Cactus and Succulent Care Tips Guide for Beginners

Cactus and succulent is generally low maintenance, but you might need a few care tips because sometimes it could get a bit tricky.

For the past years, cacti and succulents have become a popular houseplant choice. They’ve been available on every bazaar that pops up around the corner. What makes it more fun is that they come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. So not all of them are the same. If you want the best results, take note that each plant has its individual needs.

As a beginner, it’s important to understand that you need to know how to care deeply for your cactus and succulent friends.

For example, if you overwater them frequently, they may end up in a bad condition and worse they may start to rot. Some root rot may also be caused by bacteria or fungus instead, keep this in mind so you are open for those possibilities.

Keeping them in the right conditions will see them thrive and survive for decades.

Main Difference Of Cactus and Succulent

Fun fact: All cactus (like Mammillaria, Gymnocalycium, and Parodia) bloom beautiful flowers. So if you want to see those prominent blooms, it’s best to learn how to keep them in good shape.

People often misunderstand the term succulent and cactus, and use them in a sentence in a wrong way. Clearly, understanding the relationship between the two will help proper identification.

Definition: Succulent

Photo by Orlova Maria on Unsplash

A succulent is a plant that stores water in their roots, stems, and juicy leaves, in order to withstand drought or less severe weather conditions. They somehow protect themselves with a coating on their body to prevent fluid loss. In addition, succulent is much plumpy and looks like it stores more water than cactus.

Succulent stores water in their thick fleshy leaves, stem and root system.

Definition: Cactus

Photo by Thomas Verbruggen on Unsplash

Cactus on the other hand is a plant that can withstand extreme weather and temperature better than succulent.

Don’t be that shocked here, okay? Be that as I compare cactus and succulent, did you know that all cactus is a succulent? That is because cactus also store water in their body, making them part of the group.

But in distinguishing them better, cactus is a much extreme plant than succulent. In addition, cactus looks more spiky than plumpy, although they both store almost the same amount of water in their bodies.

Cactus stores water in stems and for some kinds in the root system. Cactus also lacks leaves except for the genus Pereskia.

cacti in a pot
Photo by Rebecca Lee on Unsplash

Cactus and Succulent Care Tips

With that said, it’s a known fact that the natural habitat of most cactus and succulent is in the desert. Therefore, they thrive in a place where there are lots of suns and good drainage will make them grow fast and big.

But this doesn’t apply to everyone in this plant family. For some species, they prefer less sun and humid conditions while others prefer extremities.

Nevertheless, it is important to properly identify our plants. And, this leads us to the first thing on our care tips list.

Know your plant

Most people skip this step but, you see, this is the ideal thing to do after – or even before – having your plant. Most plants that’s available on the store have an identification tag on them.

If there’s none, take your time to have a chat with the seller. Of course, you are more welcome to ask a few questions like beginner recommendations and tips on how to make your plant happy every day.

Get to know your plant: Cactus and Succulent Care Tips for Beginners
Image by Isabel Estabrook from Pixabay.

On the other hand, if the cacti you have is given to you as a gift, don’t you want to take a good care of it? Researching about your plant sets you on track.

With today’s technology and freedom of information, it is easier to look up different cacti and succulent species online. There are even apps that help you identify plants just by taking a picture.

When I was just starting my fascination with cacti, it became a habit of mine to search for scientific names and origins of cacti and succulents that I have. Eventually, I stumbled upon LLIFLE, an online plant encyclopedia, and found it really helpful. They even have a separate section for cactus and succulent that help me build this care tips article.

Consequently, you may get a bit overwhelmed with all the information you learned, especially for beginners. Don’t forget to take notes or screenshots for future reference. After grasping enough information about your spiky little friend, it’s time to act.

