How To Look After Cacti

Published on June 8th 2019
A cactus in a green vase
Cacti are more popular than ever at the moment. Charming, curious and near-indestructible, they are grown for their intriguing shapes as well as their bullet-proof nature.
Cacti thrive where other plants fail, tolerating drought, extremes of temperature and exposure to direct sunlight – conditions they have evolved to survive in their natural habitat, the desert.
Read more about cacti here:
Here are just a few tips on how best to look after your spiky plant companion.
A cactus in a field with Saguaro National Park in the background
The iconic saguaro cactus. It is possible to grow this in the UK, but you'd need a very large conservatory and even more patience.
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General Care

Cacti are so easy-to-grow, but here are a few dos and don’ts as a guide:
  • Do place in full light, preferably with plenty of sun. During winter, full sun is essential. Never place in a shady or sunless aspect.
  • Don’t leave exposed to direct midday summer sun through glass as some species may suffer.
  • Do allow them to dry slightly between waterings. Summer watering should be frequent, but free-draining. During winter allow to virtually dry out, and you may only need to water two or three times over the whole season.
  • Don’t (EVER) leave standing in water.
  • Do give good ventilation during summer and feed with a cactus fertiliser as advised. If re-potting only go up one size and use a specialist cactus compost.
  • Don’t leave plants right next to a heat source in winter, particularly in low light situations, or they stretch and, ultimately, rot.
  • As a general rule keep cool, dry and sunlit during winter for best results as this is the time of year most cacti struggle.
A cactus in a garden
It is common to group different cactus and succulent species together for impact.


When growing cacti you’ll come up against very few problems, but here are the main ones to watch out for:
  • Rotting-off: once a cactus begins to rot, there’s little that can be done. Dust yourself down and start again, but remember to reduce watering with future plants.
  • Long, thin, pale growth: most often during winter this is caused by lack of light, usually in centrally-heated rooms. Remember to keep dry and provide full sun from September-April.
  • Mealybug: white fluffy bugs appear in the crevices and ribs of plants and can be removed by hand on small plants. Larger plants may need biological treatment or chemical control.
  • Scales and scabs: brown scales (scale insect) should be treated similarly to mealy bugs, though brown corky scabs are more usually an indicator of heat and humidity being too high.
A close up of a cactus
This prickly pear has mealybug. In very severe cases the plant may need discarding, so keep an eye on new plants for the symptoms.
All cacti are succulents. However not all succulents are cacti! Read more about succulents here:
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