How to grow and care for Desert Cacti Indoors

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Cacti Care, Cactus Care

Cactus rebutia

Botanical family: Cactaceae

Desert Cacti come in numerous forms and sizes and they form interesting houseplants which are especially popular with beginners.

Desert Cacti have many adaptations for water conservation. The native habitat of Desert Cactuses is subject to drought; many live in extremely dry environments like the Atacama Desert.

Desert Cacti are succulents which means they have thickened, fleshy parts adapted to store water. Most species have lost true leaves, retaining only spines, which are modified leaves.

The spines are produced from specialized structures called areoles; woolly or hairy areas on stems. Areoles are the identifying feature of cacti. The areoles also give rise to flowers.

Desert Cacti have shallow root system that quickly absorb any water reaching the soil surface. Their stems are ribbed or fluted which allows them to expand and contract easily for quick absorption of water.

The leafless, spiny stems are succulent which is an adaptation to store water. The surface of the stem may be smooth or covered with protuberances of various kinds, usually called tubercles.

Cactus Care, Cacti Care

Pereskia spp (Rose Cactus)

The odd one out of the Desert Cacti is Pereskia spp which bears thin stems and true leaves. The flowers look like wild roses and hence the common name Rose Cactus. It grows to a height of 6 ft.

Most Desert Cacti employ the CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism). CAM plants are plants that harvest Carbon dioxide at night and use it during the day to make their food.

As they make their food they store the oxygen they produce in the process and release it at night. This is an adaptation of CAM plants to their drought-prone climate which enables then survive the harsh climate.

Desert Cacti require plenty of sunlight, free-draining, sandy soil and to be kept on the drier side. Another group of Cacti are the Forest Cacti which are native to the tropical rain forests.

Forest Cacti are so different in form and requirements from the Desert Cacti. The popular ones include Christmas Cactus, Easter Cactus and Orchid Cactus.

Cacti Care, Cactus Care

Aprocactus

Desert Cacti Care Indoors

Desert Cacti Light Requirements

Desert cacti grows best in bright light to full sunlight with at least 2-3 hours of sunshine per day.

Turn the pot a quarter turn every few days to ensure your Desert Cacti receives light from all sides.

Avoid exposing your Desert Cacti to too hot sunlight before acclimatizing it as it can get sun scorched. Check out this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

How to Water Desert Cacti

Water Desert Cacti moderately during the growing season and allow the top 2 in. of soil to dry out between waterings.

Reduce watering for your Desert Cacti during the cold season to maintain the soil barely moist.

Avoiding wetting your Desert Cacti as it can lead to rotting. Watering from the bottom is safer.

Use room temperature water to water your Desert Cacti to avoid plant shock as it can lead to slow growth.

Ensure the pot for your Desert Cacti has a drainage hole to prevent the soil from getting soggy as it can lead to rotting. Read more on how to water houseplants.


Temperature for Desert Cacti

Average warmth between 16-280C during the growing season is ideal for your Desert Cacti. Learn more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity for Desert Cacti

Average room humidity is ideal for Desert Cacti. Desert Cacti have no need for high humidity. Ensure good air circulation for your Desert Cacti to prevent fungal diseases.

Fertilizer (Feeding) for Desert Cacti

Feed Desert Cacti monthly during the growing season with a phosphorous (for root development) and potassium (to enhance flowering) rich fertilizer.

Withhold feeding for your Desert Cacti during the dormancy stage (cold season) as growth is minimal at this time. Read more on how to feed houseplants.

How to Repot Desert Cacti

Repot Desert Cacti annually during the growing season for the young plants. Repot mature plants only when the plant is pot-bound.

Use a shallow rather than a deep pot for your Desert Cacti as they have shallow roots.

Use a pot 1 size larger for your Desert Cacti and one that has a drainage hole to prevent the soil from getting soggy as it can lead to rotting.

Be careful not to bury the stems of your Desert Cacti to prevent rotting.

The best soil for your Desert Cacti should be loose and free-draining to avoid waterlogging of the soil.

How to Propagate Desert Cacti

Desert Cacti can be propagated at the beginning of the growing season from offsets which form at the base of the plant or stem cuttings.

How to propagate Desert Cacti from offsets

Seperate the offsets from the mother Desert Cactus plant and allow the offsets to dry for 1-3 days before potting.

Pot each offset in its individual pot in moist free-draining soil while being careful not to bury the stems to prevent rotting.

Water sparingly, only when the soil is dry and avoid waterlogging the soil as it can lead to rotting.

How to propagate Desert Cacti from stem cuttings

Take a 3-4 in. stem cutting from a healthy Cactus plant and allow the stem cuttings to dry for 1-3 days.

Insert the Cactus cutting into moist soil and place the set up in a warm well-lit place.

Maintain the soil moist by light misting until the new Cactus is well established.

Cacti Care, Cactus Care

Cactus chamaecereus

Desert Cacti Problems Indoors

Desert Cacti elongated stems

Elongated stems in Desert Cacti are caused by too little light; Desert Cacti prefer bright light to direct sunlight.

Too little light will cause the plant to grow elongated stems in an attempt to reach the light source.

Move your Desert Cacti to a brightly lit spot where they can also receive some direct sunlight.

Desert Cacti shrivelled stem-tip and soft rot below

Overwatering is the cause of shrivelled stem tip and soft rot in your Desert Cacti.

Water your Desert Cacti moderately during the growing season while allowing the top 2 in. of soil to dry out between waterings.

Also, ensure the soil is free-draining and the pot has a drainage hole to avoid waterlogging.

Desert Cacti rot at base followed by stem collapse

Rotting plant base and stems collapse in your Desert Cacti is an indication of basal stem rot disease which is brought about by overwet conditions.

Avoid overwatering during the cold season. Use the upper stem to propagate new plants and discard the infected parts.

Desert Cacti brown soft patches

Brown soft patches in your Desert Cacti are an indication of stem rot due to wetting the foliage.

Cut out infected tissue and water with a fungicidal solution. Avoid wetting the foliage and improve air circulation.

Desert Cacti corky patches on the surface

Corky patches on the surface in your Desert Cacti are due to three reasons.

One reason for corky patches on the surface in your Desert Cacti is underwatering; water Desert Cacti moderately during the growing season while allowing the top 2 in. of soil to dry out between waterings.

Ensure the soil is free-draining and the pot has a drainage hole to avoid waterlogging.

The second reason for corky patches on the surface in your Desert Cacti is physical injury; keep the plants away from the line of traffic.

The third reason for corky patches on the surface in your Desert Cacti is chilling; Desert Cacti can not tolerate chilling temperatures.

They prefer average warmth with a minimum of 150C therefore they need to be protected from cold draughts and low temperatures.

Desert Cacti no growth

Improper watering is the reason for no growth in your Desert Cacti.

Water your Desert Cacti moderately during the growing season while allowing the top 2 in. of soil to dry out between waterings.

Also, ensure that the soil is free-draining and the pot has a drainage hole to prevent the soil from getting soggy.

Desert Cacti diseases

Common diseases in Desert Cacti are Crown and Stem Rot and root-rot disease.

Desert Cacti pests

Common pests in Desert Cacti are Mealy Bugs, Scale Insects and Spider Mites.

Are Desert Cacti toxic?

Desert Cacti are non-toxic to humans and pets. However, some have spines and thorns, though they are not poisonous it is advisable to wear gloves while handling to avoid injury. They are safe to grow indoors.

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