A thorny affair

By TheHindu on 21 Dec 2017 | read
  1 017

When I think of the cactus, I usually think of the innumerable varieties it has. A plant that I really like, the cactus is beautiful and can add a lot of charm whether outdoors or indoors.

A member of the plant family Cactaceae, the genus has 12 main species and is cultivated worldwide. It’s a pretty sight whether potted, set in ornamental gardens or reigning in a rock garden.

Some cacti bear beautiful flowers, most with spines or prickles on them. The flowers are solitary and regular in most cases, with colours ranging from white to blackish red through to various other shades. There are dozens of varieties available in the market today and they are among the toughest houseplants, hardy and needing little needing little water or maintenance. Because of this, even serial plant killers will love to grow a cactus, although it does require sticking to some pretty simple rules, which I have given below.

Cactus gardens offer a great solution for the limited gardening spaces available in modern cities, apartments and verandas. For the indoors, the best places for cacti are bay windows, atriums or bright porches. You can display them ornamentally by creating a rock garden. Another idea would be to convert a large bowl into a miniature landscape with many varieties of cacti and other succulents.

Cactus must never be over-watered. The one thing they cannot handle is wet roots or dampness. Good drainage is essential in any growing mix for raising cacti. Porous clay pots are the most favoured containers since they allow water and air to pass through, ensuring ample aeration for the roots and quick drying of compost. This promotes root growth and minimises the possibility of root rot. Re-potting should be done only if needed.

The size of the pots must be large enough to accommodate the plant but not too big, which will allow extra compost and moisture to accumulate. On the other hand, very small pots could harm the plants, making them ‘pot bound’ too quickly and restricting growth. The best growing medium is a mix of peat-moss, garden soil and sand. The plants are usually are propagated by seeds, cuttings or offsets. The most common ailments that affect cacti are root or stem rot. Good air circulation reduces the incidence of rotting. Fish-bone cactus, Christmas cactus, Turks Cap, and Carrion Cactus are the commonly grown varieties. Cacti can be used also as a fencing plant, and grown densely it makes an excellent natural wall. The cactus is a beautiful plant that can be gifted to the most beautiful person in your life.

Rashmi Sunil

The writer runs Harith Tharang, a favourite haunt of gardening enthusiasts.

Mail her at hinduhabitat@gmail.com


#1 Give them plenty of sunlight or fluorescent light indoors

#2 Never over-water; jab a pencil into the mud and if it comes out wet, don’t water

#3 Use the right pot size. Too small and it chokes, too big and it gathers moisture

#4 Use porous soil for best results; adding sand helps porosity

#5 Line drainage holes with pottery shards or gravel before adding soil