This is how to look after your cactus

Light

Try to give your cactus as much light as possible, preferably placing it on the sunniest windowsill, a South-facing position is ideal. If you have a greenhouse or conservatory you could put it in there for Spring to Autumn; you will need to water it slightly more.

If your cactus doesn’t get enough natural light, it will grow towards what it believes is the best light source and can elongate, causing it to be etiolated and strange shapes can ensue (see below).

Watering

Winter        Once a month if kept inside. If you are keeping your cactus in a greenhouse then it’s best not to water it at all until Spring

Spring        Every three weeks as the weather improves

Summer     Once a fortnight in early evening/morning, when during a hot spell. Less when overcast and humid. Weekly if in a greenhouse.

Autumn      About once a fortnight to three weeks.

 A general rule is to try not to have the soil continually damp, especially if it is in a cold place like a window sill without much natural light, but don’t be afraid of watering! Even in the desert, cacti are used being soaked thoroughly during thunderstorms.

Food

Your cactus can feed with Baby Bio, in dilution, about once every two months or so. Cacti need certain trace elements, which may get washed out during heavy watering, so it is important to replace these regularly. Some people make up potions, like nettle soup. Others buy specific feed which I understand works well too.

Shape

The classic shape is like a golf ball plugged in a little mud, spherical, with the width being roughly the same as the height. However, some cacti grow more in height rather than width once they get a new owner. Possibly due to light source mentioned above. My late Gran transformed a perfect-shaped Steve Hampson from being 10mm wide and tall, to being 25mm and 90mm respectively in the space of two years. This was achieved despite her giving him superb care, since, having been given another Rugby League player; Joe Lydon, at the same time, she inadvertently killed him off after only five months.

But, like all aspects of life: Don’t worry if yours loses its shape. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.

Health

The perfect colour is dark green with the areoles having a bright white appearance. You can put your cactus outside in the Summer if you wish – if you have a sun-trap in the garden it will love it. Don’t forget to bring it in when the Autumn cold bites. Having said that, a friend showed me pictures of her family’s cactus that has remained outside, in Chepstow, for the whole eight years since they had it. It looks like a gnarled old beast – a twisted frame carrying loads of babies - but it’s alive and well. I can only assume it has never been frozen.

Babies

Wait until the baby has grown to about 15mm in width before removing from the host plant and try also to wait until it develops a root before removal. I find that John Innes Seed Compost very good. You can buy “Cactus Compost”, which is also pretty good. Dib the soil to make a depression for the baby to go into and fill it carefully push the soil around it. Pot carefully, since they have tiny roots and it doesn’t take much to break these off inadvertently. Call me by all means on this. Your first baby from your cactus will be Your Number/1 and then Your Number/2 etc. Give each of these babies a name and please let me know them.

Flowers

A furry ball begins to grow out of one of the areoles, (the white patches within which the spikes are); this gets bigger very slowly, usually in late spring to early autumn. The flowering process can take up to two months from when you notice the furry ball. Sunshine and plenty of it will really help the flower to develop. Please send me a good photograph of it.

Repotting

Wear tough gardening gloves. Prepare the new pot by lining the base with a piece of old newspaper, in order to cover the drainage holes. Put in the new earth, you can use decent soil from the garden if you wish or the compost recommended above. To remove your cactus from the old pot, carefully scrape a blunt knife or the back of a spoon around the inside and gently turn the whole pot upside down cupping the top of the cactus in your (gloved) hand. Tap the bottom of the pot and it will eventually come out. Fill in with earth around the edges once it is positioned into the new pot, pressing down quite firmly using the knife or spoon. Give it a good watering and add any soil if needed, at the edges.