Cacti succeed where many other plants fail. These odd little natives of desert, plain and jungle are widely popular with people everywhere who are in search of an enjoyable hobby or the perfect indoor companion. Demanding but the absolute minimum of care, they lavishly reward the indoor gardener with a constant interest at all times. They do not require watering frequently and for the most part not at all temperamental.
Their bizarre and grotesque shapes, coupled with their air of distant places and strange, weird lands, afford unending attraction and lend themselves well to the decoration of all windows, sunrooms, various sunlit spaces or more commodious quarters. They are wonderful plants to bring nature into your home.
If the plants can be coaxed into bloom and this is possible, their exquisite blossoms are often more or equally as showy as the orchid, and in size out of all proportion to the modest plants which bear them. All cacti are strikingly individual and possess a personality all their own not found in any other plant group.
The usual mistakes beginners make after acquiring a cactus plant or two, is they often kill the plants by too much pampering. The plants are watered all too frequently because the fern, geranium, begonia and rubber plant demand it. Again the soil given is of a rich, loamy substance to which an addition of fertilizer in one form or another cannot be resisted. Also, the idea prevails that all cactus plants must be potted in extra large containers to give room for development and it cannot be understood how a cactus plant could thrive in the proverbial thimbleful of soil.
Remember These Are Desert Plants
Amateurs, in order to be successful in the practice of their cactus hobby, are reminded that their plants are true children of the desert waste places and therefore are not accustomed to a rich diet. In their natural environment, these plants usually grow in loose sandy or gravelly soil, and also in the crevices and fissures of rocks, where you’ll find very little humus concentrated. It is necessary to keep the plants on the dry side since in their habitats only a limited amount of moisture is available. When given too much water, their plump forms and juicy stems are susceptible to rot diseases.
Cacti and succulents like the bird’s nest snake plant prefer a tightly fitting container, and so it is recommended to use a pot that would seem rather small for, the more ordinary type of house plant. Frequent repotting is not necessary. After selecting the right container, fill the bottom with drainage material in the form of broken pottery or coarse gravel. Purchase a specialty cactus or succulent mix or make your own. A good porous soil for potting consists of a mixture of:
- 1 part coarse sand
- 4 parts bagged potting soil
- 5 parts perlite
In acquiring a new specimen, it is wise to thoroughly examine the plant before potting. Broken or bruised roots, or any portions of the plant showing signs of rot, must be cut off with a clean, sharp knife and allowed to heal over before placing in soil. Rapid healing is possible by exposing the wound to the hot sun for several days.
In potting, a slightly moist soil should be pressed around the roots, anchoring the plant in the soil firmly. Water must not be applied for at least two weeks and then only sparingly until the plant begins to show signs of new growth. After this, watering is permissible about once or twice weekly. During the winter, plants should be kept dormant in a cool place and watering reduced significantly.
Displaying Your Cactus
Attractively display cactus and succulents near a bright window, and don’t forget they make wonderful desk companions. Many homeowners “show off” their cactus and succulents by placing them in unique styles of colorful decorative containers that complement their design. No rules, whatever appeals to the individual.
Alcove windows and sunlit porches, of course, are the ideal locations to grow these desert plants, but if no such location is available, it is often surprising what a fine lot of cacti can flourish in a normal window. All cacti subject themselves as decorative plant material for a modernistic interior as long as sunlight is accessible to the plants for several hours each day.
Small cacti in little pots will flourish and present a pleasing appearance when set into a small tray of sand that forms a miniature desert scene. Likewise, they can be arranged in decorative or Mexican pottery; they can be planted together with other succulents in a dish garden, or individually potted for display in the window. The plants also lend themselves admirably to glass gardening.
These “desertariums,” as they were called 60 years ago, require very little care once established and should last for a good number of years. Use any suitable clear-glass container, although the most popular are the drum-shaped aquaria of one or two-gallon capacity and the regular rectangular fish aquariums. To insure adequate drainage place a layer of gravel in the bottom, on top of which two to three inches of porous soil is added. To keep the soil “sweet,” it is necessary to mix a handful of charcoal into the soil. Avoid overcrowding when planting and use slow growing varieties of medium size. Colored rocks and miniature figurines will add interest to these glass-enclosed deserts.
Attractive dish gardens offer fun to those who wish to create pictorial arrangements with miniature figures, rocks, and plants. When arranging a desert garden, the tray or dish chosen should be of a size and shape to be easily moved, so that a sunny window may hold the platter during the day while at night it can grace the living-room table, mantel or wall niche. Dish gardens need little moisture, but occasional thorough waterings are recommended rather than frequent sprinklings.
Cactus bowls and various pottery novelties are a source of enjoyment to everyone, and these look particularly striking when set on glass shelves built across the window. Care should be exercised to employ only seedlings or plants with shallow root systems in these receptacles.
There are hundreds of varieties of cactus plants offered online, by collectors, specialty nurserymen, and growers throughout the United States. The varieties range in size from the diminutive to large and luxuriant plants. There’s bound to be one perfect for your home.