Cactus Plants Care – Complete Houseplants Guide
Floriculture: Production and Care of Cacti
There are a large number of cacti genera that are grown as indoor plants. Some of the more popular cactus plants include Echinocactus, Cereus, Mammillaria, Gymnocalycium, Rhipsalidopsis, Schlumbergera, and Zygocactus.
True cacti have areoles or warts where spines emerge. There are more than 1,500 species of these slow-growing plants. Cacti grow and rest in cycles due to their native habitat in the Western Hemisphere. However, harvesting a native cactus is strictly forbidden.
Grafted cacti can be imported from Japan and Brazil, larger specimens are from Texas and California. Cacti require little care and space and are popular in desert dish gardens. Holiday cacti are a group of tree-dwelling, epiphytic cacti.
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Growth and Development of Cactus Plants
Many growers use gloves, tongs, baskets, and specialized tools for cactus production. Optimum light levels are 5,000 to 8,000 footcandles (FC). The temperature preferred when cacti are actively growing is 75 to 85 degrees F.; when dormant, 45 to 55 degrees F. It is important to use a substrate with low moisture-holding capacity. Use a forgiving mix low in organic matter, and high in amendments that improve porosity, such as coarse sand, perlite, shale, crushed granite, or pumice (volcanic gravel).
In production, maintain some moisture in the substrate at all times during the production cycle. If the substrate dries out, fine feeder roots die, slowing growth. Dormant cacti in winter need watering only every few weeks.
Holiday cacti prefer a peaty mix with 20 to 25 percent sand, 40 percent perlite, and 60 percent peat. They prefer 1,500-3,00fc and a temperature range of 70 to 85 degrees F, although they can survive 40 degrees F. In winter maintain 50 to 60 degrees F for holiday cacti.
During production, leveling, or pinching off leggy growing tips, can be helpful. Cacti have relatively low fertility requirements. Slow-release, coated fertilizers may be used.
Apply 150 ppm N of 20-10-20 soluble fertilizer with each watering. Trace elements do not need to be incorporated into a substrate for cacti. Watch for nutrient deficiencies of iron, evidenced by veinal chlorosis in new growth, and magnesium, evidenced by yellowing or reddening of the older growth.
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Cactus Plants Propagation
Cacti are grown from seeds, cuttings, offsets, and tissue culture. When propagating from cuttings, do not plant; cuttings may be laid on the substrate and secured with pins or stakes. Large cacti are produced from a trunk or large leaf cuttings, which are allowed to air dry away from the direct sun before planting cactus plants.
Rooting is completed in a few weeks. Holiday cacti are grown from two leaf joints in a dry substrate to allow wounds to heal. Two or three cuttings with two joints are planted in 2-inch pots. Avoid watering until a week after planting. The bottom heat of 7- to 75 degrees F. is helpful in cool conditions.
Seeds germinate quickly when grown in 50/50 mixtures of sphagnum peat and sand. Fill the container to the top, sprinkle the seeds onto a substrate, and barely cover. Germination time varies from days to months with an environment. The bottom heat of 70 degrees F. improves germination time. Most varieties need light to germinate. It takes 12 months to finish cacti from seed.
Grafting desert cacti are sometimes practiced, often between different species. Use a sharp, sterile knife. popular methods are the cleft graft, much like a tongue-and-groove joint; and flat and side grafting. Line up the vascular bundles to the two pieces to be grafted and secure with rubber bands, tape, or cactus thorns.
Common problems are rot, caused by excessive watering and an inadequately drained substrate; shriveling if excessively dry and cresting or fasciation – the development of many growing points resulting in a gnarled appearance. A reddish coloring on seedlings can be caused by too much light. Too little light causes seedlings to be pale green and stretch. Low substrate temperatures result in chlorosis.
Sunburned tissue occurs when there is a substantial amount of yellow or white tissue. Edema occurs when cacti are kept in hot, dry conditions, then suddenly cooled off or watered heavily, so use careful irrigation. Ethylene sensitivity causes flower drop and yellowing or shriveling. Christmas cacti may turn blue-grey when kept in a substrate that is too wet or dry or poorly aerated, prevented by drying plants or watering as needed.
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- Drechslera cactivora
Stem rot – Over two to four days, the basal part or upper portion (in some cases) or stem turns yellow or dark green to dark brown.
