How To Care For Cactus Plants 101: A Handy Guide

Are you interested in growing something green in your home but feel like you just end up killing every plant you touch?

Do you find it difficult to remember to water or keep up with plants for so long that they are usually not salvageable by the time you remember?

Or do you live in a hot and humid climate where keeping plants indoors can be almost as challenging as keeping them outside?

If any of these are true of you, chances are good you’re the perfect candidate for indoor cactus growing!

Caring for cactus plants can be a little bit tricky, but it doesn’t take nearly as much intricate attention to detail that growing other types of plants might. Even inexperienced new indoor gardeners are sure to succeed after just a few practice rounds with an indoor cactus. You can prevent losing any plants at all by reading up on the tips and tricks listed in this article.

Below, you’ll find plenty of information on cactus plants and how to raise them. You’ll be able to locate all the knowledge you might need on an individual cactus growing topic, and you may even learn something you never thought of before in the process!

By the time you get through this article, you should be ready to head out there and pick up a plethora of beautiful cactus plants to try growing on your own. Whether you opt to try growing several at once or just want to start with one, we’ve got all the tips you need to make the right choices from day one.

Now, let’s learn about cactus growing!

Cacti Needs vs. Other Plant Needs

Learning how to care for cactus plants means forgetting a little bit of what you know about other types of plants. It also means understanding more about the cactus itself than you might already know, too. Here are a few basic points of interest to keep in mind before you start educating yourself on cactus plant growth in your own home.

start educating yourself on cactus
  • A cactus is not like any other type of plant. It is part of the succulent family, which means it’s capable of storing water to keep itself hydrated for many months and even, sometimes, over a year.
  • As you probably already know, a cactus has spines instead of the leaves that are more commonly found on other types of plants. Despite having no leaves, it can still go through the photosynthesis process because its skin is green.
  • The skin of all succulents is waxy because this texture makes it much more difficult for moisture to evaporate from inside the plant. This means it can retain water for longer, which makes it capable of thriving in even the hottest and most arid natural situations.
  • All cacti have roots just like other types of plants, but some have very shallow root systems that are susceptible to rot very easily.

Now that you’ve learned a little bit about cacti vs. other plants, it’s time to focus more on how to grow your own cactus plants.

Water, Soil, and Sunlight

Like any other type of plant, cacti require water, soil, and sunlight to flourish. Of course, once again, like with any other plant, there are specific needs to keep in mind when it comes to these three important elements of growing your cactus. Whether you plant your cactus indoors or outside, you must keep these three things in mind above all else. With that said, however, cacti are generally much more forgiving than other types of plants, which means if you make a mistake you’re not going to automatically kill your plant.

growing your cactus

  • Water: Watering cactus plants is the part of their care that can be the trickiest. Some people believe they can go without water altogether, and that’s not really the case. Jungle cacti do well when watered about once a week during the cooler months and up to twice a week in the hotter part of the year. Desert cacti may only need to be watered once or twice a month to stay hydrated enough to thrive. Take care not to overwater your cactus plants.
  • Soil: When choosing the right soil for cactus plants, keep in mind that some of these plants often grow attached to trees or rocks in nature, while others grow in the middle of the desert. Jungle cacti grow well in pearlite, orchid bark, and peat moss, and do best when they can be raised in a combination of these. For desert cacti, you’ll want to use a combination of potting soil, rocks, peat, sand, pumice, and even gravel to simulate their growing environments. Cacti cannot be grown in sand alone.
  • Sunlight: Many people who try growing cactus plants at home believe it’s okay to put them out in direct sunlight and leave it at that. While cacti can handle a lot of heat and sunlight, there are a few more considerations to keep in mind. Jungle cacti, for example, do best when they have direct sunlight for part of the day and shade for the rest of the day. Desert cacti, on the other hand, can get full sun all day after they are fully grown and established plants but should have a combination of light and shade every day while they are still establishing.