Different Types of Cactus and Succulent

Cactus and succulent comes in various shapes, sizes, and colors, making them popular houseplants. Some common types of cacti include barrel cacti, prickly pear cacti, and saguaro cacti, while popular succulents include aloe vera, jade plants, and echeveria. Each type of cactus and succulent has unique care requirements that you should be familiar with to ensure that your plant thrives.

Plant Characteristics and Growth Habits

Cacti and succulents have adapted to survive in harsh environments such as deserts and arid regions. They have unique plant characteristics and growth habits that allow them to conserve water and thrive in dry conditions. Understanding these characteristics and habits is crucial to caring for your plant.

Cacti have thick, fleshy stems that store water, allowing them to survive for long periods without water. Their leaves are modified into spines, which protect them from predators and reduce water loss through transpiration. Cacti also have shallow root systems that allow them to absorb water quickly during rain.

Succulents, on the other hand, have thick leaves or stems that store water. Some succulents have adapted to store water in their roots or bulbous bases. Their leaves are also modified to reduce water loss through transpiration, often appearing waxy or hairy. Succulents have deep root systems that allow them to absorb water from deep in the soil.

Understanding the growth habits of cacti and succulents is also crucial to their care. Most cacti and succulents grow slowly, and their growth rate is affected by factors such as temperature, light, and water. Some cacti can grow to be several feet tall, while some succulents grow as low groundcovers. Knowing your plant’s growth habits can help you determine when it is time to repot it or prune it.

Basic Care

So you’re now a plant parent! Ye~y! What’s next?

After getting familiar with your beloved plant, it’s time to put your knowledge to test. Both flourish in the same conditions and rarely need water. SO here are the BASICS to make your spiky and plump friend a bit happier every day.

Water: Cactus bud near a watering tool
Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay.

Basic 1: Watering Tips

I know, you are very fond of your new plant but PLEASE stop watering it all the time. This is the most common mistake done by most people.

More specifically, cactus and succulent rarely need the service of your trusted watering buckets. They store water on their plump bodies so no worries, they can get by even after a week of no watering.

It’s true, these plants are tough. They could survive with little water, but they will not thrive. Well, cacti experience growth during the warmer seasons, so you might need to water them regularly at that time. Once a week is an ideal routine. If days become too hot, twice a week is okay as long as you’ve got your plants on a gritty potting mix and good drainage.

By the time the season’s colder, most of these plants go dormant. They stop growing when temperatures and daylight drop. Increase intervals between watering as your plants go to dormancy. Let the potting mix dry out before watering again.

Watering also relies on your plant’s location. You may need to water it regularly if it is outside in direct sunlight. On the contrary, less watering if it’s inside.

Between waterings, make it a habit to check on your plants. Is the soil dry already? Or is it still wet? Simply push a finger into the soil and you’ll know it. If you don’t wanna get your hands dirty, insert a bbq stick.

When watering, refrain from using spray bottles. Use a long-necked watering can instead, or anything close to one, and apply water on soil level. It is important for the water to run out of the pot. Cacti and succulents do not like their roots sitting in water for a long time. Remember, keep the water off the body of your plant.

You could also try bottom watering. It is an effective way for most plants who don’t like getting their body and leaves wet, like cacti and succulents. Look for a container large enough to fit the plants that you would like to soak. Fill it halfway, then you may leave it alone. After 10 minutes, check if it absorbed enough water. The surface should be visibly wet. If still dry, you may want to leave it for another 20 minutes. Though make sure to remove any excess water.

Additionally, if you happen to live in a place where there’s a wet season, try to collect rainwater if your plants are indoors. Rainwater is much better for most plants compared to tap water. Your plants will thank you in the long run.

Soil and Drainage: Beautiful image of a cactus bud blooming
Image by Alina Kuptsova from Pixabay.

Basic 2: Potting Mix and Drainage

These two works together. You need your plant to have a fast-draining potting mix in a pot with a good hole.

Cacti and succulents are commonly available or given to you already potted, while those bought in online stores come in the mail bare-rooted. Either way, make sure that the soil mix you have is suitable for cacti and succulents.

