Published on January 16, 2020

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Photography by Amber May

Unpopular opinion: Cacti are not easy to care for. Billed as the low-maintenance houseplant, our collective graveyard of succulents tells another story. Native to deserts spanning Alberta to Argentina, this sturdy species feels most at home in harsh environments and may seem invincible. But on the contrary, cacti can struggle to acclimate to your comfortable, temperature-controlled home or office. Put simply, they crave dry, sunny settings and will basically drop dead if you overwater them. 

For some much-needed insight, we tapped Joyce Mast, Bloomscape’s resident plant mom. While there are more than 2,000 different types of cactus, we narrowed it down to three popular breeds commonly spotted in stylish spaces: emerald ripple, torch, and prickly pear cacti. From light exposure to watering, heed Mast’s advice, below, to keep your desert dweller alive and thriving. 

Cactus Care Tips

Prioritize drainage or risk death.

According to Mast, these perennials will simply not tolerate wet roots or soil. Make sure your cactus lives in a pot with ample drainage holes, and always empty the saucer of all standing water. Doing so will make the plant less susceptible to root rot, damage, and death from overwatering.

There’s no such thing as too much sun.

Cacti need strong and consistent sunlight exposure, especially from early spring to late fall, notes Mast. Rotate your plant frequently to ensure that each side gets equal sun, or else it may develop a lean. In the winter, she suggests moving it away from a direct light source so it can go dormant and rest. 

Step away from the watering can. 

Unsurprisingly, your cactus basically hates water—it can go up to four weeks without a drink during the fall and winter months. During its peak season, water infrequently but deeply to mimic the torrential downpours of its natural habitat. Saturate the soil with lukewarm water until it flows through drainage holes into the saucer, and always keep the column of the plant dry. 

How to spoil your houseplant: cactus edition.

During the hottest summer months, your cactus will appreciate the extra sunlight. “Place it outside on a terrace, if possible,” suggests Mast. Additionally, try to keep your cactus away from heating or cooling vents, fans, or anything that causes temperature fluctuations. 

Signs of a health crisis.

If you’ve killed as many succulents as we have, you know what a struggling cactus looks like. “A dying cactus is shaky in its foundation and may appear as though it’s leaning,” notes Mast. If your plant is struggling to stand up, prepare your last words. 

Different Types of Cactus to Choose From

Emerald Ripple Cactus

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Courtesy of Crystal Sinclair Designs

Characterized by its wavy edges and sharp spines, the emerald ripple cactus is a multi-trunk varietal that boasts a vibrant green color. The eye-catching perennial will be an asset to your home or patio. 

Torch Cactus

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Courtesy of Crystal Sinclair Designs

The torch is the most basic cactus on the market. With a single column, it boasts a silvery green color when mature and serves as a focal point in any space. 

Prickly Pear Cactus 

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Courtesy of Crystal Sinclair Designs

Known for its flat, fleshy pads that resemble Mickey Mouse ears, the prickly pear represents roughly a dozen species of the Opuntia genus. As one of the most eye-catching varietals, it will add a distinct Southwestern touch to your space.  

See more plant-care tips: 
This Popular Household Plant Is Virtually Impossible to Kill, Says an Expert
How to Care for Succulents (and Other Low-Key Plants)
Expert Tips and Tricks on the Trendiest Trailing Plants

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