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The weird shapes of these fleshy plants are an endless source of fascination, especially when exotic flowers bloom on them. The flowers of cacti are particularly exquisite and brilliant. Some grow like single stars, some in clusters or circlets. But do not be surprised if some only flower every seven years or so: they are worth waiting for!
They thrive on neglect and are almost the only plants that need no watering when you go on holiday. In addition, they are untroubled by central heating or air conditioning. Cacti come from desert places where rainfall is infrequent, and the plants are designed to absorb rapidly any moisture that comes their way and to store it. The last thing they need is soggy soil or a damp atmosphere. A number of other succulents (fleshy-leaved plants) share these characteristics, but not all.
Those bought in pots will already be in the kind of compost they like. If you transplant, mix into some John Innes Potting Compost No. 2 an equal volume of sand, or buy a bag of special cactus compost. Once a year remove the top inch of old compost and put new in - or, if the cactus has grown much, put it in a larger pot of new compost. This is better than giving fertilizer.
Cacti (and some other succulents which need the same conditions) like to have more water when growing than when resting. Most grow in the summer (the Zygocactus, which flowers at Christmas, is an exception), and need very little
attention in winter except to keep the soil from drying out completely. Only Lithops prefer dry soil in winter. Do not water on really cold days. If the surface of the compost is caked, break it up gently to let the water through. Occasionally, stand the pot in water for half an hour then drain very throughly. As spring progresses increase the water gradually. How often you water will depend on the weather: in a cool.summer, once a week would do, in a hot one water might be needed daily. Either too much or too little water can cause brown patches or softness of the plants. Occasionally, turn the pots round so that the plants grow evenly.
The more sunshine the better - particularly in the fresh air during summer rather than behind glass (though a south-facing window-sill is ideal in summer). But in cold, damp weather, cacti are at their most vulnerable and should be put in a fairly warm, light and airy place away from draughts: few window sills are safe in winter.
Repot when the plant gets too big (the method is the same for any other plant) but always do this in warm weather. Another job for a warm day is syringing any plants that are dusty.