Cactus and succulent plants have developed the ability to survive
under adverse conditions of little water, poor soil and extreme
heat – but not neglect or abuse. The best culture comes from
careful observation of the plant’s responses. When you know
your plants you can tell by just looking at them when they need
water, more or less light, etc. A green thumb is really just tender
loving care. With proper care, cacti and succulents can be extremely
rewarding for their beautiful and unusual forms and flowers.
BASIC SOIL MIX
2 Parts Organic + 2 Parts Porous Inorganic + 1 part Sand.
For the organic part use leaf mold, composted fir bark, or a planting
mix like Supersoil. The porous inorganic part can be Perlite or
agricultural pumice. Sand must be quite course, like washed plaster
sand. Never use beach sand.
Unglazed red clay pots are probably best for the beginner. Plastic,
glazed or porcelain pots can be used but more care must be taken
to avoid over-watering. Any container must have a drain hole, at
least the diameter of your small finger. Use the smallest size pot
that seems appropriate for the size and shape of the plant. Usually
a pot that is one inch greater in diameter than the plant will be
A gravel top dressing is attractive and functional. It improves
water penetration and helps to prevent stem rot and algae growth.
It also keeps lighter particles, such as pumice, from floating over
the top of the pot.
You will have to determine the best light conditions by watching
your plants. Strong light is needed by most cactus and succulents
for best form and blooms. Most can also take full sun for several
hours a day, but others sunburn quickly in midday summer sun. Begin
in filtered light and move into the sun gradually as you watch for
sunburn and excess heat that can cause root damage. Few succulents
do well in subdued light.
All cactus and succulents need good ventilation so don’t
place them in damp, unventilated locations. Lack of ventilation
encourages insect pests that are attracted to the fleshy leaves
of succulents. Since their natural habitat is hot and dry, they
have little resistance to these pests.
Remember that cacti and succulents evolved in nature to be very
water-thrifty plants. They still need water, but generally less
frequently than most ordinary plants. When you water, it is best
to soak the soil mix thoroughly. Don’t water again until the
mix is almost dry. Water less frequently and allow the soil to become
more dry when the plant is resting or dormant (usually in winter).
When the plant is actively growing, a diluted, balanced or low
nitrogen fertilizer can be used each time you water. Liquid or water
soluble fertilizers diluted to ¼ or ½ strength normally
give good results.
Mealy bugs, spider mites and scale are the usual pests. Consult
your local garden supply shop for appropriate pesticides and use
strictly according to instructions.
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