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Cactus Care Blog


By hywel


! ! Long blog – only for those interested in the care of cacti.


Several people ask me how to care for cacti, so I said I’d write a blog about it.

I’m not very good at explaining things, so I hope you’ll be able to understand me …
and bear in mind that I’m not an expert. It’s largely trial and error – and usually much error lol

Remember that this blog is about desert cacti.
Not all cacti grow in arid places, and the following information only applies to those that do.

Here are some desert cacti (incase anyone doesn’t know … lol) :-

The above one is Stenocactus vaupelianus.

And the next one is Notocactus leninghausii.
It’s about 30 years old :o)


The cultivation of any plants depends largely on experience, so what I’ll do is give the basic facts, coupled with a few bits of my own experience, which I have gained over the years.
(since I started to collect them in 1965 lol)


1 – Compost

I like to use JOHN INNES POTTING COMPOST No.2 – It contains the right amount of nutrients to suit established plants
Or you could use multi purpose compost if you like.

You could also use a special one for cacti. But if you need lots, the latter could be expensive.

I mix some grit with the compost to give it an open texture, which cacti like. I put it in the ratio of 3 parts compost to one part grit – because that’s what I read in a book :o))

Mix it well so that the grit is evenly distributed through the compost.

Here’s a photo of the grit I use :-

I’ve put the tea spoon in the above photo to give an idea of the size of the grit particles.

If you buy ready mixed cactus compost, you will not need to add more grit to it. It should be ready to use as it is.

I don’t buy it because with the amount of cacti I’ve got, it would be too expensive.


2 – Potting

Cacti need good drainage, so put plenty of crocks or grit at the base of the pot, in order to ensure good drainage.

I like to use earthenware pots. I have found they tend to dry out better, and remember cacti grow in deserts where it gets very dry. They don’t like to stand in damp soil.

Some say you should repot them every year, but that is not necessary in my experience.
Once every few years is enough for big ones, and every 2 yrs for small ones.

However, it should be done regularly, because the compost will run out of nutrients, and we all need food :o)


3 – Water

In summer cacti need plenty of water. They are able to withstand droughts if they must, but they do need a good water supply if they are to grow well – especially when they are flowering.
Without water, they can not get nutrients from the soil, and they need those in order to grow well and survive.

In the wild, they live in arid areas, where it gets hot in the day, and very cold in the night.
As a result of this, there are heavy dews in the mornings, which soak right into the ground. Then the soil dries out during the day.
And then there’s another heavy dew tomorrow.

Remembering this, give them a good soaking when you water them. Make sure the compost is soaked right through.
Then let the compost dry out before the next soaking.

Dribbles that only wet the surface, are no good at all. It can lead to the base of the plant rotting.

During warm weather they may need water every
day or two, especially little ones in small pots, because they can dry out quickly.

In winter they need a period of hibernation, so water less often, especially if they are kept in a cool place (which is prefferable)
More about this further on …


4 – Light

Most cacti need plenty of light, but they don’t all need direct sun.
A bright spot, or partial sun, is sufficient for most.
It is said the more spines they have, the more sun they can withstand.

So this one :-

can stand more sun than this one :-

Many small cacti grow in the shade of larger plants, or in long grass, so a bright west or south facing spot with partial sun, should be fine.


5 – Rest.

We all need rest. We sleep at night, and hibernate or wind down in the winter – it isn’t natural to keep going all the time without a rest. It’s bad for our health.

Cacti are no different to any other living thing, and need a period of rest. They need a cool period in winter, and during this time you should keep them on the dry side by watering less often than in the summer.

I keep mine on some shelves in a conservatory, which has a radiator, but it doesn’t get warm in there because of the glass.
However, it is frost free.

They won’t need much watering in this rest period i.e. in the northern hemisphere from about end of October to about early March … depending on the weather.
It is only necessary to water them about once every 6 weeks or so, if the weather is mild

And as always, give them a good soaking.


6 – Feeding.

They don’t need much feeding, because they grow naturally in poor soil, but a dose of liquid fertiliser is beneficial once or twice in spring and early summer.

Don’t feed them too much, – A lot of feeding will make them grow quickly and they will become soft-bodied, and that will make them less able to withstand the winter.
It might also render them prone to rotting.

I use ordinary tomato feed. It’s high in potassium, and that will help the flowering ones.
Give the same strength as you would for house plants. It probably states this on the bottle.

7 – Ventilation

Give your cacti plenty of ventilation, especially if grown in a greenhouse or cold frame. This is because desert air is dry, and a closed greenhouse or cold frame can get very damp.

I leave the windows of my cold frames open a little bit even when it’s raining, so that there’s a good circulation of air.


Here’s a quick summery :-

1 – Gritty compost
2 – Good drainage
3 – Water thoroughly and let it dry out before the next watering.
4 – Plenty of light
5 – Cool winter rest, with less waterings
6 – Feed about 2 or 3 times in spring and early summer
7 – Good ventillation


I hope you appreciate I’ve taken ages to write this blog LOL ;o))
There’s so much to say about the care of cacti, I could have written a book !


