Cactus and Succulent Care:
While succulents are native to arid regions and generally
thrive in poor soils, it does not mean one should not water them or
provide nutrients. How often should you water? There is no answer that
is universally correct. There is a direct relationship between water,
light, temperature, soil conditions and humidity. The higher the light
level and temperature and the less humid the more often watering is
Most cactus and succulents have an active period about 1/3 of the
year. During this active period watering can be frequent and fertilizer
applied. The most active time for most cacti is during the spring and
early parts of summer. As this period passes, it is best to reduce the
frequency of watering as winter approaches. They require very little
water during the cold months. A good watering once a week in hot weather
and once a month in the dormant period is a good point to start as you
learn your plants needs. Another approach is when the soil is completely
dry, water thoroughly then let dry. If in doubt, don’t water.
Too much fertilizer can be worse than none at all. Use a low nitrogen
fertilizer at about ½ to ¼ the recommended rate.
Other succulents are more complicated. Many do not adjust their active
periods because they are growing in a different hemisphere than their
native land. You need to learn the winter growers from the spring to
summer growers and treat accordingly.
What is the best soil for cactus and other succulents? Most commercial
potting soils are too rich in fresh organic matter for these plants.
The most important factor in choosing a planting medium is that it allows
food, water and air to get to the roots and is porous enough to let
water drain through. Many growers use a mix of a low peat planter mix
and pumice (50/50). Sand, small pebbles and vermiculite are ingredients
added by many successful growers and hobbyists. Experiment with different
combinations to discover the right combination for your conditions.
What size pot should I use? In
many cases it is best to under pot rather than over pot, when
potting slower growing or rot prone species.
The more substrate in the pot, the more water that is going
to be stored in the pot; larger pots take longer to dry out which
can lead to potential problems with rot.
Cactus like Cereus, Trichocereus, Stenocereus,
Myrtillocactus, Opuntia are usually suitable for larger pots since
they are not as sensitive. Your substrate mix and local climate play
an important role in this as well.
A top dressing of crushed granite or pea gravel looks good and has benefits
as well. It keeps the topsoil from drying out faster than the rest of
the soil in the pot, keeps the base of the plant dry and assists in
the even distribution of water through the soil.
Direct sun and light are not the same! Succulent plants need light
but they grow better if they don't cook in the midday sun. In the wild
you will find young plants tucked under a bush, tree or something else
that provides filtered light. If new growth on your plant is pale green
and elongated, it needs more light. If the side of your plant facing
the light source is yellow, tan, red or indented, it is getting too
Succulents do not like stagnant air. Provide good air circulation for
An excellent source of information
Cacti etc mailing list. Hobbyists and professional
growers from around the world subscribe to the mailing list. Many are
growing and enjoying these plants in conditions just like yours, a great
place to learn and share experiences. Have a specific question,
search the lists archive.
There are many excellent books on the market that can help with culture
and identification of these plants.
Interesting reading on cactus, succulents
and the North American Southwest:
|The Ultimate Book of Cacti and Succulents
by Miles Anderson
The Cactus Family
by Edward F. Anderson
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Succulents
by Gordon Rowley
Cacti of the Southwest
by W. Hubert Earle
The Cactaceae : Descriptions and Illustrations of Plants
of the Cactus Family : Volume III and Volume IV
by Nathaniel L. Britton, John N. Rose
Cactus & Succulents
(A Care Manual)
by Tony Mace, Suzanne Mace
|Cacti and Succulents (Illustrated Encyclopedias)
by Miles Anderson, Terry Hewitt
Cactus : The Most Beautiful Species and Their Care
by Elisabeth Manke
Cacti and Succulents
by Gunter Andersohn
Cacti of the United States and Canada
by Lyman D. Benson
The Cactaceae : Descriptions
and Illustrations of Plants of the Cactus Family, Volumes
1 and 2 of a 4 volume set
by Nathaniel Lord Britton, John N. Rose