plants are excellent plants in the home because they require little
attention. Cacti and succulents naturally store and conserve
and do not need quite as much care as tropical plants in the home.
As house plants, they offer a variety of unusual, often grotesque
shapes, some of natures most colorful flowers and lasting
durability and reliability.
Cacti and succulents represent a diverse
group of plants from desert
and tropical areas throughout the world. So different are many
of these plants that a special knowledge of certain species
necessary. The desert plants belong to four botanical families: Cactaceae (Cactus), Crassulaceae (Orpine), Aizoaceae (Carpet
Weed) and Euphorbiaceae (Spurge). They are frequently
grouped togetherfor display in dish gardens and hanging
Sunlight is the key environmental factor in growing desert
plants in the home. Windows with a southern or western
best location for cacti and succulents. Many (not all) will
thrive under incandescent or fluorescent lights.
is as important to desert plants as to any other houseplant. The
amount of water needed for each pot depends on 1) the time of year,
2) the size of the plant, 3) the type of rooting media and 4) the
size of pot. Overwatering is the principal concern and well-drained
potting soil is essential.
and succulents are dormant during the winter months and watering
levels should be reduced accordingly. During their active growing
periods in spring and summer, desert plants can actually consume
as much water as foliage plants. The watering schedule is introduced
to the plant gradually. The months of October and March are transition
periods--a time when watering is gradually reduced or increased
according to the plants needs for the coming season.
plants thoroughly. A light, shallow soaking is equivalent to no
water. Pots should provide adequate drainage so that roots are not
standing in water. Wick-watering should be avoided as cacti and
succulents need to dry out between waterings. It is easier for desert
plants to survive in dry soils than in wet, waterlogged soils.
and succulents adapt to wide fluctuations of temperature. Exposure
to temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees F for long periods is
not harmful. In fact, many desert plants will initiate flower buds
when grown in a cool, dry, well-lighted room. Some species of cacti
and succulents, however, are not easily forced.
temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees F are suitable to stimulate flower
bud formation. In the Northeast, many hobbyists grow plants along
windowsills. Be careful that night temperatures do not drop below
35 degrees F.
Thanksgiving (Z. truncatus) and Christmas (S. bridgesii)
cacti will bloom during the holiday season if light and temperature
conditions are suitable in the home. In mid-September, plants are
introduced to a short day length of nine hours and night temperatures
between 55 and 65 degrees F. Flower buds will appear after eight
to ten weeks.
and succulents prefer soils which are well-drained and do not have
a high water-holding capacity. Sandy soil mixtures are recommended.
Special cacti soils can be easily prepared as long as all ingredients
are sterilized to guard against soil-borne diseases. A standard
soil mixture for desert plants calls for:
part garden soil
1 part coarse builders sand
1 part peat moss
each 12-quart pail of this mixture add half a cup of bone meal.
Clay pots are preferred, as they allow soils to dry out rapidly
succulents are grown in a different soil mixture. These plants (Epiphyllum,
Rhipsalidopsis, Schlumbergera, Zygocactus) prefer soils that
are higher in organic matter. They do not tolerate dry conditions
as do the many cacti and succulent plants to which they are related.
Soil mixtures for these plants usually contain shredded fir bark
or sphagnum moss.
and succulents are fed monthly with any of several houseplant fertilizers
available at local garden supply stores. The pH of the soil should
be tested periodically, as cacti prefer soils with a high calcium
(lime) content. Soils that are very acid tend to be low in lime.
Agricultural lime can be added to homemade soil mixtures at the
rate of one cupful per bushel.
are very few insect and disease pests that attack desert plants.
Occasionally, though rarely, one of the following three may become
Black Stem Rot -- caused by overwatering and not by any disease
organism. When damage is slight, stem rots will disappear as watering
practices are corrected.
2. Mites -- especially red mites
and spider mites
3. Mealybugs -- injury to most cacti species is slight,
but infections can quickly spread to more susceptible foliage
insect pests can be removed by hand or washed from the plant. Mealybug
is easily controlled with methyl alcohol, applied to the insect
with a cotton swab. If necessary, a multi-purpose pesticide recommended
for house plants may be used to control insect problems. Follow
the label directions closely.
cacti and succulents are easily propagated by seed, division and
grafting. Cuttings should be allowed to dry for one to three days
before placing in the rooting medium. Coarse sand and vermiculite
(sterilized) are common rooting media. During the period of rooting,
cuttings should be kept watered and exposed to indirect light only.
here for tables listing the most popular genera of cacti and succulents.
from Hubert P. Conlon, Cornell Cooperative Extension, 2001