For the plant to thrive and prosper, it would greatly help to mimic its natural environment. In this case, we’re talking about the habitat of cacti and succulents. More specifically the sandy, gravelly soil from where they came from. Some were even native to rocky crevices and cliff-sides. The gritty soil beneath them allows water to dry out easily despite the heavy rains.

In choosing your potting mix, you could opt for the commercial soils available at your nearest hardware. On a comparison by Mountain Crest Gardens, you’ll find that under the same controlled environment, each soil differs.

However, it’s important to note that using the wrong type of soil mix can cause issues with your cactus and succulent. They may turn yellow or develop root rot if the soil mix is not well-draining or too water-retentive. So, make sure to use a soil mix that allows excess water to drain quickly.

You could always make your own soil mix, which is way cheaper especially if you already have resources at your garden. And it’s a fun way to get yourself more involved in your garden.

Mixing a good soil combination
Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin on Unsplash

When creating your mix, it is important to keep in mind that the soil should drain very well. There’s no fixed recipe for the ‘perfect’ potting mix because it depends on what’s available in your area and what will fit your need. Plus, not all plants are the same.

Nevertheless, following the ratio of mixing 1/3 organic matter and 2/3 mineral materials works like magic. You could use this as a general formula in making your potting mix.

Best soil ratio or soil mix for cactus and succulents
Edits by Laracs; Cactus photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Organic Materials: Soil, Compost, Vermicast, Cocopeat, Pine Bark, Rice Hull (Fresh or Carbonized)

Mineral Materials: Pumice, Perlite, Coarse Sand, Gravel, Lava Rock

In choosing your ingredients, prioritize what you have. Be resourceful. Some of this could be readily available in your yard, or maybe your friendly neighbour has some. These are cheap materials and could easily be found in the garden store next to you.

Through this activity, you become more engaged with your plants. You could mix and match, pick one from each or combine this and that. Just always keep in mind that the result should be a fast-draining mix and the total volume should be according to the ratio.

Moreover, choosing the right pots for your cactus and succulent can make a difference. Here’s a brief comparison:

  • Terracotta and ceramic pots are both breathable and works well in indoor or outdoor spots. Though they heat-up when placed in direct sun which could dry out your plant.
  • Plastic pots are cheaper and less fragile. But it’s not as breathable compared to terracotta or ceramic.
  • Wood pots/containers are kinda out of the ordinary but beautiful. Bad thing is it’s not long-lasting and may split over time.
  • Glass containers are breathtakingly beautiful, but they mostly lack drainage holes. Plus, it’s a fragile choice.
  • Metal containers are interesting but nope. You’re just giving your plant a slow death. This type either heats up or gets cold easily.
Sun(light): Cactus and succulent home design
Image by Terco from Pixabay.

Basic 3: Sun(light)

Here comes the sun, doo-dun-doo-doo~ And you’re all set, now let’s find a good spot for your plant. If you live in a small space, the spot is ideally next to the window. If it’s a south-facing window, then you hit a jackpot. A south-facing window is the best spot for your indoor plants. But if you have west or east-facing windows, make sure that your plant doesn’t catch the direct light of the midday sun.

Similarly, on outdoors, place your cacti and succulents facing the south orientation. The rule of thumb here is to place your cactus and succulent in a bright area but not on direct sunlight. We often thought that our plants need lots and lots of sun, so we take it to a spot where it gets plenty. As a result, intense light turns plants into yellow so unless you want a yellow plant, don’t put it directly under the sun indefinitely.

Advanced Care

Congratulations, you’ve successfully kept your cactus and succulent alive with basic care. Now it’s time to level up your plant parenting skills with advanced care techniques. In this section, we’ll discuss fertilizing techniques, temperature and humidity considerations, and pest control and prevention.

