Guide to Growing Cactus at Home: Tips and Tricks for Beginners

Guide to Growing Cactus at Home: Tips and Tricks for Beginners

Jun 20th 2024

With about 55% of US households owning a home garden, many now turn to Cactus plants as a low-maintenance, lively addition to their green spaces. Besides bringing a touch of the wild, these prickly plants improve indoor air quality, promoting a healthier and stress-free environment.

Part of a larger family called Cactaceae, Cacti are native American plants that have adapted to survive in dry environments with minimal water. Storing moisture in their fleshy tissues, these green plants can withstand neglect, infrequent watering, and different light conditions. This makes them an ideal indoor plant companion.

Want to add these greens to your indoor garden? Read on for a detailed guide to growing cactus at home!

What Are the Types of Cactuses

Cacti come in many different forms, with some being large and tree-like (Saguaro) and others shaped like a ribbed barrel with prominent strikes (Barrel Cactus). However, these green plants are categorized into two main groups: Desert and Forest Cacti. Let's look at the differences between these two types to choose the right one for your home.

1. Desert Cacti

Desert cacti are what most people think of when they hear the word "cactus" — defined as a group of spiny plants living in hot, sunny regions. They usually have thick, fleshy stems that maintain water reserves and prominent ribs or flutes, which help them expand and contract as they absorb and use water. Besides, many desert cacti have spines instead of leaves, leading to a far lower evaporation rate in these species.

Here are 3 of the best desert cacti you can grow at home:

  • Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea): Belonging to the Sonoran Desert, saguaros are large, tree-like species that can grow tall and live for over 200
  • Golden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii): These are ball-like, rounded plants with a ribbed surface covered in dark green stripes, making them popular in home gardens.
  • Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia): Known for their flat, broad pads that look like large leaves, prickly pears are adaptable and produce colorful flowers and edible fruits.

2. Forest Cacti

Unlike desert cacti, forest cacti do not require full, bright sunlight or arid regions to survive. Instead, they're found in more tropical climates and have an epiphytic nature, growing on other trees or plants. These cactus plants appear much different than their desert cousins since they contain flatter, leaf-like stems instead of pronounced spines. Clinging to branches, forest cacti anchor themselves to the host plant, using it to absorb their water and minerals.

Here are 3 of the best forest cacti you can grow at home:

  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera): Besides having segmented stems, the Christmas cactus is a tropical plant that blooms in winter with colorful and lively flowers.
  • Orchid cactus (Epiphyllum): With flat, broad, and leaf-like stems, these cacti usually grow in loose organic material like tree bark, making them popular for hanging baskets.
  • Bishop's Cap cactus (Astrophytum): These are usually star-shaped and have no spines. Also known as star cacti, these species are famous for their olive-green, round bodies.

How to Choose the Right Cactus for Your Home?

The Cactus plant has nearly 2,000 known species, so picking the right one for your home garden may be hard. But don't worry; here's a guide to help you decide.

1. Sunlight Needs

Cactus plants usually need a lot of bright, direct sunlight, so consider the amount of natural light available in your home. If you want your plants to grow green and healthy, placing them near a south or west-facing window is best. South-facing windows get several hours of bright sunlight from mid-morning to afternoon, while west-facing sills are the hottest in afternoons.

However, if your spiny plants start to take a yellow or brown shade, it may indicate intense light exposure. You should shift it to a semi-shade position for a few hours to cool down. But what if your home doesn't receive a lot of sunlight? Well, opt for cactuses with lower light requirements, such as Gasteria, Haworthia, or Rhipsalis.

2. Size and Growth

If you're considering growing cacti at home, one of the first things you must consider is space availability. Think about how much active space you have — do you have a large, dedicated home garden or a small, landscaped balcony? Then, choose a cactus plant with a similar growth rate (considering factors like ceiling height, floor space, and potential spread).

For example, some cactus plants, like the Saguaro, can grow up to 40 feet tall, while others, like globular cacti, remain relatively small. So, the key is ensuring enough room for your chosen species to grow without being cramped.

3. Watering Requirements

Before bringing a cactus plant home, knowing its watering requirements is essential to ensure a healthy, blooming garden. Generally, desert cacti require far less water than forest cacti, so if you have water shortages, it's best to go with the latter.

As per the requirements, cacti require a well-draining soil mix that lets water molecules pass through quickly, avoiding waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. As a rule of thumb, the soil you choose should dry out at least 90% between watering sessions. If you're out of options, blend potting soil with perlite or sand in a bowl using garden gloves, and you'll be good to go.

The active growing season for cactus plants is between spring and summer, when you should water your cacti every 10-14 days. However, fall and winter are the dormant seasons, so your plant only needs to be watered once a month. These requirements may change depending on temperature and humidity conditions.

4. Aesthetic & Functionality

Besides sunlight and water requirements, you must consider your aesthetic preferences before growing cactus at home. Do you prefer the tree-like, sculptural form of the Saguaro or the light-green, trailing vibes of a mistletoe cactus? Then, choose a cactus plant that most closely aligns with your aesthetic vision, so you enjoy looking at and caring for it.

Some cactus species also offer functional benefits beyond aesthetic appeal. For example, the Prickly Pear cactus produces edible fruits, making it an excellent option for beauty and functionality.

Tips to Care for Your Cactus Throughout the Year

Are you thinking about growing cacti at home? Here are a few tips to care for your easy-to-grow, spiny plants:

  1. Ensure that the soil pot has good drainage to avoid water logging issues.
  2. Look for common pests like spider mites and mealybugs that can harm cacti.
  3. Gently brush the spines every few weeks to prevent debris buildup.
  4. Feed your plants low-nitrogen fertilizer every 8-10 weeks to encourage growth.
  5. Decrease the watering frequency during the winter months.


Growing cacti at home is not only a promising hobby but also a low-maintenance way to amp up the aesthetics of your living space. Bringing a wild, forest-like vibe to your home, cactus plants flourish healthily even with minimum care. All they need is the right soil mix, water, and sunlight conditions, and you'll have a lifelong companion that ages as you do.

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