One last thing …. don’t worry too much about sticking to hard and fast rules – it’s too stressfull ….
and conditions vary all over the world, – the weather, where they are kept, the time available to their owners etc.
So just go with the flow and enjoy your plants -
You will be well rewarded :o)

More blog posts by hywel

Previous post: Car Park Trees

Next post: Tropical Forest Cacti



Thanks, Hywel.
I've added this blog to my favourites, as it will be useful when I'm trying to decide which pics and blogs are suitable for GoYpedia Desert Plants.

Also .. are you able to list some Cacti, please, which do NOT qualify as Desert Plants ? Thank you.

14 Feb, 2013


Very interesting, how do you know if they need re-potting? I have 3 sad looking specimens, that get smaller each year, not bigger.

14 Feb, 2013


Thanks Hywel - certainly help me :-))

14 Feb, 2013


It's nice that you have taken the time to produce this Hywel - very detailed and I'm sure will be a useful reference for many here on GOY.

14 Feb, 2013


Hywel you deserve an A* for this blog - it's very informative and thoughtfully illustrated :o)))
I've got two lovely cacti in a shallow(ish) dish. My father-in-law potted them up for me in 1983! They grow ok one of them does flower when it feels like it - in other words not every year! I'm embrassed to say I've never changed the soil in all those years nor do I give it fertilizer! Perhaps I should amend my ways and give them a 30th Birthday treat this year - what do you think?

14 Feb, 2013


I thought you said you weren't very good at explaining things? You were mistaken.

14 Feb, 2013


great blog Hywel...ventilation is so important...i have had all the windows and doors open on my babies today..

14 Feb, 2013


Very thorough talk through on how to get the best from your cacti.

14 Feb, 2013


Thank you for all your comments.

TT I'll put those cacti in a blog :o)

Lizziebee it sounds as if your cacti need repotting now.

Petaltracey it's the fertilizer that probably keeps your cacti going. Maybe they could do with some fresh compost now after 30 years :o) Sounds like they're doing well though ... cacti are rather tough things.

Steragram it's probably because I am the least confident person in the world.

14 Feb, 2013


Come on everybody, lets boost Hywel's self confidence!
Everybody on here looks on you as the cactus expert Hywel.

14 Feb, 2013


Superb explanatory blog Hywel no excuse for anyone to have uncared for cacti after reading this and why not write a book - who better :o)

15 Feb, 2013


Very well instruction on how to plant a cactus, Thank you Hywel, and really like all your collections, lovely flowers and great:-o)

15 Feb, 2013


Well Steragram and Hywel I enjoyed reading this blog and found it very interesting although I would never buy a cactus for myself. I look forward to reading all your blogs because you have the knack of telling us what we want to know even if we don't know which questions to ask.

15 Feb, 2013


Thank you all :o)

Thanks Steragram. I think I need a confidence boost. It's the result of much bullying and being surrounded by arogant people all my life.

Scotsgran I understand what you mean. There are some plants I wouldn't buy ... e.g.orchids, ... but I like to see photos of them etc.

15 Feb, 2013


Brilliant blog Hywel. Have just finished copying it all out in hard-back notebook. (Couldnt print it up.)
I have been doing everything wrong !
Will now move my Cactii from the south facing living room window to the cooler kitchen window sill and give them a good soaking with rainwater.
Will get another bag of grit and J.I. No.2 ready to repot them properly in the greenhouse when the weather warms up. I can then put them on my balcony in the shade area.
And follow your instructions for evermore !

Thank you so much for answering my appeal to benefit us all.
Writing a book is not a good idea. You have to pay for publishing and sell it yourself these days. Goy is the best way. Stay with us and be appreciated !

15 Feb, 2013


Hi Diane. I'm pleased my blog has been useful for you.

You could use multipurpose compost or JI no2.
A south facing windowsill is fine for most cacti, but on a hot afternoon they might benefit from some shade.
Don't put them in constant shade. They do need some sun :o)
It's a pitty you can't show photos of them.

15 Feb, 2013


Woops. Will put them back on the sunny windowsill.
They should be ok on the balcony, as it has a surround which provides shade in the summer.

15 Feb, 2013


I said you were a gem Hywel when you took the trouble to name mine for me, you`ve just added to my reasons for saying that, it must have taken you ages to do the blogs, as you can see we really do appreciate it, your explainations are straightforward and easy to follow once again thankyou........

15 Feb, 2013


what an excellent blog Hywel, full of information and I need to look at mine and re position them as a consequence.

clear and concise :o))

15 Feb, 2013


There you are you see Hywel - just forget those horrid people in the past now. Time to move on, you are with friends now.

15 Feb, 2013


Thank you all ...

Yes Steragram you are right. The past has gone ... and good job too ! :o))

15 Feb, 2013


Thanks , Hywel , gone to faves for future reference .

17 Feb, 2013


Glad to be of help Driad :o)

17 Feb, 2013


Thanks for such an interesting & informative blog, Hywel, even though I don't grow Cacti any more. Not because I don't like them but just because I haven't got any

19 Feb, 2013


Thank you :o)

20 Feb, 2013


I just bookmarked this - many thanks!

16 Jun, 2013


wow brilliant blog Hywel, a few suprises too on how to look after them, i need to go out and water my very tiny cacti (well its a start lol) for being so small it packs a powerfull stab lol.. Thanks..

16 Jun, 2013


PS just realised you wrote this blog in Feb! how did i miss it :)

16 Jun, 2013

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