Advance 1: Fertilizing Techniques

Cacti and succulents have specific nutrient requirements that differ from other types of plants. Using a fertilizer designed for cacti and succulents can help to promote growth and flowering. However, it’s essential to use a fertilizer sparingly and not over-fertilize your plant, as this can lead to root burn.

To fertilize your cactus and succulent, use a balanced fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 10-10-10 or 5-10-5. You can apply the fertilizer once every two to four weeks during the growing season. During the dormant season, it’s best to avoid fertilizing altogether.

Advance 2: Temperature and Humidity Considerations

Cacti and succulents are generally adaptable to a wide range of temperatures, but extreme temperatures can be harmful to your plant. During the summer months, ensure that your plant is not exposed to temperatures above 90°F (32°C) for extended periods. Similarly, during the winter months, protect your plant from frost and freezing temperatures.

Humidity is also a consideration for cacti and succulents. These plants thrive in low humidity environments, so it’s best to avoid placing them in bathrooms or other areas with high humidity levels. If you live in a humid environment, you can use a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity around your plant.

Advance 3: Pest Control and Prevention

Like all plants, cacti and succulents are susceptible to pests such as spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. Pests can damage your plant, weaken its immune system, and even lead to its death if not treated promptly.

To prevent pests from infesting your cactus and succulent, ensure that you keep it clean and free of debris. Regularly inspect your plant for signs of pests and treat them promptly if detected. You can use natural pest control methods such as neem oil or insecticidal soap, or commercial insecticides designed specifically for cacti and succulents.

Repotting and Propagation

As your cactus or succulent grows, it may eventually need to be repotted into a larger container. In this section, we’ll discuss when and how to repot your plant, as well as propagation techniques for cacti and succulents.

When and How to Repot Your Plant

Repotting your plant is best done during the growing season, which typically occurs in the spring or summer. Signs that it’s time to repot include roots growing out of the drainage holes, the pot tipping over, or the soil drying out too quickly.

To repot your plant, carefully remove it from its current container and gently shake off any excess soil. Inspect the roots for any signs of damage or disease and trim them if necessary. Next, add fresh soil to the new container and place your plant in the center. Fill in any gaps with additional soil and water the plant lightly.

Propagation Techniques for Cacti and Succulents

Propagation is a great way to create new plants from your existing ones, and cacti and succulents are relatively easy to propagate. There are three main propagation techniques: leaf cutting, stem cutting, and division.

Cactus Child Cutting
Image by David Avila from Pixabay Cactus child cutting.

For leaf cutting, carefully remove a healthy leaf from the parent plant and let it dry out for a few days. Once the cut end has calloused over, plant the leaf in well-draining soil and water it lightly. Over time, a new plantlet will grow from the base of the leaf.

For stem cutting, cut a section of stem from the parent plant and let it dry out for a few days. Once the cut end has calloused over, plant the stem cutting in well-draining soil and water it lightly. Over time, roots will grow from the stem cutting, and a new plant will develop.

For division, carefully remove the parent plant from its container and separate the offsets, which are small plants that grow around the base of the parent plant. Plant the offsets in their own containers with well-draining soil and water them lightly.

That’s just the start. You’ve got a lot more ahead of you.

Keep in mind that the best care we could give to our plants is to make them feel at home. Yup, you read that right. Following the basic care tips above will surely make your plant happy. Thus, we are recreating their natural habitat so that they’ll thrive well.

Let me tell you this: taking care of cactus and succulent may seem easy, but there’s more to it. It’s more than just watering them. They are living things, too, that needs our time, love, and attention.

People trample over flowers, yet only to embrace a cactus.

~ James Joyce

Also Read: How To Recycle Leftover Wedding Flowers

Well, what do you think about the article?

Did you enjoy reading “Cactus and Succulent Care Tips Guide for Beginners“? If so, please comment down below. We would love to hear your thoughts about these care tips guide made by a cacti lover.

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