Succulents, including cacti, are popular houseplants because of their ease of care. They store moisture in their thickened stems, leaves and roots, so the soil can dry out between waterings. If you forget to water a succulent, and its leaves begin shrivelling, it will likely completely bounce back once it gets a good soaking.
Plant succulents in a ratio of 2/3 grit, perlite or pumice to 1/3 potting soil in a container with a drainage hole. Place the pot in a sunny window with a southern or western exposure. When the soil is dry, water it liberally, letting the plant soak up the water. Use a water-soluble fertiliser at ¼ strength every other watering from April through August, and water it more sparingly during the winter with no fertilisation. Control mealybugs and cottony scale, two common pests, with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
According to the University of Illinois Extension, the most popular succulent found in homes is the common aloe (Aloe vera) plant. It has long, thick, pointed leaves of pale green with jagged edges. Its sap, which has a gellike texture, is a balm for skin rashes and burns, including sunburn, and is used in moisturisers. Aloe vera sunburns in a hot window with direct sun, so give it bright, indirect light.
Cactus that flower easily in home environments top the list of common indoor varieties, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Chin cactus (Gymnocalycium spp.) is one of the most popular cactus varieties for home growing. It produces brightly coloured blooms on short stems atop its torso. Pincushion cacti (Mammillaria spp. and Escobaria spp.) are low-growing, spiny, bulbous plants with spherical stems, rarely getting more than 6 inches tall. They produce pink, purple, magenta and red blooms that nestle in the stems. Pilosocereus pachycladus, which has been in commercial production for hundreds of years, is the most common columnar cactus available.
Although many species of kalanchoe are grown as houseplants, the most common is K. blossfeldiana. It produces small bouquets of tiny flowers in orange, red, white, magenta and pink and continues flowering for up to eight months. Its nonspiny foliage is a lush green. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, it is one of the most familiar succulents sold.
Jade plant (Crassula ovata/C. argentea) makes "a prize houseplant," according to the University of Illinois. It has been grown for generations. Often, cuttings from the mother plant or grandmother plant are passed down to family members. The jade plant has round leaves rimmed with red, which grow on a compact, branching structure. It blooms with sprays of starry pinkish-white flowers.
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) is second only to poinsettias in popularity during the holiday season, according to the University of Florida extension service. Growers control light and temperature to make them bloom at this time of year, bearing bright bursts of colour at the tips of arching green branches. They prefer indirect light, so place them in a bright window but not in direct sun.
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- University of Vermont Extension; The Best Succulents for Houseplants; Leonard Perry, Ph.D.
- Easy Cactus: Gymnocalycium Cacti
- Cactus Info: Growing Indoor Cacti
- University of Illinois Extension; Cacti and Succulents as Houseplants; David J. Robson; Dec.22, 2009
- University of Minnesota Extension; Cacti and Succulents; Deborah L. Brown, 2009
- University of Florida Extension; You Can Keep Your Poinsettia After Holidays; Ann Reamy; Dec. 15, 2007