Cacti and succulents are great low maintenance plants for those who are busy, experienced, or new to indoor gardening. Their unique form and interesting colors make individual plants impressive, unique, and beautiful. Combining several to create a desert-inspired dish garden or attractive display in unique containers and vertical gardens adds to their appeal.
All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. Succulents include a broad array of other plants that have thick fleshy leaves or stems. These store water to help the plants survive in extremely dry conditions. Succulents are found all around the world. All but one type of cacti are native to the Americas from the Arctic Circle to the mountains of Chile. This wide range of growing conditions has resulted in a variety of shapes and sizes. Cacti have areoles – bumps – which sets them apart from other succulents. These structures are where flowers, spines and stems grow.
Whether it’s a cactus or another type of succulent, all you need is lots of light and benign neglect to raise healthy and beautiful plants. Place succulents near a south-, west- or east-facing window or under artificial lights. Water thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil is dry. Some gardeners check the soil moisture at the drain hole just to be sure the soil is dry and needs to be watered. Always pour off any excess water that collects in the saucer.
When you purchased your plants they were likely growing in a cacti and succulent potting mix. This is a planting mix that drains faster than most potting mixes. The fast draining mix reduces the risk of overwatering that can lead to root rot. Use the same type of planting mix when transplanting individual plants into larger containers or creating a container garden of succulents.
Most cacti and succulents need minimal fertilization. One application in spring and another in summer is usually the most any of these plants require. As you know I am a fan of Milorganite, a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer great for any type of plant. But it does have that earthy smell that may make you hesitate to use it indoors. If you don’t mind the “fragrance” just work it into the soil to help mask the smell. Otherwise you may decide to use an indoor plant fertilizer according to label directions.
Make slight adjustments in your watering regime and growing environment as the seasons change. Adapting to the changing conditions keeps your plants healthy and looking their best year round.
Show off your cacti and succulents in unique containers and arrangements. Combine a few plants to create a dramatic desert indoors in an open terrarium. Select an open container or leave the top off the terrarium for these plants that thrive in dry soil and low humidity.
Plant a few in a wine bottle. Cut an opening into the side of the bottle or purchase one that’s precut. Add some fun to your next meal. Fill cocktail glasses with a cacti and succulent potting mix, add succulents and place one next to each place setting. They make unique gifts as well.
Dress up your meals with a living centerpiece. Plant a variety of succulents in a shallow ceramic container. After each meal, move your living centerpiece to a sunny location and continue to provide proper care so your centerpiece is ready for your next meal.
These easy care, unique plants are hard to resist. It starts with one plant then soon you find yourself with quite the collection. I know I did.
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By Pamela Crawford, author, Easy Patio Veggies & Herbs
Photographs by Pamela Crawford
Pamela has written a great article about mixing herbs in containers. Herbs are natural companions with different textures for interest. The herb mix of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme offers lots of flavor from a small combination loaded with textural interest.
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