Potting or Ground Planting

Choosing to plant your cactus in the ground or in a pot can make a big difference when it comes to the ease or difficulty you face when growing it in the future. Generally speaking, if you live in a very cold climate, it may not be wise to plant your cacti outside without the ability to move them indoors during the colder weather. However, if you’re willing to put forth a little extra effort, you may be able to make it work even so. Here are a few tips for choosing where to plant your cacti, whether indoors or out.

plant your cacti
  • Whether you plant in the ground or in a pot, be sure your cactus has plenty of opportunities for the base to dry out completely. Never plant in an area where water pools for a long period of time, and never pot in a container that doesn’t have good drainage. Doing either of these will risk rotting the roots of your plant.
  • Plant most cacti in loamy soil in pots or in the yard. You’ll probably need to work on the soil in your garden or yard if you’re planning to plant your cacti outside. Mix your soil with gravel to make it even easier for your plants’ roots to drain well.
  • If you choose to plant your cacti outdoors and you live in a cold climate or somewhere snow occurs frequently, pay close attention to the temperature outside. If it’s going to get below freezing for more than a couple of nights in a row, it’s time to cover up your plants. Use Styrofoam cups to cover your smaller plants or old towels and sheets to cover larger ones or bigger areas.

Placement of Your Cactus

Choosing the proper placement for your cactus can help you improve its overall quality and help it thrive instead of just survive. While most cactus plants are hardy enough to withstand improper placement, they won’t be happy, and you won’t see results that are nearly as beautiful as they would be when you take care to place your cactus in the right location from the beginning.

placement for your cactus

  • There are two types of cacti: those that need full sunlight and those that need shade. It’s important to know which type you’re working with when it comes to choosing the right placement in your home.
  • Indoor cacti should be limited to those that prefer at least some shade unless you’re able to provide them with constant access to either sunlight or a grow light. Cacti that sit on a windowsill that isn’t obstructed by blinds or curtains during the sunny parts of the day may be able to come from the sun-loving category.
  • Planting your cacti in the yard requires some extra knowledge about the types you’re working with, too. Some cacti grow very large and must be placed in an area where they can spread out or grow tall as they thrive.
  • All cacti should be placed in a location where their roots won’t be sitting in stagnant water without being able to drain for too long.

Cactus Fertilizing

You don’t necessarily have to worry about fertilizing your cactus plants, but they will definitely be happier if you do. However, it’s important not to go overboard when it comes to fertilizing cacti. Too much fertilizer can actually make your plant much less healthy overall and may even stunt or halt its growth. Here are just a few tips to help make it a little easier to determine the right way to fertilize your cactus.

cactus plants fertilizing

  • All succulents, cacti and otherwise, should be fertilized with a diluted liquid fertilizer instead of with a solid fertilizer. This makes it easier for the fertilizer to reach the plant without choking it, and it also cuts back on the risk of overdoing it.
  • When your plants have become established, and especially when they get older, it’s important to consider introducing fertilizer into their soil. This can be a great way to perk up an older plant that’s looking a little drab as it ages.
  • Remember, however, that you might not have to fertilize your cacti at all. Many cacti thrive under harsh conditions and simply won’t show any difference if you use a fertilizer on them.
  • If your plant is young or hasn’t become fully established yet, refrain from using fertilizers, as they may actually do more harm than good.

Pests and Illnesses

As with any living thing, there are pests and illnesses you should keep in mind when raising your cacti. Unfortunately, sometimes these may strike without much warning at all, and they may be very hard to remedy or cure, depending on the severity of the situation. Listed here are just a few of the most common pests and diseases you may come across when raising cacti.

pests and diseases
  • Fungal disease – Different types of cacti are susceptible to different fungal disease, but they are all somewhat similar. These diseases may cover a plant in a mold, cause it to develop black spots, lead to stem rot or even cause the loss of seedlings.
  • Mosaic disease – This is a common cactus illness. It may cause sunken yellow spots on the plant that will eventually overtake it. This is a virus that can be spread by pests or by cutting a plant without first sterilizing the cutting tool.
  • Mealy bugs – These are the most common pest of cacti. Otherwise known as the wooly aphid, this insect breeds quickly and sticks to the plants as it munches away at them, destroying them quickly. Some cactus gardeners use lacewings as a natural predator for these insects, while others rely on systemic insecticides to take care of the problem.
  • Red spider mites – These insects are common in gardens and don’t cause as much widespread damage as mealy bugs. They will, however, cause brown spots and scarring on plants they have infected. Offering enough humidity and ventilation for your plants may keep these pests away.

Growth Rate and Normal Progression

indoor cacti

When it comes to growing cacti, there’s no set specific in terms of growth rates or the normal progression of these plants. However, you should notice your plants getting larger or fuller over time if they’re thriving. If you don’t see your plants improving in one or both of these categories for a long while, this may be a sign of a larger potential problem.

Outdoor cacti will generally grow much larger over time than indoor cacti. Indoor cactus plants will probably only grow by a couple of inches every year, so take some time to measure your cactus if you’re concerned about whether or not it’s actually growing and thriving. You may not notice such a subtle change over time otherwise.