Leaf and stem spots – Spots appear as soft areas with sunken areas, turning black or tan. The disease is spread by splashed water. Take special care of rooting cuttings.
Appears on areas of cuttings in contact with a potting substrate or in the center of the plant. Water-soaked spots spread rapidly. The pathogen prefers cool nights, so reduces moisture on plants at night.
Cactus Cyst Nematode
Foliage turns brown; growth is stunted; plants wilt. Roots contain tiny, round cysts. To prevent, and raise plants above ground, use nematode-free substrate, pots, and plants.
Cercospora, leaf spot
Tiny, slightly raised, red, or dark green spots appear in lower leaf surfaces. Spots enlarge slowly. To prevent this, use pathogen-free plants; minimize leaf wetting; remove infected plants.
The spots are tan and sunken. Most severe at temperatures 75-91 degrees F.
A blackened, wet slimy spot starts at the substrate line and progresses upwards. Plants wilt and often die during hot months. to prevent, remove, and destroy infected plants; water minimally; avoid splashing, and irrigate early in the day.
Spots are tan and sunken with orange spores. Abscission of the cladophylls above the infected portion can occur in warm and wet conditions. Reduce water applications.
Blackened, sunken lesions form on a plant. Cladophyll abscission is common. Most severe at temperatures 75-91 degrees F.
Phytophthora, stem rot
The plant turns grey and may wilt, stems become rotted at the substrate line, and upper portions of plants collapse. Use pathogen-free plants, pots, and substrate, and avoid overwatering.
Pythium, root rot
Foliage on plants turns a dull grey-green and may wilt, stems rot at the substrate line, upper portions collapse, cladophyll abscission may occur, and roots are darkened and mushy.
Mealybugs, root mealybugs
White cottony masses appear on foliage; plants lose vigor and color.
Check for infestations periodically.
Insecticidal soaps may be helpful.
Larvae feed on flowers.
Cactus Plants Consumer Care
Fertilize with 20-10-20 at 75-100 ppm N once a month. Cacti perform well in several consumer environments.
- Provide as much light as possible.
- Water more frequently during spring and summer.
- In winter, water sparingly.
- Avoid fertilizing dormant cacti.
- Fertilize in spring and summer. repot in March and April. Avoid watering right after planting, usually, allow one to two weeks to avoid root diseases.
- Soak seeds at planting, then maintain moisture. Wear a heavy glove when handling cacti, if glochids, tiny barbed hairs which feel like fiberglass threads attach to the skin, apply cellophane tape to pull them off.
Varieties and Cultivars
- Mammillaria zeilmanniana: “Nipple Cactus”, small growing and free flowering.
- Gymnocalycium mihanovichii – “Chin Cactus”, small growing, colorful body and free flowering.
- Cereus peruvanius – “Column Cacti”, popular for large containers.
- Echinocatus frusonii – “Golden Barrel Cactus”, low growing, popular for medium-sized plants.
- Espostoa lanata – “Peruvian Old Man Cactus”
- Cephalocereus senilis – “Mexican Old Man Cactus”
- Rhipsalidopsis – Christmas Cacti
- Schlumbergera – Thanksgiving Cacti
- Zygocactus – Christmas cacti
Wintering your cactii
It is necessary for winter unless you have the good luck to live in the extreme south of France, to bring your cactii and other succulent plants indoors. Their morphology is adapted to dry conditions and allows them to store a lot of liquid. The liquid stored can be up to 50 to 80% of the weight of the plant! The stored liquid is essential for the survival of the plant in extreme weather conditions and renders it even more sensitive to frost.
Cleaning Before Wintering
From the first sign of autumn chill, stop watering and fertilizing the cactii immediately. Verify each pot to check that there are no parasites on the plants. Look closely around the collar and under the plant to check that there are no scale insects present. Signs of their presence are whitish traces in the form of small concentric circles resembling cotton! Take the time (and patience !) to remove them by hand one by one using a solution of alcohol and oil.
Check that there are no brown stains on your plants. If this is the case on plants with a cylindrical form, treat them with a product that fights against cryptogamic diseases and isolates them.
If blackish stains appear on the leaves of your agaves this means that they contain too much water. Cut the leaves affected, leaving just the “head” if necessary, treat them and keep them in a dry place.
