Cacti are beautiful plants that are severely misunderstood. However, if one does take the time to grow cacti, one sees that the cacti have flowers even prettier than normal flowers and most often than not, cacti are easier to grow than most other plants.
Growing and propagating cacti is relatively easy to do and can be quite rewarding. For the most part, there are three environmental variables to consider ensuring your experience with growing cacti is successful. These are: Soil, Water, and Light.
Cacti are a group of plants that are not only easy to grow, but offer a variety of shapes, colour and form. They can be grown in any sunny, well-drained area. They require little maintenance. They make excellent houseplants and many hardy varieties may be grown outside.
If you want small specimens (less than one inch above the ground), you will want to grow a type of cacti known as LITHOPS, which is Greek for “living rocks”. Other cacti which mimic the appearance of rocks include titanopsis, lapidaria, penestraria and gibbaeum.
Some cactus and succulent types can be used as pot plants. These include Aloe Vera, crassulas, Echeverias, peperomias and kalanchoe.
Larger-growing cactus and succulent plants make dramatic floor plants with heights from 3 to 10 feet or more. These include Cereus peruvianus, Yucca elephantipes, Euphorbias, ponytail palm or bottle palm.
While succulents such as aloe vera are grown in Sri Lanka, the cacti family with thorns and a hard exterior are shunned by most Sri Lankans due to myths. However, these myths that surround cacti are completely false according to cactus enthusiast Nimal Ramachandra.
Succulents are plants that have organs such as leaves, stems or roots that are capable of storing water during the rainy or wet season in order to survive extended periods of drought. All the plants in the cactus family (Opuntiacea = Cactacea) are considered stem succulents. During periods of moisture, the stem swells. Then during droughts, the stem slowly contracts. Cactus that have ribs are particularly well adapted to this because the ribs fill in and contract like an accordion.
The cactus flowers are usually conspicuous, and are so different from those of all other plant families that the cacti are unique and alone, without obvious relationship to other plants. Epiphyllum, the orchid cactus, leads this category with its fragrant flowers that grow up to 8 inches across.
If you’re interested in growing cacti, you must know to give cacti and succulents the brightest light or sunniest window that you can provide. Most cacti and succulents are not happy in shady corners or north-facing windows as they need at least four to six hours of strong light daily if they are grown indoors. Plants with inadequate light may stretch (skinny growth).
The general “Rule of Thumb” is: “When you water, water well.” However, with succulent plants you must be careful to make sure the plant needs water. Feel the weight of the pot when just watered and when it is dry. A totally dry pot weighs considerably less and is one sign of a thirsty plant. Feel the soil at least one inch down and if the soil is dry it is time to water the plant. Let the water thoroughly drain through the roots and out the bottom, making sure the entire pot of soil is saturated. Drain thoroughly; never let plants sit in water. Use a soil mix that drains well and allows some drying out between waterings. Top dressings, such as small pebbles or coarse gravel, offer quicker water penetration, slower water evaporation, elimination of a crust on the top of the soil, and a neat, attractive appearance. When plants are vigorously growing and blooming, they will need more water. During their non-growing or resting stage, usually in cold winter weather, they will need very little water.
For practically all intents and purposes, any good cactus and succulent mix, prepared and bagged, and available in many nurseries and garden shops can be used for your cacti and succulents. Or, you can use a high quality planter mix or humus. For this, add two parts perlite or pumice and one part washed building sand. Adjust the ratios according to your growing conditions, climate and the plant in question.
So… happy growing!