4 Things You Didn’t Know About Cactus Care, Including Sunburnt Cacti

Over the past decade, succulents have captured the spotlight as the unlikely prima donna of modern gardening. Their various varieties (unique shapes and colors) and no-fuss drought tolerant nature make them popular home décor accent pieces. A quick Instagram hashtag check shows there are over 10 million #succulents posts. And cacti, a subcategory of succulents, shares that popularity.

I am also a fan of succulents (including cacti). One of my favorite out of my collection of houseplants is a succulent trio comprised of: long, tubular-leaved money plant (Gollum Jade), red-crowned moon cactus (Ruby Ball), and an echeveria variety (see the image in post). I had imagined that caring for these houseplants would require very little maintenance. But a recent plant fiasco (out of love)—I tried to recreate the scorching full-sun desert environment for my succulent-and-cactus trio that ended up getting my moon cactus sunburnt—has made me realized that not all things go well for these tough plant specimens.

Here are 4 things I learned when I surfed the web to find ways to save my moon cactus.

  1. Go Gentle with the Cactus: A moon cactus, which is prized for its bright colors (red, pink, or yellow) top, is a grafted specimen. The bright colored plant, Gymnocalycium mihanovichii, is without a green body. To survive, it is grafted on the stem of another cactus. The purpose of the lower cactus is to display the eye-catching, colorful top. Because the upper and the lower rootstock portions are two different plants and grow at different rates, this grafted variety is more likely to develop root rot and are relatively short-lived.
  2. Place in Well-Lit Space with Respite from the Sun: Contrary to the common assumption that cacti and succulents need very bright and intense heat, most cacti and succulents actually do not do well in locations with intense sun exposure. Instead, they prefer bright locations with partial shade. I learned this first-hand— after I tried giving my succulent trio a “vacation” in a “desert-like” environment, my moon cactus now has a brown (sunburnt) top. ***EMPHASIS: I am not making this up: cactus sunburn is actually a fairly common problem. Check out CactiGuide.com for more information on diagnosing and treating cactus illnesses.
  3. Water with Loving Neglect: Cacti and succulents are two types of plants where over-watering is worse than under-watering. Over-watering can cause root rot and bacterial infection. Generally, abide by the rule of thumb of giving them space (a.k.a. they just like to be left alone with adequate sunlight) and water once a week or less.
  4. P.S. Born to… (be wild?): Most cacti you buy are raised in a greenhouse where the conditions are kept at a pretty consistent level. And exposure to extreme conditions such as extreme heat or cold can harm them.

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