It is best to wait until the soft spring weather to repot your cactii. Inspect the roots and the substratum to find out if the plants have been subject to an underground attack. Root lice are partial to certain kinds of cactii.
A very Dry Winter
If you wish your cacti to flower spectacularly in April, let them relax totally, unwatered in a cool place. A cold greenhouse is ideal, but an unheated or slightly heated bright room will do the job. Most cacti in the wild survive in sub-zero temperatures on conditions that they weren’t rained upon, so temperatures of 10°C or 12°C are quite suitable for them.
In parts of the south of France, it is possible to winter them outdoors providing that they are sheltered from rain and frost, and are kept in a sunny place. These will produce spectacular flowers!
Be careful with plants that are similar to cacti, like the Rhipsalis (mistletoe cactus) and the Epiphyllae, which come from tropical areas and which don’t tolerate temperatures below 6°C.
Once your plants are installed, leave them be. Don’t water them and certainly don’t fertilize them. They will thus pass winter peacefully and hassle-free and will marvel at you with their wonderful flowers when the soft weather comes back around!
Landscaping With Cacti
Landscaping with cacti is a way to adorn your yard with beautiful, exotic plants that require little care or effort to maintain. They thrive under many conditions. Different types of cacti have unique textures and various colors. Many have exotic blooms. There are many shapes and sizes. By combining these different qualities and some imagination and planning you can create a bold, beautiful landscape.
Once they have been established you can virtually leave them alone except for the rare watering in the driest season. Although cacti are usually thought of growing only in the hottest climates, they are actually very resistant to the cold.
Most species are adapted to a dry desert climate. They have developed the ability to store water in their stems so they need very little watering. Using cacti will decrease the amount of water consumption when compared to other types of foliage. This is especially true if you use sand or gravel for mulch. This southwestern style will eliminate the use of grass and make watering pretty much unnecessary. What they cannot tolerate is too much water. If the climate is not arid enough, your cacti will die. They require at least twelve inches of well-draining sandy soil.
Cacti are perfect for potting. This will enable you to move them around and if necessary bring them inside for overwintering.
Types of Cacti Plants
Cactus, for singular or cacti, for plural belong to the plant family Cactaceae. There are over 2000 known species of cacti. The majority are native to North, Central, and South America. Selling cacti has become a big business. They are sold as ornamental plants for homes and gardens.
Barrel cactus varieties all have the appearance of a spiny barrel. They average between four and eight feet tall. They all flower in a circular formation on the top. The flowers range from yellow to red.
Beavertail is spineless and as the name suggests, are shaped like beaver’s tail. Although spineless, it does have sharp, hair-like features that can prick you. It usually grows in clumps that range from one to two feet tall.
Cholla includes about thirty species of cacti. They have thin round stems. They produce a wide variety of flower colors. They do make excellent landscaping plants.
Claret Cup Cactus produces a red, cup-shaped flower. It is a common subject in photography. It is a small, spiny, ribbed-shaped cactus. It attracts a variety of hummingbird species.
Fishhooks get their name from their hook-shaped spines. They are small and grow close to the ground and resemble pincushions.
Hedgehog Cactus is the name given to a group of cacti that grow in clusters of cylinder-shaped stems. They grow to a foot or less. They produce brilliant flowers. They are a popular choice for landscaping.
Ocotillo grows in clusters of long thin branches that can grow twenty-five feet or more. They produce red flowers at the top. They are very drought resistant. They also attract hummingbirds.
Organ Pipe Cactus
Is very large, ribbed, and spiny. They are related to but smaller than the Saguaro Cactus. They bloom at night and are pollinated by bats.
Pin Cushion cacti are small round cacti that resemble a pin cushion. They are able to survive in a variety of habitats.
Prickly Pear cacti
They are cacti found in the United States. They are recognizable by their flat stems and fruiting flowers. They range in size from one to six feet. They also vary in color.
They are the largest in the United States. They can grow over sixty feet high but the average height is twenty feet. They make excellent replacements for trees in a cactus landscape.
Totem Pole cacti
They are extremely tall. They are mostly spineless and grow in small clusters. They are common cacti for landscaping in the Southwest United States.
Many species of cacti grow quite large very quickly. It is important to space them so as to allow room for them when they mature. With all the different shapes, colors, textures, sizes, and other unique characteristics, a cactus landscape can be quite a work of art.