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A Beginner's Guide to Caring for Succulents and Cacti

A Beginner's Guide to Caring for Succulents and Cacti

Succulents and cacti have become increasingly popular as houseplants in recent years, thanks to their low-maintenance nature and unique, eye-catching appearance. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about caring for these resilient plants, from selecting the right species for your space to learning about the differences between the two. So, whether you're a seasoned plant enthusiast or new to the world of indoor gardening, read on to discover the secrets to successfully growing succulents and cacti in your home.


  • What are succulent and cacti?
  • What is the difference between cacti and succulents?
  • How to choose best succulent or cacti for your home
  • Succulent/Cacti Light requirements
  • Watering Succulents and Cacti
  • Soil Requirements
  • Common Cacti/Succulent Pests and Diseases

What Are Succulents and Cacti, and Why Are They So Popular?

Succulents and cacti are a diverse group of plants known for their ability to store water in their thick, fleshy leaves, stems, or roots. This unique adaptation allows them to survive in arid environments, making them ideal for busy plant owners who may occasionally forget to water their indoor gardens.

One reason for their popularity is their variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. From the plump leaves of the Echeveria to the towering arms of the Saguaro cactus, there is a succulent or cactus to suit every taste and interior design style. Additionally, many species are relatively easy to propagate, allowing plant enthusiasts to grow their collections with minimal effort.

What is the Difference Between Succulents and Cacti?

While the terms "succulents" and "cacti" are often used interchangeably, it's important to recognize that they refer to different plant classifications. Although all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. Let’s look into the distinctions between these two types of plants, helping you better understand their unique characteristics and care requirements.

Succulents: A Diverse Group of Plants

Succulents are a broad category of plants that store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. This water-storing ability allows them to survive in arid environments and periods of drought. They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and can be found in many different plant families. Some popular succulent families include Crassulaceae (jade plants), Aizoaceae (ice plants), and Echeveriaceae (echeverias).

Succulents are characterized by their thick, fleshy leaves or stems that store water, allowing the plant to go extended periods without needing additional hydration. They typically have shallow root systems, which enables them to quickly absorb water when it becomes available. Succulents can be found in various habitats, from deserts to tropical rainforests, and many have evolved unique adaptations to thrive in these diverse environments. For more info on succulents, read our Complete Succulent Grow Guide.

Cacti: A Specialized Type of Succulent

Cacti are a specific type of succulent that belongs to the plant family Cactaceae. While they share the characteristic of water storage with other succulents, there are several unique features that set cacti apart:

1. Areoles

One of the most distinctive traits of cacti is the presence of areoles, small, cushion-like structures on the plant's surface from which spines, flowers, and new branches emerge. Areoles are unique to cacti, and their presence is a key factor in distinguishing cacti from other types of succulents.

2. Spines

While some succulents may have spines, they are a more prevalent feature in cacti. These spines are modified leaves that help protect the plant from herbivores and provide shade to the plant's surface, reducing water loss through evaporation. The spines also help to direct water towards the plant's base during rainfall.

3. Growth Habits

Cacti tend to have more specialized growth habits than other succulents. Many cacti have cylindrical or columnar shapes that minimize surface area, reducing water loss. Others, like barrel cacti, have a spherical shape that allows them to expand and contract as they store water.

4. Flowering and Fruit

Cacti are known for their stunning, often large and showy flowers. These flowers are typically pollinated by insects, birds, or bats, depending on the species. After pollination, many cacti produce fleshy, edible fruits. We recommend checking out this article to learn more about the types of edible cacti fruits

Choosing The Right Succulent Based On Their Care Needs

Before you begin your succulent and cactus journey, it's important to consider the specific needs of these plants and how they will fit into your space. Here are some factors to keep in mind when selecting the perfect succulents and cacti for your home:

1. Light

Most succulents and cacti require bright, indirect light to thrive. Consider the light conditions in your space and choose plants that will do well in those conditions. For rooms with limited natural light, aesthetically pleasing grow-lights, such as the Aspect grow-light, can provide the necessary light for healthy growth. Check out the Aspect LED Pendant Plant Light

2. Space

Consider the mature size of the plant, as some species can grow quite large over time. Make sure you have adequate space to accommodate your chosen succulents and cacti—and any big spines that might come with the cacti!

3. Humidity

Succulents and cacti generally prefer low humidity environments. If you live in a humid climate or have a moisture-rich space, such as a bathroom, you may need to choose more humidity-tolerant species or provide additional ventilation.

