Growing Pains

They're supposed to be the plants that are impossible to kill, yet somehow you keep killing them. House of Succulents' Lorraine Brennand explains how to keep your cacti in check.

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A ferocactus latispinus (aka The Devil's Tongue)
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"Anyone can keep succulents alive!" says everyone, which is why they are the go-to plants for your first apartment or emergency last-minute housewarming gifts. But for those of us without a green thumb, the suckers seem to have just a few good weeks before they start shriveling up and dying, so we've pulled a professional in to give us a little Cactus Care 101. Lorraine Brennand is the cofounder and owner of House of Succulents in Cape Town, South Africa, and works with a wide range of both rare and common succulents—so when it comes to caring for plants, she knows it all. Help us, Lorraine.

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Succulents Have Been Judged Unfairly for a Long Time

"People see them as prickly, dusty, ugly plants, which couldn't be further from the truth. There are basically two types: succulents and cacti. Succulents are soft and fleshy plants which bloom in season with colourful and exotic flowers, while the cactus plant (technically a type of succulent, under the Cactaceae family) is thorny and can be as small as a thimble or big as a tree."

Know Your Plants

"There are more than 60 families of succulents, and they represent about 3 percent of the flowering plants in the world. They are ideal for water-wise gardens or indoor pot plants, as long as they're placed in a bright and sunny spot."

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Horticultural Health

"Succulents or cacti are among the more robust growers in the plant kingdom but still have their fair share of pests and diseases. The best line of defense is to make sure they are flourishing with careful watering and feeding. Diseased or dead parts can be cut off or simply allowed to be dried out; a commercial insecticide or fungicide is also an option."

"I love every plant in my nursery whether they are small, large, prickly, or pretty—but my favorite is the Echeverias (desert rose)," says Brennand. "They are diverse and fascinating, and it's easy to quickly become an enthusiast or a serious collector."

Desert rose (Echeveria), Burro's tail (Sedum morganianum), Hens and chicks (Sempervivum), Jade plant (Crassula ovata), Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa)

Now that you, too, have the knowledge needed to become a cactus connoisseur, check out our low-maintenance picks for your succulent starter pack, and get growing.

Four Foolproof Tips for Taking Care of Your Cacti

Survival Tip #1: Let It Shine!

Succulents excel in bright-light conditions (though some soft-body species prefer filtered light).

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Survival Tip #2: Soggy Succulents Are Sad Succulents

Mixing grit and soil ensures good drainage. (Succulents don't like wet feet is basically what we're saying.)

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Survival Tip #3: They Shouldn't Drink Too Much

Don't overwater! A spray once a week is more than enough for many succulents.

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Survival Tip #4: Food, Glorious Food!

Succulents grown in containers may need good-quality compost, since soil can become leached and lose important nutrients. But not to worry: compost is, yes, dirt cheap.

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For more, see houseofsucculents.co.za.

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