants absorb water in many clever ways. 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 watering 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 overwater the plan.t Too much water will cause the cactus to rot or it may attract pests so do be careful.

Examples Of Cactus And Succulents In Containers

Cactus and succulents growing in containers. Aloe Vera to the left, a flowering Gymnocalycium and Echeveria  - an easy to grow succulent.

Cactus and succulents growing in containers. Aloe Vera to the left, a flowering Gymnocalycium and Echeveria - an easy to grow succulent.

How To Plant Cactus

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 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 can.

Plastic pots are not suitable for growing cactus. They retain more water and this is something cactus are not to keen on. Terracotta pots are a much better option.

What Kind Of Compost Should I Plant My Container Cactus In?

Yes, the compost you choose really does matter. Drainage is important. Although you can mix up your own compost mix, I always buy an already mixed compost. Hoffman produces one of the best compost for growing both cactus and succulents. I have always found their Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix provides excellent drainage with no need to add extra grit.

The Best Fertilizer For Cactus

I make my own fertilizer using the water from my steamer. But, every so often, I am asked to take in rescue cactus. When I feel my cactus need a nutritional boost, I have a packet of Earthboost on standby. This is a great natural alternative for container-grown cactus and I find it encourages flowering.

You can buy both on Amazon. Later on in this article, I will give you a guide to the best essentials for growing both cactus and succulents.

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Flowering Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

The most popular cactus grown in homes is the Christmas Cactus. They come in a range of colors. Popular colors include pink and red, but you will also find them in white and orange. They are easy to propagate from cuttings.

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

Christmas cactus plants don't mind a little excursion to the garden during the summer but it is best to keep them in their pot. Once summer is over, it is time to repot, feed, and place the plant back in its favorite position. Christmas cactus don't like it too warm. Never place above or near a radiator.

General Cactus Care

Like in all other gardens, good plant hygiene is important in the cactus garden. When creating a cactus garden, remember to include easy access to the plants for general maintenance tasks.

Cactus plants do not like being covered. 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.

Five Easy Cactus For Beginners

Top row from the left Echinerous, Gymnocalycium in bud, Mammillaria. Bottom row from the left Opuntia andd Rebutia

Top row from the left Echinerous, Gymnocalycium in bud, Mammillaria. Bottom row from the left Opuntia andd Rebutia

Five Easy Starter Cactus You Should Grow

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 and showcases the diversity of cactus plants

Rebutia Cacti

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

This type of cactus is quite slow-growing which make them ideal for a cactus dish garden or growing 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 species apart from the Christmas cactus, you can rely on for annual flowers.

Echinocereus Cacti

Echinocereus Cacti 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 temperatures and require little water. They also flower but not on a regular basis. You can expect purple or pale pink flowers if your Echinocereus cactus is happy in its location in the home.

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 tolerant to both heat and cold. It is slow-growing and a great choice for an outside potted cactus garden during the summer months

Gymnocalycium Cacti - A Scented Cactus

Gymnocalycium is another 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 plant resembling a bush.

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

How To Grow Cactus From Seed

Where Should I Buy My Cactus Plants?

If you can't get cutting from friends, you can buy cactus plants almost anywhere. Stores always sell them, and these days, you can also buy them on Amazon. I was curious about buying cactus plants on Amazon, so I bought some.

As cactus are tolerant, they handle shipping well. The plants I bought are doing great and of excellent quality. They turned up well packaged and disease-free. I would certainly buy cactus plants on Amazon again.

How To Grow Cactus From Seed

Growing cactus from seed is frustrating and can take a long time. However, kids love it, so there is no reason you should not give it a go.

Cactus are vital to wildlife

Many humming birds feed of cactus flowers

Many humming birds feed of cactus flowers

The Final Word On Cactus Gardening

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. It is important to bear in mind the size of your garden and make sure that you do not plant cactus which will outgrow your garden.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Annie Messeri


danny b on October 12, 2018:

when do I take the plants inside for the cold weather?

Annie Messeri (author) from Spain on May 27, 2014:

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.

Annie Messeri (author) from Spain on May 27, 2014:

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.

Crystal Kamm from Indianapolis, IN on May 27, 2014:

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?

RTalloni on May 27, 2014:

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.

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