Help My Cactus

Question:

I have a cactus that is dying. Normally, I dislike cacti, so I would throw it away. The problem is that my mom recently passed away, and it was her cactus, so it has a lot of sentimental meaning. How can I save this cactus before it dies? It used to have about 10-15 stems that grew beautiful burgundy flowers. All that is left is 2 stems and no flowers!

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Sandi from Canada

Answer:

Sandi,

I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. Since I'm assuming you moved the cactus from where your mother was to where you are now, it's also safe to assume that some the environmental conditions the cactus was used to have changed. Your best chance for success will involve trying to mimic, as closely as possible, the conditions (light, temperature, etc.) of the plant's former growing environment.

General growing requirements for desert types of cacti include the following:

Temperature: Average warmth from spring to autumn with cooler (50º F to 55º F) temperatures in the winter. Hairy cactus like Cephalocereus senilis and Espostoa lanata need slightly warmer minimum temperatures (60º F).

Light: The more sun the better, but move them away from windows during cold winter nights.

Water: Treat your cactus like a normal houseplant from late spring through late summer. Water the cactus only when the compost begins to dry out. Cacti are sensitive to over watering, so if you have a tendency to over water houseplants in the first place, use a moisture meter to help you keep tabs on the soil's moisture level. At summer's end start backing off on the water. Keep the cactus almost dry from autumn until early spring. During this time, give it only enough water to keep it from shriveling.

Humidity: Keep it on the dry side. It will appreciate some fresh air from an open window on hot summer days.

Flowering: Cacti usually flower on new growth. Leaving them slightly pot bound can help stimulate this.

If you're worried that your cactus is on an irreversible downward spiral, try taking stem cuttings or offsets to start a new plant before it's too late. Let the cuttings dry out (cure) for a few days before inserting them into a peat-based compost.

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The above are only generalities. I would recommend finding out what type of cactus you have so you can address its specific growing requirements and follow detailed propagation techniques.

Ellen

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.

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