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Caring for cacti in your home

A selection of spiny and furry cactus plants in a domestic setting.
Click to enlarge

Do you know how to help your cactus thrive?

Houseplants – including cactuses – are having a bit of a moment, perhaps because we have been forced to spend a lot more time at home than we would like. But these striking plants have very definite likes and dislikes.

What are cacti?

Cacti (or you can refer to them as cactuses) originate in dry places – desert and savannah. They are a type of specialist succulent and you can tell them apart from succulents generally because they have spines, or at least places where spines form.

Like all plants, cacti will thrive if you give them the right conditions, but if you get it wrong they will never flourish. Cacti thrive in a situation with low moisture, bright sunshine and dry air – so they are excellent houseplants, particularly if you have a really bright, hot windowsill.

Terrariums are not good for cactuses

The point of a terrarium – a small glass or plastic enclosed container – is to create a micro climate in your home. They are ideal for plants that need moist, humid conditions, but that is exactly what cacti do not need. Some terrariums are open, and these might be suitable for a cactus – just make sure your open terrarium drains freely, that it has good air circulation and that condensation does not collect on the glass.

What containers and compost are best for cactuses?

Cactuses will do well in pots that drain well – so avoid containers with a water reservoir in the bottom. The best type of compost for cacti is free draining. You can add grit to help with this. The best time to re-pot a cactus is in the spring. Protect your hands with thick gloves to avoid the spines.

How do I water cactuses?

Because the natural habitat of a cactus is the desert, they prefer to dry out between waterings, particularly during winter. You can buy special cactus feed to use between April and September, or just use a generic houseplant feed.

Some cactuses are winter flowering – these will need more watering from September to April, and less in the summer.

Can I grow cactuses outside in the UK?

Some cactuses can cope with quite cool conditions, and most will be fine decorating your patio in the summer, particularly if you give them a well-drained spot in full sun. But UK’s cold wet winters will make most desert plants very unhappy. So unless you have an inner city or warm coastal garden, don’t try to overwinter a cactus out of doors: bring it in and let it bring life to your brightest room. If you must keep your cactus out of doors, the RHS has some advice on overwintering hardy cactuses.

Note that most self-storage units are not suitable for overwintering plants , as the unit will be dark most of the time and plants need light to live. And we don’t insure stored plants, either.

How do I display cactuses?

Cactuses are attractive, stylish plants and it’s worth displaying them to their best advantage. Group them in twos or threes and pick plants with contrasting characteristics. Look for interesting containers that pick up your cactus’s colours or shapes.

You’ll find it easier to care for and enjoy a cactus if it is in a position you can easily reach, so consider decluttering to make space for your houseplants. If you put some items into storage to make room for houseplants, bear in mind that you need to insure your stored goods. And if you are adding more items to your storage unit, it’s a good time to check that you are getting the best deal on your insurance by getting a quote from Store and Insure.

Cactuses make attractive houseplants, and can last for many years if you take good care of them.