Cacti and Succulents have definitely grown in popularity over the last decade. As more and more varieties become available they are increasingly in the spotlight. This is, of course, with good reason: not only are they easy to care for, but they can be showcased in so many ways!
Though often referred to as two distinct groups cacti actually belong to the succulent family. All cacti are succulents, yet cacti are a sub-species known by the presence of areoles (specialized sites where spines form) whereas other succulents have none.
The majority of cacti grow in deserts with low moisture, dry air, bright sunshine, good drainage and high temperatures. These desert-dwelling plants can survive for really long periods of time without rainfall. They get their moisture from dew or mist and store nutrients and moisture in their tissues.
The word “succulent” means “juicy.” Succulent plants have leaves or stems that are filled with juices, which is the stored water and nutrients that allow the plant to grow. These leaves allow the plant to withstand harsh conditions. Normally, these leaves have a glossy or leathery appearance, this texture actually helps protect them from moisture loss. Many succulents are also found in desert like conditions; however there are succulents which grow naturally in rainforests (such as a Christmas Cactus). These require semi-shade and humid conditions.
Most succulents and cacti require a lot of light. They are suitable for the sunniest of spots in your home. Be sure to turn the plants regularly so all sides of the plant get equal exposure.
If it is the wonderfully unique flowers you are after it is best to buy cacti that are already in flower because it often takes years for them to bloom. Before you buy check the plants over and make sure they are sound with no trace of rot or areas that are shriveled or dry. They should be just the right size for their pot and you should make sure that they are not exposed to drafts when you get them home.
Ensure they are planted in cactus or succulent soil which allows for good drainage. In Spring and Summer they will require a good soak, then allowed to dry in between waterings. In winter months they should be allowed to go completely dry, especially if they are in cool conditions as this allows the plants to go dormant. Most cacti and succulents like temperatures of 50-55F (10-13 C) in the winter.
During periods of active growth, cacti and succulents should be fed about once every three weeks. They should only be repotted once the roots completely fill their pot.
Cacti and succulents make great gifts, they are good for beginners or even the master gardener.
With all of the unique ways they can be planted, they are often used in home décor, and are great to give as a housewarming gift. Growing cacti and other succulent plants can be an addictive pastime, and many of the more difficult to grow varieties are considered a collectible.
Now is a great time to add a cacti or succulent plants to your home! With so many easy to care for varieties it is a great place for a novice to start and still great fun for the experienced indoor gardener.