Getty ImagesLinda Burgess
There’s a lot more to these striking houseplants than just their prickles!
1. Are they indestructible?
No, if you’ve ever killed a cactus you are not alone. The easiest way is by over watering, poor drainage and using the wrong compost. Ordinary potting compost holds water well, which is a huge bonus for most plants but not for cacti, they need very good drainage. If you want to keep them alive it’s best to use specialist cactus compost instead.
2. Do they flower?
Cacti are all flowering plants, but some have more prominent blooms and there are a few, such as Mammillaria, Gymnocalycium and Parodia, that will flower quite easily with impressive, colourful displays.
3. How do I get them to flower?
Cacti flower on fresh growth, so if your plant just sits there, unchanging year after year, it’s very unlikely to flower. What you should do is to get the plant to follow its natural growth cycle. It needs to go dormant in winter and then wake up in spring. So, put it somewhere dry and cold, but not dark, over winter, and stop watering all together. In spring give it as much sunshine as possible and start to water it.
4. Which are the best varieties for beginners?
Moon cacti have very colourful tops, usually red or yellow. These aren’t flowers so the colour is there all year round. Bunny ears, also known as polka dot cacti, have spots of golden bristles against a green background so they look modern and geometric. Probably the most common variety is a tiny ‘pin cushion’ cactus, it’s easy to grow and has lovely little pink flowers.
5. How do you handle them?
Carefully! Either with very thick gloves or use folded newspaper to loop around the top.
6. Are all cacti prickly?
No. What we usually think of as cacti are desert cacti, but there are also forest cacti without the bristles, however the range available as houseplants is quite small.
7. How long do they live?
In the wild cacti can live for hundreds of years. Indoors they may survive for 10 years or more. The trouble with old ones is that every single knock, scratch or blemish they get stays with them, so they tend to look less appealing as they get older.
Getty ImagesPeter Fehrentz