All about your cacti....
Cactus, or plural Cacti, are members of the plant family Cactaceae. This family is made up of 127 different genera, within those genera are 1750 documented species! All this to say that cacti are a powerful species!
Cacti have needed to adapt through evolution to survive in many different climates. The most impressive adaptation is how they survive in a dry desert climate! Unlike most house plants who need to be watered once maybe twice a week, cacti can survive for long periods of time without water! If you’ve ever looked at the body of a cactus, you’ll notice it's much thicker than the typical plant. Cactus bodies are designed to store water and will swell when in times of moisture to prepare themselves for long periods without water, like during a drought. This means that your cactus does not need to be watered every week! Honestly, it will thank you for not watering it each week!
One characteristic of cacti that make them universally known, are their unhuggable, untouchable spikes! Cacti have developed spikes in place of leaves. Large leaves are not an effective way to conserve moisture! Typical leaves provide a large surface area for water to be evaporated from. This makes spikes a more favourable adaptation. Cactus spikes will help the plant conserve water! Spikes also help protect the plant from unwanted predators! I for one wouldn’t want to eat a prickly pear!
We know that sunlight is important for all plants! Cacti are notorious for loving sun all day long! One thing to be cautious of is not to put your cactus into direct sunlight right away, especially if you bought it from an indoor garden centre. Like people, cacti will burn. They need to slowly adapt to the strength of direct sunlight. Once they are accustomed to direct sunlight they will enjoy the sun for most of the day!
PROPAGATION: Cacti can be propagated easily by both stem or leaf cuttings. If your cactus has a large region of stem growth you can easily separate a stem from the main plant using a clean, sharp knife. It is important to use a sterilized blade to ensure no bacteria is transferred to either the parent plant or the cutting. Make a single cut through the stem where the branching region meets the main plant. It is best to take a shorter cutting. If you take a long cutting you risk the energy that should be used for root growth going to support the leaves on the rest of the cutting. If you take a shorter piece you will see roots appear much faster.
You can also create cuttings by taking leaf cuttings. Much like the stem cutting, you’ll want to use a clean sharp knife. Breaking off the leaf or using pruning shears will create jagged edges which don’t tend to root as quickly. It is also important to take your leaf cutting from a healthy, actively growing part of your parent plant. If you take your cutting from the base of the plant it may not successfully root.
Caring for your Cacti
When we bring plants into our home as houseplants, we need to keep their natural habitats in mind! So when you have a cactus as a houseplant don’t forget where they came from.
WATER: When watering your cactus imagine how cacti are usually watered in nature. They go weeks, sometimes months without water and then experience a rainfall. When watering your cactus, try to mimic this! I bring my cactus over to the sink and use the shower function on my tap. This allows me to control the strength of watering. You don’t want to blast your cactus, much less like a monsoon more like a gentle rain. When they do get watered, your cactus will need a lot of water. Let them dry out thoroughly between watering. Your cactus will need more water during the dry summer months.
SUNLIGHT: Your cactus will live and flower best with the right amount of sunlight! Once they have adapted to the strength of direct sunlight they can tolerate bright direct sunlight for most of the day.
POTTING: When you pot your cactus you’ll want to ensure good drainage. Drainage is more important than potting mix for a cactus. Some cacti are happy in a mix of sand/ rock and organic material. The ratios differ based on the type of cactus you are potting. For example spineless succulents prefer more organic material in their potting mix.
Cacti have ridges on their bodies to expand and contract when watered
Once you have your cutting whether stem or leaf cuttings, you need to allow the fresh cut to dry and form a callus. The formation of the callus may take anywhere from days to possibly a week. If you see your cutting start to wilt while the callus is forming this may not be a viable cutting. Once the callus does form on a healthy cutting, you’ll simply pot the cutting into a small pot of premixed cactus mix. Water the cutting right away until the water begins to drain through the bottom and then place in an area that gets at least 8 hrs of bright indirect sunlight. Consider misting the cutting once a day with a light spray bottle until the plant starts to root. After several weeks your cutting should have an established root system and can now be transplanted into a larger pot with some premium cactus potting mix.
There is also a more advanced method of propagation for cacti known as grafting. We will go over that in a future episode!
The most important thing to remember when it comes to any house plant is that these plants came from nature first. The best way to learn about their care is to imitate their natural environments! For a cactus you may want to forego wetting your plant every day!
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