How to Start a Cactus Garden
Whether grown as houseplants or outdoors, cactus plants add plenty of interest to your home—especially when featured as a collection. Here's a brief guide to growing these easy-care plants.
There are numerous reasons to start a cactus garden. Do you love the intriguing and often otherworldly look of cacti and other succulents? Are you in search of relatively easy-care potted plants? Do you want to conserve water? Then these gardens are for you! Desert-dwellers are surprisingly versatile, and you'll find that there are nearly as many cactus decoration ideas as there are gardeners to design them.
Cactus Garden Ideas
Cacti—which are a subset of succulents—tend to be quite easygoing. You can plant a cactus garden outdoors or bring it inside to add unique character to your decor.
Outdoor Cactus Landscaping Ideas: If you live in a mild-winter climate, you can plant a backyard cactus garden. There are many outdoor cactus garden designs, including:
- Cacti scattered among flowering perennials or small shrubs.
- A desert-inspired cactus landscape surrounded by gravel or crushed stone.
- A wall of tall cacti varieties, such as organ pipe cactus, blue candle, or cow's tongue cactus.
- One spectacular cactus used as a specimen plant: large barrel cactus, blueberry cactus, and prickly pear cactus work well for this.
Container Cactus Gardens: The beauty of a container cactus garden is that you can plant one even if you live in a cold-winter area; you'll just need to overwinter your cacti somewhere protected. A few cactus arrangements for outdoor containers include:
- An assortment of small cacti in a shallow terra-cotta bowl.
- Several containers, each with one large variety of cacti or another succulent.
- Hanging baskets planted with cacti: rattail cactus, orchid cactus, and Christmas cactus are possibilities.
- A mixture of colorful annual or perennial flowers and cacti plants.
Indoor Cactus Decoration Ideas: If you have a bright, sunny window, you can grow a cactus indoors.
- Cactus terrariums are especially popular; a glass bowl, box, or even hanging ornament filled with small varieties of cactus and other succulents is a fascinating slice of the desert world brought indoors. Remember, though, that a cactus terrarium must be planted in an open container; too much humidity can rot your plants.
- Show off a collection of mini cacti in equally small, yet decorative, containers along your windowsill.
- Grow a tall cactus in a spot you'd like to highlight, such as near the fireplace, by the bottom of the stairs, or in a corner near a window.
- Assemble a miniature desert garden with small cacti and desert animal figurines in a rustic wood or terra-cotta container.
General Cactus Care
Cactus plant care is relatively simple but not entirely maintenance-free. Most cacti and other succulents require similar general care, although there are exceptions to the rules.
Whether indoors or out, your cactus garden needs plenty of sunlight. Aim for at least six hours of direct sun each day.
Overwatering your cacti is a sure recipe for disaster. These drought-resistant plants easily succumb to root rot, so always let the soil dry out between drinks. In the winter, it's not uncommon for cacti to require water only every couple of weeks. If your cactus garden is outdoors, mother nature will take care of watering needs in the form of rain most of the year, but if not, you should water your plants thoroughly at least once per week during the hottest months.
Cacti and other succulents don't require large amounts of fertilizer, but they generally appreciate a low-strength feeding during their growing season, which runs spring through summer.
Most cacti grow slowly and don't mind being a bit root-bound. If you see roots pushing out of the pot, or if your plant has grown out of proportion to the container size, it's time for a new home.
What's the Best Cactus Soil?
Plant cacti in specially formulated cactus potting soil, whether purchased or DIY. Good drainage is crucial to cactus care, and regular potting soil tends to hold onto too much moisture for these low-water plants. You'll find many brands of cactus soil mix–some are even labeled organic cactus soil–on the nursery shelves, but it's easy enough to mix your own cactus potting soil.
A good formula for cactus soil is one-third horticultural sand, one-third cactus compost (you can use a regular potting mix for this but remove any large pieces of wood or twigs), and one-third grit in the form of pumice, perlite, or porous gravel. Mix these ingredients together thoroughly before planting your cactus.
If you're planting a cactus terrarium, you'll need to start with a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container, then top it with your cactus potting soil.
Easy-Care Cactus Varieties to Grow Indoors
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cacti and other succulent varieties available in nurseries and garden centers, with more being added every year. Many are suitable for indoor gardening. The following are some of the most popular cactus varieties you can grow inside your home.
Pincushion plants (Mammillaria sp.) form small balls or "fingers" and have an evenly spaced, thick coating of spines. They often produce brightly colored flowers.
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) grows in a pattern similar to a rose's bloom. The common name comes from the way small "babies" form around the "mother" plant.
Sea urchin cactus (Echinopsis sp.) are ball-shape cacti with small, widely spaced thorns. They have very pretty flowers and are an excellent beginner's cactus.
Ruby ball cactus is actually two cacti in one: the top colorful ball—often red—is Gymnocalycium grafted onto a green base cactus (usually Hylocereus undatus). These are sometimes sold as moon cactus.
Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus sp.) has a sprawling growth pattern and often produces colorful flowers.
Crown cactus (Rebutia sp.) grows in a cluster of small balls and has a very thick coating of hairy thorns. This is one of the easiest cacti to grow indoors.
Pilosocereus pachycladus is a fairly large, fast-growing cactus with a folded, star-like shape and fuzzy-looking spines running down the edge of each fold.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgessii), also called winter cactus, is a popular holiday plant with colorful flowers at the ends of its drooping branches.