With their unusual shapes, interesting structure, a variety of sizes and their generally easy-going nature, it’s not difficult to understand how growing plants from this vast and diverse range has the potential to become just a little addictive!
We’ve put together our guide to these lovelies, including the good, the bad and the prickly (see what we did there?!), plus all the information you’ll need to ensure that yours flourish in true Mexican style!
The good… aloe vera
There are a number of reasons why aloe vera has become so incredibly popular over recent years…
- it’s an easy plant to grow and care for
- it forms a dense clump of lovely fleshy, light green leaves with soft toothed margins
- it grows quickly and, if happy, produces plantlets known as ‘babies’ which can be removed and successfully grown as new plants – for free!
We caught these bad guys on our CCTV recently… if anyone knows their whereabouts, the local police are interested in them for crimes against sombreros…
Seriously though, these cheeky chaps definitely bring a little fun to the cacti and succulent party!
The ‘real’ bad… stapelia
If you’re interested in a proper ‘bad’ plant, then you need stapelia! With their interesting, tooth-edged, leafless four-angled stems and flowers the shape of starfish in red, purple or yellow, stapelia may be quite lovely to look at, however beware! Although the blooms are spectacular, these ripen after a couple of days and then give off a nasty odour – this is produced in order to attract pollinators, but is not so nice for the human nose!
If you like the look of these plants but don’t want the smell associated with their blooms, then be sure to choose one of the two much sweeter-smelling varieties, stapelia flavopurpurea or stapelia erectiflora.
And the prickly… echinocactus
They may be prickly, but the rows of spines on the deeply ribbed lobes of these plants are extremely attractive and, with the most common species being almost perfectly round when young, they make a truly lovely plant display.
Holding these spiny specimens can be tricky when re-potting, so use thick strips of folded newspaper as tongs or an oven glove to protect yourself.
Care and maintenance
There are four key aspects to consider in caring for cacti and succulents:
Compost & drainage – compost must be open and free-draining to help prevent water-logging (specially mixed cactus compost is ideal) and good drainage must be provided.
Position – most cacti and succulents can be placed on a sunny or bright windowsill all year round, but always be sure to check the favoured conditions of your varieties to make sure you give them the best home. During Winter your plants will appreciate cooler night temperatures of a minimum of 8-10°C to provide a period of rest – and central heating is not usually a problem as long as you remember to provide enough water to prevent them from shrivelling.
Water, feed & ventilation during Spring & Summer:
Water cacti and succulents freely, always allowing excess water to drain away and for the compost to dry out slightly between watering.
Feed established plants once a month during the growing season (April-September) using a liquid indoor plant food or specialist liquid cacti feed.
Cacti and succulents need fresh air and particularly good ventilation during the Summer months.
Water, feed & ventilation during Autumn & Winter:
From September onwards, reduce watering to a minimum to encourage a period of rest and allow the compost to virtually dry out between watering.
Some desert plants can be left un-watered from early November to the end of February, especially if they are not in overly-heated rooms – but be sure to check for the specific varieties you have.
Winter-flowering plants will need warmth and regular watering during these months, followed by a rest period over the Summer months.
Where possible, it’s always best to use tepid rainwater for watering cacti and succulents, to avoid the build up of minerals in tap water which can cause deposits on leaves.
Cleaning – a build up of dust can look unsightly, so remove this regularly using a soft paint brush or blusher brush on cacti and textured succulents, and a damp cloth on smooth succulents.
As for any other plant, cacti and succulents will look good and perform best if they are allowed to follow their natural seasonal pattern – so be sure to mimic the dry season, followed by an increase in watering to mimic the rainy season to help produce a good floral display.
Always check on the resting period of the varieties you have, as they may well be opposite!
The appropriate method of propagation for cacti and succulents is indicated by their habit…
- Plants with branching habits can have their side shoots and stem removed to produce stem cuttings.
- Clump-forming species readily produce offset ‘babies’ which can be lifted and divided.
- Columnar types are propagated by stem cutting.
- Some fleshy leaved varieties make great leaf cuttings – which are simple and fun!
The easy way to Mexican style…
Want the Mexican look but simply don’t have the time or the green fingers (or both!) to achieve the style you want? Then you need artificial cacti and succulent plants – and yes, you read that correctly!
Artificial plant quality has improved so much in recent years that it’s often difficult to tell the difference between artificial and the real thing without touching them. And aside from the obvious no-maintenance benefits, using artificial plants means that you can add plant interest to the previously unused darker corners of your home – what’s not to like about that?
Visit us in-store to check our gorgeous range of cacti and succulent plants (real and artifical!), plus all the terrariums, pots, planting kits and finishing touches you’ll need to add maravilloso Mexican style to your home!