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Expert tips to Help Keep your Cacti and Succulents Looking Sharp

If you've been inspired by the new Arid Garden to give growing cacti and succulents at home a try, the good news is they are some of the most low-maintenance plants you can add to your home garden. Big or small, spiky or a little more gardener-friendly, here are some tips from Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria’s Horticulturist Chris Jenek, which will ensure you're the best plant parent your cacti and succulents could ask for!

Before You Buy 

  • Find out the exact name and species of the succulent you're purchasing – this will ensure you're able to access any specific information you may need about how to care for your plant once you've brought it home.
  • Make sure your plant looks healthy. Cacti and succulents are tough cookies, but if a plant is discoloured, it could be an indication of unwanted pests or diseases which could ultimately kill your plant. 

Potting Your Plant

  • Stay safe – it's very easy to get pricked in the process of potting a cactus, which can end up being very painful and sometimes serious! It's best to wear a thick pair of leather gardening gloves, but if you're in a pinch, layers of newspaper or rags can provide some protection for your hands as you're transporting the cactus.
  • Make sure to choose the correct potting mix for your plant – most cacti and succulents prefer a porous potting mix that drains well to prevent root rot due to the plant sitting in waterlogged soil. It's simplest to use cacti and succulent-specific potting mix which will ensure a good result. If you're planning on making your own, adding pumice or gravel to your standard potting mix will increase porosity and prevent the soil from becoming overly dense and firmly packed. 
  • The pot you use matters. Cacti and succulents need drainage, so ensure you select a planter that allows for maximum drainage, and allows the soil to completely dry between watering. Light coloured or terracotta pots are preferred as the plants will sit in full sun most of the time and black pots get very hot, cooking the roots in the process.

Caring for Your Cacti and Succulents 

  • Making sure your plant gets enough light is vital. As a rule, the more bright sunlight the better for most species, so you should make sure to plant your cactus or succulent in a spot in your garden that receives full sun. That said, some cacti species require some shade to prevent sun stress, so it's worth taking a couple of minutes to research the species for some guidance on how much sun your plant can handle. 
  • Avoid over or under watering! Overwatering is one of the most common causes of sick cacti and succulents. Endemic to arid regions, these plants are accustomed to low, intermittent rainfall and grow best with dry periods, especially if planted in an outdoor bed. Cacti and succulents do need water, especially during periods of growth. If you notice your cactus looking shrunken or its surface becoming dimpled, it could use some water.
  • Make sure to give your plant some food as well as a drink. Fertilise your cacti and succulents a couple of times a year (in spring and again at the end of summer) to keep them healthy – standard fertilisers should suffice. 
  • If your plant is struggling, consider transplanting it to another location in your garden. This is worth doing if you feel that the amount of sun or the soil quality might be better for your plant somewhere else in the garden, especially as cacti and succulents are quite resilient. 

Be sure to visit the new Arid Garden at Melbourne Gardens for some inspiration!

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