Indoor Cactus Plants: An Introduction

If you are looking to grow some indoor cactus plants, you’ve come to the right place.

Cacti thrive on conditions of neglect. This means that growing these exotic plants indoors is very simple…

An occasional watering – perhaps twice a month – is about the extent of the maintenance they need.


If you are extremely busy, cacti are a great way to liven up your living space without undue effort.

Cacti or Succulents?

A cactus is a succulent. Indeed, all cacti can be termed succulents. This means that parts of them are abnormally fleshy, thickened so that they can retain water. This function is key as their natural habitat is an arid climate. They store this water in their stems to tide them through dry spells.

Cacti are only to be found in the Western hemisphere between Alaska and Chile.

Succulents in general are not all cacti. They operate in the same fashion except some of them also have leaves. Their botanical name is derived from the Latin word succulentus which means juice or sap. It’s this incredible capacity to store moisture that gives rise to the name.

Succulents are native pretty much worldwide.

When it comes to growing indoors, cacti are preferable to other succulents.

As long as you don’t overwater them – this is the most common cause of cacti dying – there is very little that can go wrong. These plants are known survivors. Their trademark spikes and tough skin mean that they are not subject to many predators. Couple this with their amazing ability to hold water and they truly are rugged fighters.

What Kinds of Cactus Work Best Indoors?

Kind Of Catus

If you go looking for cacti, you’ll see that they come in a vast array of shapes and sizes.

They are generally grouped into two varieties:

  • Desert Cacti
  • Forest Cacti

Forest cacti have slightly different care requirements. The most notable of these are the Christmas and Easter cactus. Read about them here.

Desert cacti work very well in an indoor growing environment.

Here are some very popular and common examples:

  • Cereus
  • Trichocereus
  • Cylindropuntia
  • Echinocereus
  • Notocactus
  • Echinopsis
  • Pilosocereus
  • Rebutia

When you are choosing your plants, you’ll see that they come in two distinct shapes. Some are globular while others are columnar.

Those with a globular habit are generally short and wide. They grow in a ball shape.

Columnar cacti are tall and narrow.

Take your pick between growing a single variety or by clustering them together for a truly striking look.

All of these respond extremely well to growing inside. Have a good look in your local garden center and choose a selection to kickstart your cactus garden.

How To Care For Your Cactus

How To Care For Your Cactus

With good heat, light and attention to watering technique, desert cacti are the perfect houseplants.

They will not outgrow their pots in a hurry.

We’ll walk you through some basic care instructions now so you can enjoy a truly impressive indoor display.


One of the most enduring myths about cacti is that they need almost no water. This is true in the sense that without much water they can survive. If you want the plant to thrive, though, pay attention to your plant and water it accordingly.

Watch the soil rather than the plant. When this soil has completely dried out, it’s time to give your new friend another watering. There is no need to water it until this stage but make sure you top it up when you notice that dry earth.

If you keep your cactus in a cooler or shady area, you can dial back slightly on the amount of water. As long as the soil is barely moist, that is perfectly sufficient.

During winter, cacti need even less water than normal.

If you overwater your cacti, they will burst and die.


Your cactus will grow if it’s kept in the shade but you’ll notice that it’s growth will be stunted.

Try to ensure that you place your plants where there’s a good dose of direct sunlight if you want the cactus to grow bigger and to flower (if it is the type that will flower indoors, that is).


In the spring and summer, choose between an all-purpose fertilizer or a dedicated cactus fertilizer, whichever works best for you.

Since cacti don’t grow too rapidly, you’ll only need to fertilize a handful of times each year. They really are low maintenance plants.


If you think about their natural habitat in the desert, it’s arid and the level of humidity is extremely low.

A combination of too much humidity along with poor ventilation can cause your plant to rot.

Steer clear of the bathroom or kitchen where steam tends to accumulate.


Due to the conditions in which they naturally thrive, you’re not going to produce too much heat indoors for a cactus.

In terms of the lower threshold, don’t let it drop below 5°C. Any lower than this and there’s a strong chance of damage.

If you follow these basic guidelines, you’ll enjoy a fuss-free and unusual indoor garden.

Some Common Questions About Cacti

How About Repotting?

Even though your cactus has the potential to grow to quite a size, there is very little overall volume to their roots. Because these roots are shallow, there is absolutely no need to use a larger container. Doing so, in fact, can be another factor causing the plant to rot.

When the plant is young, you’ll need to repot it perhaps once a year. When it gets older, you can reduce this to a change of pot every 4 or 5 years. Again, they really are undemanding plants in every sense.

What Growing Medium Should I Use?

You’ve got a wide choice when it comes to the growing medium for cacti.

There are specially formulated mixes which work very well. Some gardeners choose to make their own.

The key thing to focus on is an open medium. This will stop too much water from pooling around the roots.

Also, avoid overly rich or heavy mixes. Sidestep too much sand. Perlite or horticultural grit are preferable and will put a stop to any chance of your cactus rotting through exposure to the wrong growing medium.

How About Propagation?

The standard method is to propagate from seed.

The process is extremely simple. Pop some free-draining medium in a pot. Layer some small stones or grit over the surface. Sprinkle your seeds across then gently water. Cover your pot with a plastic bag ensuring moisture and humidity. Keep it in a warm area but away from direct sunlight in order to encourage the seeds to germinate.

How Quickly Does A Cactus Grow?

Not very quickly at all!

If you are looking for a houseplant that will grow like a weed in double-quick time, don’t choose a cactus.

For those of you who want a windowsill companion, it’s the perfect option.

How To Deal With Being Pricked By The Spines

It goes without saying you need to be careful to avoid the spines of your cactus. If you are handling your plant then wear gloves.

Large spines can be easily removed with your fingers or a pair of tweezers if you do get accidentally pricked.

The glochid spines are the tiny little ones that look like hairs. If these cannot be easily removed with tweezers, try putting some duct tape on the affected area and briskly pulling it off. The spines should come away with the tape.

Now, we’ll finish up with a brief look at some of the issue you might encounter with cactus diseases.

Cactus Diseases

  • Root Rot: When the roots become infected, the cactus will rot from the inside out. If you catch this early, simply chop off the rotted portion. The rest should scab over and new roots will grow. If you spot brown, yellow or black spots, chances are the roots are rotting. The plant will die if you don’t pick up on root rot in good time
  • Scales: Brown spots are often scale insects. Try scraping them off with your fingernail: problem solved
  • Fungus Gnats: This type of pest is not so much of a threat as a nuisance. If you notice these gnats buzzing around your plant then take action. Let the soil dry out totally. Put some organic cinnamon onto the soil to kill any fungi. These fungi are what their larvae feed on. This will address the root of the problem and prevent more from growing. Just swat the existing gnats dead
  • Mealybugs: Small and fuzzy patches on your cactus indicate the presence of these nasty little Mealybugs. The patches are evidence of the bugs excreting. Wash them away using water, soap and an insecticide. Left unattended, these bugs can cause your cactus to drop its leaves and die


We hope that this introductory guide to the unique plants that are cacti that inspired you to grow some indoors.

Come back for forthcoming articles on growing a cactus container garden and other aspects of cacti and succulents.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

Enjoy your cacti and be careful of those spines!

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