Cactus Care

Monday, July 18, 2016

I am so excited to do this post! If you know me personally or follow me on Instagram, then it should be no secret to you that I adore my succulents. I wasn't sure this would be a topic of interest, but I actually have gotten quite a few requests for it. Lately I have noticed a surge in their popularity as decor. A lot of places have even begun selling fake plastic and rubber succulents. I find that hilarious because these are literally the easiest plants in the world to care for as long as you know how to care for them. I went to Florida for a week and my babies are all still perfectly healthy. Cactus and succulents are inexpensive, but that doesn't mean you don't want them to last. A lot of people get captivated by the aesthetic of cactus and succulent plants and fail to do any research on how to care for them. And I was totally one of those people! I was basically like OMG HOW CUTE, I WANT THEM ALL. Bought about six plants, shoved them in a giant pot of soil, and watered them daily. If you know anything about these plants you're probably cringing. Why? Well after about a week or two of watering these babies they all promptly DIED. And by died I mean turned to complete disgusting and depressing, unidentifiable mush. These plants are SO easy to over-water and over-watering leads to rot, or well...mush. But don't take that info and run with it thinking this low maintenance plant can be ignored for a year with no water or sunlight in your dark bedroom either.


What's the difference between a cactus and succulent?

So first things first, let's talk about the difference between the two. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. A lot of people, myself included (even in the title of this post!), are guilty of using the terms interchangeably. The main way to distinguish between the two is look for the small circles called, aureoles (hehe), where their spines, spikes, needles, fuzzies, or even flowers grow out of. Succulents that are not cacti are more fleshy, smooth, and leafy. If you're curious about the details, this article explains the differences really well!

 Check out her flower crown :) 

Where can I buy succulents?

You can find them easily in the garden sections of Lowe's, Home Depot, Walmart, or most plant nurseries. If you live in Texas, I have heard great things about East Austin Succulents! I'm hoping to make a trip there before the end of summer. If you are looking for a more rare or specific type of succulent you can actually order them online. There are some really cool arrangements on Etsy.
When you are buying them, use common sense to determine if they look healthy. Check for scarring or broken leaves, tiny bugs, or rot. If they are mushy looking they have been over watered and are beginning to rot. Avoid these plants. The best part about succulents and cacti is that they are generally very inexpensive. So don't fret if you kill off a couple of your first ones, I did the same, but they are replaceable.

A lot of these stores will sell succulents that are already nicely arranged in a pretty pot or container. If you aren't the type to get your hands dirty and are willing to pay a little extra, go for it! That takes out all the work, but to me arranging my own little plant groups is the fun part. If you choose to go with a ready to-go succulent arrangement my main advice would be to check for drainage holes on the bottom of whatever container they are in. You really want good drainage for your plants or else you need to have some sort of layer of gravel or sand at the bottom to help with drainage. More on that later.



One of the fun parts about succulents, is you can use just about any type of container to pot them in. I have plants in traditional clay pots, cute bright glass pots, wooden boxes, old candle holders and mason jars. But once again, you must have a drainage hole OR layer gravel at the bottom to give your plants proper drainage. TJ Max and the Dollar Store are great places to score on cheap containers to plant in. Or if you want to go with the traditional clay pot, they are super cheap at Lowe's! If the typical orange clay gets old you can always paint them. (hint hint ;) for a future DIY post) You want a pot that is a little bigger than the plant so they have room to grow into. If you are arranging a group of plants be sure to space them out so they don't grow to be overcrowded. If taken care of properly these babies will grow much faster than you think.

Same pot, new plants, but planted correctly!


This is the exact soil I use for my plants. But almost everything I read about succulents tells me that I need something mixed with perlite or crushed granite. But guess what, I still haven't tried this and I have not had any problems. I'm going to explain my planting process and it may not be pro advice but it works great for me. So take it, tweak it, or leave it.

