Shirley-Anne Bell has been running Glenhirst Cactus Nursery with her husband Neville for over twenty years. Here she shares her insights into creating an impressive indoor display of these prickly wonders.
How many times have you wailed, “I love houseplants, but they don't love me!” Most die because you’re too busy to keep them well-watered and fed. Or maybe you have that one south facing windowsill where the plants always shrivel and die. If either of these sound like you, try cacti! They hate wet feet, they positively thrive on a regime of benign neglect and they lap up the sunshine.
Cacti come in a huge range of shapes, sizes and colours and many have the bonus of producing astonishing annual flower displays that can virtually cover some of the plants with blooms.
For a modern, minimalist interior, the stark outline of candelabra-like or columnar cacti, like Cereus and Opuntias, could be just for you. Or you may like the idea of a troll-like line up of ‘Old Men of the Mountains’ or Oreocereus, which are columnar cacti covered in long white hair.
Lovers of the miniature can choose fascinating little gems, ranging in colour from furry white Mammillarias to little black Neoporterias, and with every pattern and variety of spination from soft bristles to ferocious barbed fish-hooks.
If you want a change from spring bulbs, bowls of flowering cacti are a delight in April and May. Cacti that flower abundantly when young include Rebutias, Chamaecereus, Echinopsis, Lobivias, Mammillarias and Notocactus.
You can use any proprietary compost for your plants, but you may need to add a good handful of horticultural grit or sharp sand to the mix if you suspect that you might be over-generous with the watering can. Luckily, cacti are generally pest free, apart from mealy bugs, which can be treated with Malathion, Sybol or a systemic insecticide.
Water weekly in the growing season and feed every two or three weeks with a cactus fertilizer like Chempak, or with a tomato fertilizer. Try to remember to turn them every time you water, so that they grow evenly.
Gradually reduce watering from the end of September to rest your plants. They need a period of dormancy, and this triggers bud production. If kept in the warmth of the house, you should be giving them just enough water from November to March to prevent them from shrivelling. Increase watering from early March so that by April they should be delighting you again with strong growth.