Published on September 1, 2020

Cactus in potPin It
Photography by Alyssa Rosenheck

There are few plants quite so primed for beginner caretakers as the humble cactus—if you just set it out in a bright spot in your home, it tends to do well with little extra fuss. But while it requires less attention than, say, your monstera or string-of-pearls succulent, that doesn’t mean that you can full-out neglect it. That’s why it’s important to know how often to water your cactus.

Yes, you likely already know that these desert plants are great at holding water inside of them so they can stand up to the high temperatures and drought conditions they might face in the wild. But your cactus does still need a good drink every so often to keep it healthy and thriving. Here’s how often to water your cactus, depending on where you live and the time of year.

How should you water your cactus?

The way that you pot your cactus has a big impact on how you water it—you can think of it as the best way to set it up for success. According to Mark Ramirez, founder of cactus shop Planet Desert, cacti like water, but they don’t like sitting in puddles: “As soon as they get a little bit of water, they suck it up—you need a soil with a good drainage system.” Getting a soil with perlite (or mixing it in yourself) helps ensure your cactus won’t soak up too much water.

Ramirez also recommends potting cacti in clay pots with drainage holes—the material makes it easier for excess water to evaporate—and placing pebbles on top of the soil around them. Not only does this second step look elevated, but it also allows the water to thoroughly disperse through the soil so it can be properly absorbed.

When should you water your cactus?

Cactus in potPin It
Photography by Andie Diemer

There’s no true one-size-fits-all solution. Some species go dormant in the winter, and they’ll need very little H2O or none at all. To play it safe, find out what kind of cactus you have and its specific needs. If it does require water in the winter, give it a drink every six weeks or so, when the forecast calls for sun—this ensures that any excess evaporate and the plant won’t drown.

In the spring and summer, things are a little more straightforward. Generally speaking, an indoor cactus needs to be watered once a month, but more frequently if you live in an especially hot climate—Ramirez waters the cacti in his Southern California greenhouse once a week. If temperatures are especially high and there isn’t a cloud in the sky, it’s also best to hold off watering until the weather is a bit more moderate—as Ramirez explains, water can be shocking to a plant if it’s in extreme temperatures, and droplets of water can magnify the sun, therefore burning the plant. 

How much should you water your cactus?

For a thoroughly hydrated cactus, water it until the excess runs out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Ramirez flushes water through the pots two to three times, to ensure that the roots are fully satiated. It’s best to water your cacti in the morning, rather than the evening—doing so gives them plenty of time to dry out.

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