How to Grow a Cactus

Indoors or out, you'll want to add this prickly pal to your garden collection.

Do you secretly long to be a desert dweller? Start your journey toward your dream by planting a cactus. These easy-care plants are perfect houseplants and wonderful landscape plants in areas in which they can survive cold temperatures. Yes, you read that right—there are actually plenty of cold-hardy cactus varieties! Prickly pear cacti, for example, will grow outside pretty far north. Wherever you are, the key to success with growing a cactus is to give it the light, soil, water, and food that it wants.

Here's what you need to know to grow a cactus.

Where to Grow a Cactus

There are many different types of cactus plants, including some that grow in trees! However, most people grow theirs either outdoors in the landscape or indoors as houseplants. Always read the plant tags for specific details, but for the most part, cacti thrive in full sun and fast-draining soil. Indoors, this means growing near a south- or west-facing window.

You can move indoor cactus plants outdoors during the summer when nighttime temperatures are at least 65 degrees F. Start their outside stay in a protected spot and let them get used to being outside, then move them to an area with more sun. Morning sun is best if you're planning to move plants between indoors and out.

When to Plant a Cactus

If you're planting a cactus outside, try to do so during late spring through summer when the plants are actively growing. They'll establish roots more quickly and get off to an easier start.

How to Plant a Cactus Outside

1.    Most cactus plants need lightweight, well-draining soil. Prepare the soil in the planting area by mixing equal parts native soil and Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Cactus, Palm & Citrus. It has Moisture Control® technology to help protect against over- and under-watering, both of which can cause problems for your cactus.

2.    Dig a hole that's equally as deep and 1½ times as wide as the root ball or stem (some transplanted cacti don't come with large root balls).

3.    Set the plant in the hole so the north side of the plant faces north. This side is often marked with a flag or chalk; if it isn't, be sure to ask before you leave the garden center. Here's why that's important: The south side of the plant, which receives more sun, usually develops a tougher skin that is more resistant to sunburn. The north side, on the other hand, may not be able to handle the sun as well.

4.    Fill in around the root ball with additional soil mixture, then pat it gently.

5.    Water lightly.

6.    If you're planting a cactus that was grown in an outdoor greenhouse, cover it with a bit of shade cloth for a couple of weeks so it can get used to the strong outdoor sun.

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How to Plant a Cactus Indoors

1.    Select a pot that is 1½ times as wide as the cactus root ball or stem. If your home is humid or you tend to water too much, you may want to choose an unglazed container, which will dry out more quickly.

2.    Fill the pot ⅓ full with fast-draining Miracle-Gro® Cactus, Palm & Citrus Potting Mix, which contains just the right nutrients to get your cactus off to a great start.

3.    Place your cactus in the pot so that the stem or root ball is at the same depth as it was before transplanting. Wear gloves or use a thick layer of newspaper to protect your hands!

4.    Fill in around the rootball, leaving about an inch between the top of the soil and the rim of the container.

5.    Water lightly, until the soil is about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

How to Water a Cactus

While it may be easy to guess that the leading cause of death for cactus plants is over-watering, you may be a little surprised to learn that the second most common cause is under-watering. It can be a little tricky to figure out the sweet spot, and it's different in summer, when plants are doing more growing, than in winter, when they're taking a bit of a break. If you're growing your cactus indoors, a good rule of thumb is to water when the top 3 inches of soil are dry. This could mean every couple of weeks in the summer, dropping to once every 4 to 6 weeks during the winter. Keep an eye on your plants: If they start to look a little shriveled, they probably need water. Outdoors, though, you shouldn't need to water your cactus at all unless your area hasn't had rain for months.

Close up of Cactus

How to Feed a Cactus

While cacti may not need a whole lot of water, they do need to eat! If you planted your cactus outdoors using Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Cactus, Palm & Citrus to prepare the soil, you'll want to start feeding a month after planting with Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble All Purpose Plant Food, which will provide your prickly baby with instant nutrition. For potted cactus plants, meals should begin about a month after planting. Feed them with Miracle-Gro® Succulent Plant Food by applying the nutrient-filled liquid directly to the soil, then watering normally. With both types of plant food, be sure to read the directions.

How to Prune a Cactus

Simply put, don't! All you'll gain if you do is a patch of corky, dried-out scar tissue where you cut. If your cactus outgrows your living area, the best solution is to donate it to friend with more space and get yourself a new, smaller specimen.

Dealing with Cactus Problems

As long as you don't drown your cactus, it should stay fairly problem-free. Over-watering can encourage problems with rot, and (unfortunately) there's not a whole lot you can do about it other than starting over.