Bring the desert into your living room this winter | News

After a somewhat mild December, January lived up to expectations of a New England winter. Less than halfway through the month, we have already experienced an accumulation of snowfall and freezing temperatures.

As the thermometer drops, our minds wander to a warmer climate. But due to concerns over the ongoing pandemic, many daydreams of a warm sunset over the scenic Arizona desert will remain in our dreams this year.

If traveling to a warmer climate isn’t an option for you this winter, why not try bringing some desert warmth to your home this season with an indoor cactus garden.

Cacti and succulents have become increasingly popular indoor plants in recent years. Growing these native desert plants in the bitter New England climate can be a challenge, but not impossible.

To ensure a successful indoor cactus garden this winter, start with healthy, well-groomed plants.

If you’re buying cactus for the first time, buy it from a professional, reputable garden center or nursery to ensure you’re buying a healthy, well-maintained plant.

Healthy cacti should be planted in nutrient-rich sandy soil to allow for good drainage.

If you’re repotting a cactus you already have around the house, use potting soil specifically designed for cacti and succulents, or mix regular potting soil with one-third sand to make it more suitable for these desert plants.

Your cactus should enter the winter season well fertilized to help the plant prepare and sustain itself through the cold winter months.

Also check for signs of any unwanted pests. Inspect the leaves monthly for signs of infestation.

The most common houseplant bugs are aphids or mealy bugs. If you find any, move the infested plants away from other plants and spray a mixture of three parts rubbing alcohol to one part water.

Once you have established that your cacti are healthy, choose an appropriate location in your home to have your cactus oasis.

Most cacti and succulents need four to eight hours of sunlight per day during the winter months.

If you don’t have a suitable spot that will get that much sun, you can always supplement mother nature’s sunlight with an electric grow light.

Grow lights are available online or at home and garden stores.

Grow lights are also beneficial for adding extra warmth to your cactus garden in homes that tend to be cooler in the evenings.

Although enough sun is necessary for a healthy cactus, too much sun can be harmful. Overexposure can cause spinal discoloration, uneven texture, and general wilting and sunburning effects on your plant.

The average home temperature in the winter is between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range is ideal for most cactus species and will prevent outside temperatures from having adverse effects on your plants.

Be careful not to expose your cactus to extremely fluctuating temperatures in your home. Like the general ambience of cacti, they prefer a stable and even atmosphere to stay healthy during the winter season.

Avoid exposure to drafts from doors and windows. Cacti will go dormant and stop producing growth if temperatures drop to around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures colder than this could kill your plant.

When it comes to watering your cactus, the winter season should have no effect on your cactus watering regimen.

As a general rule, most species of cacti only need to be watered about once a month, which makes the cactus the perfect houseplant for the distracted (like me)!

If you notice your particular species of cactus showing signs of wilting, adjust your watering schedule accordingly, being careful not to overwater.

It’s always best to err on the side of underwatering when it comes to cacti and succulents, as both are prone to root rot. You can always add more water, but there’s not much you can do to stop the damage from overwatering.

Most cactus species have low levels of toxicity and are safe for humans and pets. However, the spine and needles of some varieties can be dangerous. Keep in mind that a cactus’ needles are meant to be the plant’s defense mechanism against unwanted intruders, so if small children or pets are a problem, keep cactus gardens out of their reach.

When purchasing plants of any kind, most will come with a label showing the specific species name of the plant. It’s always a good idea to keep name tags with the plants to make it easier to find any questions you may have about the plant in the future.

If January is any indication of what Mother Nature has in store for us this winter, it looks like this New England winter will be as harsh as usual.

Keep the winter blues at bay by basking in the warm desert ambiance right in your own home. With a little planning and a little upkeep, you can enjoy your own desert “vacation” for years with an indoor cactus garden.

Dora W. Clawson