Great houseplants for our climate

Cacti easy to maintain


— Succulents are plants that have thick, fleshy leaves or stems. They hold water, especially in adverse conditions. Cacti are succulents and grow all over the world. Of the more than 2000 known species of cacti, all but one grow in the Americas.

Cacti are easy-to-maintain houseplants. They enjoy dry conditions of 10 percent to 30 percent humidity such as we generally experience in the Steamboat Springs area.

Cacti require full sun exposure. Or, you can use artificial light with cool white fluorescent tubes placed 6 to 12 inches above the plant. These lights need to run for 16 hours a day.

To repot a cactus, use a clean, dry container that is only 2 inches larger than the existing root ball. Purchase potting medium created especially for cacti or make your own with equal parts coarse sand, Canadian sphagnum peat moss and perlite.

Know your plant's requirements, as cacti that grow naturally in the tropics require more organic soil.

The container must be able to drain excess water away from the plant as cacti will rot if allowed to sit in water. During the winter months, only water occasionally to prevent shrinking of the cacti.

Cacti are not big feeders and need fertilizer only a few times a year at half-strength. Other succulents prefer fertilizer three to four times during spring through fall and at half-strength.

Propagation of succulents is very easy and a wonderful way to share plant cuttings with a friend. Cut or break off a leaf or stem, let it air dry and then place it in slightly moist, sterile sand. Do not overwater.

After root development, pot as directed for the specific plant. Growing cacti from seed requires patience as some seeds take a year to germinate.

Pest problems on succulents may include scale, mealybugs or spider mites. Wipe the first two insects off with cotton swabs dipped in alcohol. Washing off the spider mites may help, but if it doesn't work, try an insecticide or miticide.

To avoid fungus or bacterial problems, do not overwater and keep the plant in full sunlight.

Different common succulents that grow well in Routt County homes are the jade plant (Crassula arborescens), snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), medicine plant (Aloe barbadensis), century plant (Agave americana) and the flowering Kalanchoes (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana).

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) are common cacti found in our homes. They do require full sun; however, they like more humidity than most cacti. In the fall they like nighttime temperatures of 55 degrees and an increase of 10 to 15 degrees during the day. In five to six weeks, they will bloom. These Holiday Cacti should be planted in regular cactus soil and allowed to dry out well between waterings. Do not relocate the plant after buds have set.

Another cactus, the Cereus, also known as Midnight blooming cactus, grows well inside our homes. I saw this plant growing naturally in Paraguay and have one at home that's been with me for 30 years. In the spring it has a tropical pungent flower that opens only at night. And who thought cacti were dull?

Camille C. Fisher is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 or e-mail to:


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