How to Find a Good Place to Buy a Cactus

buy cactus plants

Now that you’ve learned so much, you’re probably wondering where to buy cactus plants, right? Depending on where you’re located, it may be very easy to find cacti for indoor and outdoor planting, or you may have to order them online. No matter where you purchase your cacti from, there are a few good, solid tips you need to keep in mind to be sure you get a great quality plant.

  • If you’re buying in person, look over the plant thoroughly. Check for any soft spots, discoloring, scarring, or signs of weakness in the stem. If you pick up the plant and several pieces fall off, this is also not a good sign. If the plant is established, feel the soil to see if you can tell if it’s been recently overwatered.
  • If you’re buying online, don’t be afraid to ask for specific photos of what you’re interested in buying. If you’re buying from a very large-scale seller, you may not be able to get these photos, so instead take a look at reviews to see if other customers have been satisfied with their plants.
  • If all else fails, ask around. Ask friends who have successfully started cactus gardening, or even call up local stores or residential communities that use cacti in their outdoor decorating. This can be a great way to get a word-of-mouth recommendation for a local store in your area.

5 Best Cactus Types for Home Gardens

Whether you’re choosing to plant your cactus indoors or outdoors will help you determine the type of plants you need to be looking at. In this section, we’ll give you a few quick tips to help you narrow down your options. If your favorite type of cactus isn’t listed here, however, don’t worry—you can probably make it work by doing a little extra research and making sure you provide it with everything it needs to thrive.

cactus indoors plant

1. Sea urchin cactus – otherwise known as echinopsis.

This cactus is small and can handle extremes in temperatures ranging all the way down to 35 degrees Fahrenheit without showing signs of stress or damage. It also does better in shade or indirect sunlight, which makes it a good choice for anyone looking to plant a cactus indoors. They are popular choices because they grow flowers.

2. Jade plant – also called crassula.

These plants need bright direct light or, at least, bright indirect light, but besides that specification, they still do very well when kept indoors. They must be watered more frequently than some other types of cacti, but they are quite popular because they don’t have any sharp spines, which makes them safer for use around the home.

3. Aloe – a popular plant all the way around.

This cactus (yes—aloe is technically a cactus) can be grown both indoors and outdoors in the right conditions, and it’s very hardy. It does well in direct sunlight for part of the day and shade for part of the day, so if you plant it outdoors, be sure to choose a good location for it. This plant should not be kept below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for best results. In warmer climates, it will thrive and grow huge in your yard.

4. Prickly pear

If you’ve ever driven past a yard that uses cacti in its landscaping, you’ve probably seen a prickly pear in the yard. This is a very “cactus-looking” cactus that also grows flowers now and then, which makes it a beautiful and popular choice for yard planting. If you live in a place where the temperature drops below freezing often, it should be kept in a pot that is brought indoors during the colder months.

5. Barrel cactus 

This cactus is mid-size, round, and spiky, which makes it popular for anyone looking to plant a traditional-style cactus in the yard. It must be planted in the sun but also needs a little bit of shade, so take care when choosing where to put your barrel cactus. This plant will become dormant in the colder months, so you won’t need to water it very often when this happens. Take care, however, not to forget to water it when the weather starts to turn warm once again.


Now that you know all about cacti care, it’s time to get started growing cactus plants in your own home! Remember that the climate in which you live will have the greatest effect on whether or not you’ll be able to successfully grow your cactus plants outdoors or indoors, and keep in mind that most of the best-kept cacti are those that are potted and kept either indoors or on a covered porch, patio, or lanai. With that said, however, there’s nothing stopping you from trying to grow your cactus plants wherever you might see fit!

Keep in mind the information listed above to help you make the right decisions about how to raise your cactus plants. Remember, too, that you can choose to start your cactus from a small cutting from another plant or purchase semi-established plants to help you get started on the right foot. Both of these options have their pros and cons, but if you’re a beginner to the world of growing plants at all, starting with an established plant is probably your better option.

Either way, make sure you have everything you need at home before you bring home your cactus plants. While cacti are very hardy and can handle a lot of mistakes, it’s still a good idea to be prepared for potting, repotting, and proper placement and watering from day one. This way, you won’t have to worry about repairing any potential damage that might come from these common beginner mistakes.

In no time, you’re sure to have plenty of beautiful, vibrant cacti as part of your interior décor. You’ll soon find out just what keeps people coming back time and time again to indoor cactus keeping!