If there is a drainage hole:
Put down a layer of gravel/small rocks
Mix cactus soil and fine sand (you can buy a small thing in the garden section for like less than $5)
Fill your pot about two thirds of the way
Plant your new babies as desired
Fill remaining gaps with soil
Finish off with a layer of sand that covers the whole top area

If there is no drainage hole:
Same steps except I add a much larger layer of gravel/rocks first then add another layer of sand on top of that
Continue the rest as above

The reason why I go through this crazy process is so that the plants are not left sitting soaked in water for too long.  And that leads me to...

 The top pot is the glued gravel mess that retained too much water.


Remember how I said to make sure to have a drainage hole if you buy pre-planted succulents? Well story time on another one of my sad plant deaths. (It's a learning process, ok!!)  My second ever plant purchase was a mixture of a cactus, two succulents, and a Red Devil Euphorbia Trigona. The way it was made they basically glued a layer of gravel on top of the soil and around the plants. Sure it looked super clean, but there was no drainage and so anytime I would water it. the water would just sit at the bottom of the pot accumulating. By the time I realized this was happening I already had lost the tender succulents to rot. On a happy note though the Red Devil survived and I still have it to this day, and it is triple the height!

Succulents are made almost entirely of water already so they do not require daily soakings. The best rule is to make sure your soil is completely bone dry between waterings. This will vary by plants too. My large outdoor Aloe Vera, Red Devil Euphorbia Trigona and Devil's Head  (yes from the story)
get generous soakings about twice a week. These plants are in full sunlight daily and dry up fast. My tiny fragile succulents on the windowsill and by the patio door are only watered on Sundays. Just always make sure they are dry before you water again. If you aren't sure by looking, stick your finger into the soil and feel for moisture. And the good things about these plants is they are good at telling you what they need. If they are plump and firm looking they don't need much water, if they are looking dry and drooping they need some love! Always check the leaves or base of the plant for signs of rot. If it's starting to look like its transparent or yellow or if it starts to get mushy these are not good signs. BUT succulents are magical in that sometimes they can be saved.*

He looks like an Octopus to me haha. 


 As far as light goes, these guys are happiest in a windowsill or at least relatively near a window. If you want to keep them outside make sure they get a good amount of shade or they will start to sunburn, turn brown and get distressed. If you want them as cute desk decor at work, make sure you are giving them some sunlight now and then. (Like every other day, not once a month.)


See the way the bottom of the Moon Cactus (far left) is yellow? It was that way when I purchased it and if I had done my research I would of realized that was rot.


If your succulent has rot:
If only the leaves are showing rot, remove the dead ones and refrain from watering until it shows improvement. If there is not improvement you will need to de-pot and check the roots. Remove any gross rotted ones and re-pot into dry soil. Wait for another week at least before watering.
If the base of the plant shows rot then you need to removed the plant. Cut off the roots and all the mushy part. If there is enough plant left you can leave it to dry out for a few days. A callus will begin to form. Once its would is completed callused you can replant it and see if it can be nursed back to health. And if only a few leaves can be saved, you can always try propagating them!

If your cactus is sharp:
You will want to invest in some rubber gloves. Fabric won't work because the needles will just poke through or get stuck in the glove. This has happened to me plenty of times haha.

If your succulent has gnats:
Refrain from watering as long as you possibly can. These stupid annoying bugs like to get into the soil and lay eggs but they can't live in dry soil. This is also another reason I add a layer of sand on top of my soil after I pot. They don't like sand! If things get really bad then I would suggest diatomaceous earth.

Things to avoid:
Spray painted succulents. WHY do stores keep doing this?! IDK but it's a sin to me. Hot pink and neon yellow plants should not be a thing. Additionally, stores love to HOT GLUE FAKE FLOWERS onto plants. Depending on the plant you can sometimes remove them without damage, but if you can just stay away.  

Get creative! Find weird containers or decorate your pots. Pick out plants that appeal to you and add them to your home or office for happy little decorations. No plastic plants! :)

Who needs hot-glued flowers when you have these gorgeous blooms!
Let me know in the comments if you have any tips to add or questions. Happy planting!

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