; ...look after a cactus
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...look after a cactus


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        HOW TO..
...look after a cactus
If you’ve always wanted to keep cacti, this is your
indespensible guide on how to get the best from
your succulents
■ Why would I want a cactus?
Because they are so hardy, and need little care,
they are good for people who want houseplants
but who feel that they don't have a lot of time, or
are away a lot. And, of course, it’s not such a
problem is you forget to water them.
■ Do they take up much space?
Generally no, and they can be very suitable for
homes that have little space, for example pop
them on a windowsill. However, check how big
they will grow before you buy them, just in case.
■ How do I look after them?
Cacti need three things – water, heat, and light.
If you get these right then they are simple to care
■ So how much water do they need?
Watering a cactus is where people most
commonly go wrong. You should let the soil dry
out between watering and not water during the
winter when the plants are dormant. When to
start watering again depends on what species of
cactus you have. If you see flowerbuds appearing, or new
growth, give it some water.
   A general rule of thumb is to start watering again in the
spring. And always let the soil dry out completely between
■ But won’t it die if the soil dries out?
A cactus can go several months without water because of the
harsh conditions in which they grow.
   However this isn’t recommended, particularly if you want to
get the best from your plant. They need water to grow.
■ What about heat?
   Keep the temperature above five degrees Celsius (42
degrees Fahrenheit).
   They don’t like the cold or frosts, so if your cacti are in a
greenhouse or conservatory you will need to provide heat
during the winter. The ideal temperature for cacti during the
winter is about 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).
■ Can they get too hot?
They can, so keep the temperature below 32 degrees Celsius
(90 degrees Fahrenheit). Greenhouses should be well
ventilated during the summer.
■ And what about light?
Because cacti grow in deserts, they like a lot of light.
   So, to get your cactus to thrive, place it in a spot where it will
get the most light. A south-facing windowsill is ideal.
■ What sort of soil do they need?
Roots can rot if they stay wet so a free-draining, sandy soil is
best. Prepared cactus soil is sold at most garden centres and
■ Do they need feeding?
Cacti are very good at extracting nutrients from the soil
because they grow in harsh climates, so food isn’t a necessity.
   However, you can give them food to improve
their growth but be careful as
overfeeding can lead to
them growing too quickly
and becoming

 ■ Hybrid – a plant produced by crossing two different
 species of cacti
 Bristle – a stiffened hair of the cacti
 Callus – protective tissue formed over a wound

What the expert says:
Jan Mitchell, chairman of the Hayling Island Horticultural
Society, said: ‘Don’t kill them with kindness. Some people think
they need to be watered all the time whereas in fact they thrive
on not being watered, even during the summer.
   ‘Water them once a week in the summer and water them
very sparingly during the winter. They need plenty of drainage
so use lots of gravel with the compost. You can put them
outside in the summer if it’s warm but they have to be brought
in during the winter because the frost kills them.
   ‘They are popular with children. When they sprout babies
you can take them off carefully and plant them and the children
love doing that.’
      NEED MORE?
 For tips on gardening read Brian Kidd’s column in Weekend
 magazine, which is free with The News every Saturday
 For more information on cacti visit www.cactigu-
 ide.com or alternatively visit the website of the
 British Cactus and Succulent Society at
 www.bcss.org.uk                                            478
■ To view all the How To series go to www.portsmouth.co.uk
and click on How to... in the popular links menu.

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