4. Pet safety

Luckily, most succulents and cacti are considered non-toxic and are harmless plants to pets when ingested. Others contain skin irritants that can cause skin irritations, and some can cause mild symptoms when ingested. However, there are a few succulents that can be fatal when ingested in large quantities. One example of a toxic succulent to pets, is aloe vera. Although aloe vera is known for its many medicinal and beneficial properties to humans, it is toxic to both cats and dogs when ingested. Saponin, a chemical in aloe, is the main toxin which can cause serious problems for your pet’s health.

If you have pets in your home, be sure to research which succulents and cacti are non-toxic, as some species can be harmful if ingested. Our blog post, 20 Pet-Friendly Plants, can help you learn how to find safe plants for your furry friends.

Understanding the Light Requirements for Succulents and Cacti

Succulents and cacti typically need at least six hours of bright, indirect light each day to grow and maintain their vibrant colors. However, the specific light requirements can vary between species. Here are some general guidelines for providing optimal lighting for your succulents and cacti:

1. Bright, indirect light

Place your plants near a south or west-facing window, where they can receive plenty of sunlight without being exposed to harsh, direct rays. If you’re using grow-lights, don’t place the light too close to the plant, or consider options that offer a wide-spreading beam of light. The Highland plant track light system can illuminate larger areas, making it ideal for homes with multiple plants or a dedicated indoor garden space.

2. Rotate your plants

To encourage even growth, rotate your succulents and cacti every few weeks so that all sides of the plant receive equal exposure to light.

How to Water Succulents and Cacti Properly

One of the most crucial aspects of caring for succulents and cacti is providing the right amount of water. These plants are adapted to survive in dry environments, so overwatering can lead to root rot and other issues. Here's a guide on how to water your succulents and cacti effectively:

1. Watering frequency

Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings. This typically means watering once every 1-3 weeks, depending on the size of your plant, the type of soil, and the humidity in your space.

2. Watering method

When watering, it's best to soak the soil thoroughly until water drains from the bottom of the pot. Avoid getting water on the leaves or stem of the plant, as this can lead to rot.

3. Seasonal changes

Succulents and cacti may require less frequent watering during the winter months when they are in a dormant phase. Adjust your watering schedule based on the needs of your plants and the specific environmental conditions in your home.

The Importance of Soil and Drainage

Succulents and cacti require well-draining soil to prevent their roots from sitting in excess moisture, which can lead to root rot. Here are some tips on selecting the appropriate soil and ensuring proper drainage for your plants:

1. Soil type

Use a well-draining soil mix specifically formulated for succulents and cacti. These mixes typically contain a combination of potting soil, perlite, and coarse sand to promote drainage and aeration.

2. Pot selection

Choose pots with drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Avoid using pots without drainage holes or adding a layer of rocks at the bottom of the pot, as this can create a reservoir of water that leads to root rot.

3. Soil additives

If your succulent or cactus appears to be struggling with drainage, consider adding additional perlite or coarse sand to your soil mix to improve aeration.

Preventing Common Pests and Diseases

Succulents and cacti can occasionally suffer from pests and diseases. Here are some common issues to watch for and tips on how to address them:

1. Pests

Mealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites are common pests that can infest succulents and cacti. Keep an eye out for signs of infestation, such as small white or brown spots, webbing, or a sticky residue on your plants. To treat infestations, remove affected leaves or stems, apply insecticidal soap or neem oil, and isolate the affected plant from your other houseplants to prevent the spread of pests.

2. Root rot

Overwatering can lead to root rot, which causes the roots of your succulent or cactus to become soft and mushy. To treat root rot, remove the affected plant from its pot, trim away any rotten roots, and repot the plant in fresh, well-draining soil.

3. Fungus

Fungus can develop on the surface of your succulent or cactus if the plant is exposed to excessive moisture or humidity. To prevent fungal issues, avoid getting water on the leaves or stem of your plant and ensure proper air circulation around your plants.

For more information on caring for specific types of succulents and cacti, or for guidance on dealing with particular challenges, check out this article on cacti care and the Soltech ultimate guide on succulent care for some insightful succulent care tips.

With a little bit of knowledge and attention to detail, you can successfully grow and maintain a beautiful collection of succulents and cacti in your home. By selecting the right species for your space, providing adequate light, watering properly, and ensuring good soil and drainage, your plants will thrive and bring life and beauty to any indoor environment.

To further enhance your indoor gardening experience, be sure to explore our other helpful blog posts, such as "The Top 10 Easy-to-Care-for Houseplants for Busy People," which offers suggestions for other low-maintenance plants that can complement your succulent and cactus collection.