Many at-home gardeners have fallen in love with succulents over the past few years—and it’s easy to see why. Their plump leaves, crazy shapes, and gorgeous diversity make them a fun, colorful addition to any landscape.
These days, though, there’s surging interest in a particular type—cacti, and at-home cactus gardens.
“Succulents are any plants that withstand drought by storing water in their leaves, stems, or roots,” explains Debra Lee Baldwin, photojournalist and author of Designing with Succulents. “But now, interest is growing in ‘cacti,’ a separate category of succulents.”
And for good reason: Cacti are famously easy to take care of, and typically feature striking, fleshy stems, thick skins to reduce evaporation, protruding spines, and hairy or wooly outer coverings. Some boast bright flowers too.
Looking to create your own cactus garden at home? Here are a few tips for making it as healthy, beautiful, and successful as can be:
Choose the right container.
If you happen to live in Arizona or in any desert region of the west, you can go ahead and plant cacti directly in the ground. But for the rest of us, a container is a far better choice; it allows us to maintain control over the growing environment instead of leaving things up to chance.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with it, though. Try using a long container that fits snugly on a windowsill, or repurposing a terra-cotta saucer as a dish garden. Another option: Line up tiny individual pots, each holding one cactus. Just be sure every container has a drain hole, or you’ll be in trouble come watering time.
Pick an appropriate soil.
Look for “cactus mix,” which has a grittier, heartier texture than regular potting soil. Or go ahead and make your own by mixing regular potting soil with pumice, which aerates the soil, provides micronutrients, and absorbs excess water, says Baldwin.
Select your plants.
Forget about growing them from seed—cacti grow slowly. Very slowly. In fact, were you to try to coax the seeds yourself, you’d be waiting the rest of your life for results. Instead, purchase a few plants from a local nursery. Then, once you’ve decided on their arrangement in your container of choice, wear gloves, gently tuck the little root ball in place, and backfill with soil. You may also want to lean taller cacti up against a small rock until the roots take hold. Finally, top the soil with decorative gravel, and add tiny rocks to resemble boulders in your mini-landscape, says Baldwin. Place in a south-facing window.
They’re cacti, right? So, when it comes to water, there’s no need to overdo it. In fact, they’ll tolerate getting a little dry better than they do getting too wet. Cacti really only need to be watered about once every one to two weeks, but here’s a handy way to check if they’re thirsty: Simply stick a wooden chopstick several inches into the soil, then pull it out. If it feels damp or has soil clinging to it, you don’t need to water just yet.
Standing water is also something to avoid. If you’re using a saucer underneath pots, dump it out after watering and continue to check that there’s no water remaining there.
And in the winter, when cacti go dormant, don’t water them at all. Instead, just keep them in a cool, dry environment.