Your Quarantine Guide to Growing Cacti Indoors

by Lauren Irish '23

Trying to follow the trend of growing succulents or cacti inside but don’t know how? Can’t understand guides posted online because many are arguing different ways to water your plant?  Not sure what tools and soil to use to re-pot and replant your growing Hens And Chicks? Well, worry no longer! I bring you your official guide to growing those hardy desert plants you’ve always wanted indoors! Here’s an outline of what I am going to explain to remove any confusion:

  • Where you can find your new plant (online and in-person stores given!)

  • Location/Equipment/Soil (aka what you need to keep them alive)

  • Succulents+cacti recommendations (separated by level of difficulty)

  • Decoration (what to use)

  • Proper watering methods (a lot of false information is spread about misting)

  • Propagation (how to grow more succulents using their leaves)

Picking the proper location to purchase your succulent or cacti from is essential if you want it to survive when you bring it home. Due to COVID-19, many places are not available for safety reasons, but online sellers are a great option if you do not want to go out. You don’t even need a super fancy store to visit, the garden areas of places like Home Depot, Lowes, and even Walmart can carry healthy varieties of succulents and cacti. Of course, they sell the more common species such as Moon Cacti, Golden Sedum, and Echeveria Glauca, so don’t expect to see plants like Sticks On Fire. 

Amazon is a great source for cacti and they can sell in bulk so you are able to purchase from 20 to even 100 at a time (though, if you are new to succulents I wouldn’t recommend it). I ordered a pack of 20 to try it out and was thrilled to see that, despite being in a box, the plants were well protected and I was able to re-pot them. The good thing about shopping for succulents on Amazon is that buying in bulk means lower prices. For example, a ten pack can cost $29.99 or around $3 a succulent, which is a lower price compared to physical stores that sell individuals for between $4-7. 

Two other online websites I recommend are Mountain Crest Gardens and Planet Desert. Mountain Crest Gardens has many smaller succulents ranging in price between $4-5, and they offer a customizable succulent tray (aka you pick the colors and they give you a huge variety of 2-inch succulents) for purchase. Planet Desert has the rarer varieties of succulents but also carries favorites and prices vary, but because most of their plants are full-sized price ranges from $5 and up. 

Before purchasing, you will, of course, need a place for your new succulent to live. Pick a spot in your house that is near a window, where sunlight can come in but the cactus isn’t in direct sunlight either. Despite being desert plants, more than three hours of direct sunlight a day can seriously harm a succulent, and their leaves can literally sunburn where their leaves turn grey and scar. 

Soil wise, pick out a bag that is labeled for cactus and succulents as regular soil usually does not have the right texture or nutrients that are needed for proper growth. I recommend using Miracle-Gro’s Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix, as it’s easy to find at stores and order online. You must also pick out a pot with proper drainage so when you water there is no build-up of mold or extra liquids at the bottom, and a dish should be put under the pot as well to prevent spills. If you want to try using a pot with no drainage such as a glass pot like an Oui yogurt cup, you will need to build layers of different materials to stop the mold. Start with a layer of drainage pebbles or gravel then add some dried moss to keep the soil from dropping through. After that, include some crushed charcoal to prevent odor and then add your soil. For watering, I recommend using a sauce bottle or just a regular succulent watering bottle for reasons I will explain later on. Only invest in a mist bottle if you are planning to propagate. 

Now to the arguably the best part, picking out your cacti! Below is a list of nine different plants I recommend depending on the amount of experience you have.

Beginners (first or second time raising): 

  • Moon cacti (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii friedrichii): this sturdy colorful cactus can be found really anywhere for a cheap price and can grow up to a foot tall, though usually many do not.

  • Zebra Plant (haworthia fasciata): a favorite among many for its unique white stripes, adaptability to different environments, and it can grow four inches wide and a foot tall.

  • Golden Sedum (sedum adolphii): these succulents are a wonderful addition to a terrarium but grow very quickly, so re-potting will be necessary 2-3 times (if you buy them at 2in, they grow up to 10-12 inches).

The reason I didn’t put in jade plant is because I always seem to kill them no matter what I try.

 

Intermediate (you have successfully raised and grown succulents in the recent past):

  • Crinkle-Leaf Plant (Adromischus cristatus): the appropriate dosage of water is extremely important with this plant as while it needs less water than a lot of succulents, forgetting to water can kill it.

  • Propeller Plant (Crassula falcata): be careful of rot due to watering problems and this plant needs the right temperature to grow, and it can grow up to foot wide and tall.

  • Bear’s Paw (Cotyledon tomentosa): a lot sunlight is needed for this particular plant and propagation with leaves is incredibly difficult so patience is required if you wish to grow another one.

Advanced (you are confident in your skills and have been raising succulents for months):

  • Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera): my family’s favorite, they blossom once a year but can blossom more frequently if given the right conditions, too much sunlight to these plants is deadly.

  • Living stone (Lithops): arguably one of the most difficult cacti to raise, you will be moving around quite often to meet its sunlight needs, and temperature conditions for this plant must be perfect.

  • Mammillaria plumosa (feather cactus): beautiful plants like this one require a responsible owner, it is rot-prone, and you must have perfect drainage to prevent this; the cold will also kill off this plant.

 

Decor wise, almost anything goes. You can make your own landscape using sand, rocks, sea glass, seashells, moss, driftwood, and even little toys like a plastic animal to make it look real. Use real sand instead of the finely processed type to allow water to reach the roots. Say, when adding sand to decorate, you end up getting some on your plant, use a paintbrush, and gently brush the sand or soil away. Try not to overpack your pot either as you don’t want to block sunlight or potential growth outward. For moss, you can use dried forest moss or reindeer moss, though I prefer the latter as I find it to be more attractive to the eye. Be careful when finding moss outside because you could end up transferring parasites or other insects that can harm your plant, thus ordering online is safer. 

Some people will tell you to use a misting bottle to water your succulents, and I am here to tell you to completely avoid that method no matter what. Misting is a terrible method because not only does water not reach the roots, but there can be mold build-up on the plant and other objects in your terrarium. The best possible method is the soak-and-dry method which is quite simple. First, take your succulent watering bottle (or a regular bottle, but be very careful of the amount you are pouring) and dampen the surrounding soil. You are going for a darker color where water is visibly present, but it isn’t in large puddles around the plant(s). Then you will wait until the soil becomes completely dry (you can check by inserting your finger in the soil and checking though do not rupture your display) and then repeat with the water. Soil can become dry quickly or it can take a while, it may take two days or a week and a half, you just have to be patient. The only reason you would ever need to mist your plants is if you are again, propagating, or if you have a terrarium with plants close to the bottom of the glass and so the roots are closer to the surface. 

Propagation is simpler than it sounds. It is simply the process of removing a leaf from a propagatable succulent and growing another plant out of it. Sounds cool right? All you need to do is pick out a succulent and begin. Not all succulents are propagatable, some only reproduce through offsets (little copies that grow off the side of the plant), but if it has clear leaves there’s a chance you can propagate. Check online to see if your plant is propagatable before you end up waiting for a very long time (I did that with a zebra plant when I was new to succulents). Pick out a leaf (it cannot be small or budding) and then gently twist and pull it off and leave it to dry for a day and a half. Afterward, put the end of it in the soil, do not submerge it in the soil, only about two millimeters under so it can root and then sprout. If you are worried that nothing is happening, wait two weeks then you can carefully lift the leaf and check for roots but remember to put it back when you are done. 

If you have any questions regarding cacti you can email me at laurenir23@sssas.org. I check my email almost every five seconds so I will see it.