Indoor Cactus Garden – Bring the Beauty of the Desert Home
Cacti are the most misunderstood plants in the home. Some people assume that because they come from the desert that they should never be watered. Fact is, a cactus garden requires water to bring the beauty of the desert home. With a bit of attention to soil, water, light, and temperature you can have a flourishing cactus garden. If you treat them right, you can have cactus flowers in all kinds of colors adorning your spiked crown jewels.
Cacti belong to a larger group of plants called succulents. Not only do most cacti bear spines, but many also have hair to protect against the evaporation of their moisture in the hot desert Sun. All of them bear waxy skin that locks water into the cactus.
The hardest aspect of growing cacti indoors that many gardeners have to face is that they grow very slowly. Moving your cactus outside can sunburn it if you do it too quickly. First place it in the shade and gradually move it into the full sunlight. Watch in particular for either light green or tan tinting on the plant itself. This indicates a sunburn. Return it to the shade and start again.
You can over water your cactus quite easily, rotting the roots. You can acquire the same effects by potting a cactus in too large of a container. Besides the overall size, the height of a cactus pot can stunt its growth by stressing the roots, when the pot is too deep. This occurs because cacti have laterally reaching roots.
You can prepare a cactus pot by layering rough gravel in the bottom. Add soil that drains very well, since you will want to allow the soil to dry out completely before watering. Your cacti will appreciate alkaline soil that is quite porous. Forget the idea of dropping them into a pile of sand. That is not their true habitat and they do not thrive in pure sand. Do-it-yourself soil mixture is not so difficult. Put together equal parts builder’s sand and regular potting soil, then add in some pulverized limestone or bone meal.
If you are transplanting a cactus, you will want to take care not to put them through the shock too many times. For a cactus, which grows so slowly, moving their home is a huge shock.
Use a folded newspaper to hold large cacti and tongs for smaller specimens. In either case, cactus spines will easily spear your hands through gloves. When you do transplant a cactus make sure to gently remove all of the old soil from the roots before re-potting. Avoid watering your cactus in its new pot for a few days.
Cacti, and their flowers even more so, are sensitive to nitrogen. They require a special balance of nutrients in their plant food. Too much nitrogen can burn the plant. Try a 7-40-6 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash. While you are at it, do not neglect the macro- and micro-nutrients. These include iron, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, manganese, copper, and zinc. In order to coax a cactus to flower you must control their environmental conditions. Lower the temperature at night, if not also during the day. Shorten their length of day to less than 12 hours. Finally, feed them a well diversified plant food mixture.
One sure way to keep your cacti thriving indoors is to set up artificial lighting. In fact, this will be necessary if you want flowers. 150 Watts for every square meter is ideal. Place fluorescent lights slightly more than a foot above your plants. Be careful how many growing lights you have employed, though. The police might suspect you of growing pot if your electric bill is too high.
The length of day that you simulate for your cacti should mimic that of their natural habitat, which is between 12 and 18 hours. You will also want to rotate the pots bi-weekly and set up reflectors to concentrate the energy of the lights. Pay attention to the kind of spectrum your lights emit. Anything toward either the red or the blue end will act like poison on the cactus. Growing lights or especially metal halide lamps will yield top results. Halide lamps generate huge amounts of both UV and heat, which will make your cacti want to kiss you, just watch the spines if you let them.
As far as diseases are concerned, cacti are quite impermeable. The most common disease is mold, which may infect almost any part of the cactus. You can also watch for Coccoidea, a type of scale insects, and nematodes. Although a certain scale insect’s eggs are collected from the opuntia cactus and used to produce a red dye, you can kill scale critters with a combination of alcohol and nicotine in a spray solution. Nematodes require a bit of surgery on the roots and re-potting in clean soil. Burn the infected soil.
The Final Word
Cacti do require unique care compared to other house plants. With a bit of practice, though, you will have the beauty of the desert flourishing in a window of your own home.