Caring for Cactus

a table of different, small cactus plants

Cacti are beautiful, varied, and resilient. Resistant to drought, deterring to pests, and gorgeous to watch slowly growing through the years, they make excellent garden and house plants in climates all over Earth.

Best of all, they're easy to maintain! Here are the basic elements of caring for these elegant, stately succulents.

Growing Environment

Many people grow cactus in pots or buckets to create a controlled environment, even if their plants are growing outdoors.

Cactus plants thrive in soil that's well aerated and fast draining. If you live in an area where the soil is not well aerated, you should mix pumice with normal loam soil to attain the ideal cactus growing mixture in a bucket. However, if you live in a sandy area, the plant might enjoy the local soil. You can also purchase cactus mix from a local nursery to help you create the ideal environment for your plant.

If you have existing cacti, or some friends who are happy to share clippings from their plants, there are many ways of propagating cactus. If not, most nurseries offer a wide selection of small, cheap seedlings.

cactus with spikes and flowers

Water Needs

During warmer months, cacti need a moderate amount of water—they like a heavy drink at least once a week. Let the soil dry out at least partly between waterings. If your cacti are in containers with no drainage, water sparingly, and make sure the water does not pool around the cactus since it may lead to rotting.

In most places, you can water cacti plants less during the winter, especially if they're planted outdoors. Sprinkle sparingly once a month, or anytime you notice the soil has dried completely.

Lighting Needs

There's no hard and fast rule for how much light all cacti need (there are over 2,000 different kinds), but in general they can handle a significant amount of direct sunlight—more than many other kinds of succulents. 5-8 hours of natural photons will keep most cacti happy. Varieties that come from desert ecologies can handle all day exposure, on the order of 12-14 hours.

If you want to grow your cactus indoors, place it near a south-facing window—those areas receive the most light each day. If you're growing outdoors, pick locations with at least a few hours of direct sunlight. If you position a plant somewhere that gets all-day sun, water it more frequently.

cacti inside in bright white pots

Inside, cacti can be happy with a full day of incandescent or fluorescent light, though they may be even happier near a window. If a succulent doesn't receive sufficient light, it will eventually become leggy trying to get more. If you notice this etioliation (your plant growing in a way that bends or stretches its shape toward a light source), try to find a slightly brighter spot.

In places or times where natural light is scarce, you can supplement with energy-efficient grow lights.

Fertilizer Needs

Just like any other plant, cacti need nutrition. If you're growing your cactus inside, apply any fertilizer higher in phosphorous than nitrogen (5-10-5) and dilute to 1/2. For outdoor cacti, use a well-balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) diluted to 1/4. Always water after applying fertilizer.


Cacti are incredibly resilient. Set yours up for the best possible growth by making sure they have well aerated soil, daily exposure to sunlight, occasional thorough watering, and well-balanced fertilizer.