Growing miniature Cacti on window sills & patios

Last updated: 19 April 2017


Equipment and Materials: Potting container of prepared substrate - small plastic pots.
Acidifier solution - Liquid fertilizer with micronutrients - pH testing solution with vial.
Garden hose power spray attachment - large sieve for washing pumice to remove dust

Introduction & Overview

Although I enjoy cultivating and displaying all arid land plants, I have a particular fondness for cacti.

Advancing years are beginning to catch up with me and I now have difficulty walking and keeping my balance, so I cultivate miniature species in containers in such a way that they will be easy to maintain and carry. This is of particular importance in following my winter maintenance regime which involves staging my plants indoors on south facing window sills at night, and during cold days, and carrying them outside to the patio for the benefits of sunshine and fresh air during the 60°F+ (approx. 16°C+) days that we frequently experience during our Tucson winters. Therefor the cacti that I cultivate here at our retirement Town Home are small plants mostly growing in 2" (5cm) and 2¾" (7cm) square plastic pots.

The cacti that I grow are those that can be easily propagated via cuttings or freely produced offsets and that do not requiring a cold winter rest in order to produce flowers.

Some selected species

Pereskia portulacifolia
Habitat: typically interior dry regions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti


Rooted cuttings growing in 2" (5cm) - by 3" (7.5cm) deep square plastic pots


Established plant growing "bonsai style" in 2" (5cm) square plastic pot


Arrojadoa dinae (and variant species)
Habitat: typically interior dry regions of eastern Brazil


Rooted cuttings growing in 2¾" (7cm) square plastic pots


Established plants staged in carrying tray


Frailea castanea
Habitat: typically interior dry regions of southern Brazil


Seedlings growing in 2"x2" (5cm) square plastic pots



Plants growing in 2¾" (7cm) square plastic pots


Discocactus horstii
Habitat: interior dry regions of eastern Brazil


Plant with fruit growing in a 2¾" (7cm) square plastic pot



Plants in bud and flower growing in 2¾" (7cm) square plastic pots


Discocactus buenekeri (sensu lato)
Habitat: typically interior dry regions of eastern Brazil


Seedlings growing in 2" (5cm) - by 3" (7.5cm) deep square plastic pots


Flowering mature plants growing in 2¾" (7cm) square plastic pots

My general approach to Cactus & Succulent cultivation

Much of my approach is based on that espoused by Dr. Franz Buxbaum in his book CACTUS CULTURE BASED ON BIOLOGY (translated by Vera Higgins), Blandford Press, 1958. He was a pioneer in the use of mineral rich coarse textured growing media to insure superior drainage and root aeration -- acidifying water and soil by testing and modifying the pH -- using complete, balanced fertilizers incorporating micronutrients -- and using non-porous pots in order to maintain healthy root systems.

The information I present here in general reflects that approach. It is important that you follow your own path in cultivating your plants based on your own physical capabilities, the requirements of the plants that you grow, your growing environment, your climate, and the type of containers you use.

Containers

I grow all of my miniature plants in 2" (6cm) or 2¾" (7cm) square plastic pots.

I became concerned that I was not providing sufficient insulation for pots against the blazing Arizona sun during the spring and summer when I stage them outdoors on the patio under 30% shade cloth. Therefor I have been experimenting with using wooden planter boxes to provide such insulation. However I still grow most of my plants without using wooden planter boxes with no apparent ill effects.

Light weight is of paramount importance to me and most commonly used wooden planter boxes are very heavy when filled with potted plants. However, I did recently find some light weight boxes nicely made of unfinished wood. I drilled drainage holes in the bottom and treated them with clear waterproof preservative.

Soil mix

I have always experimented with soil mixes -- I think I have used about every one that has been devised during my growing lifetime -- and I have found all those that were of coarse and gritty texture, thus providing excellent drainage and root aeration, consistently produced healthy and robust plants.

My current soil mix consists of 80% Bach's Cactus Nursery mix plus 20% raw pumice (+/- ¼"/6.35mm).

Dan Bach's Cactus Nursery mix:
60% screened coarse and uniform (3/8"/9.53mm) horticultural pumice
20% high quality Canadian sphagnum peat moss
20% well composted shredded pine tree forest bark


Plant growing in above mix showing root system

I think any commercial high quality bagged potting soil (low in peat) mixed equal parts with a porous ceramic (fired clay) soil conditioner such as Turface - or coarse perlite - will work just fine.

Watering and fertilizing

Water: I use Tucson City tap water exclusively. I check and adjust the pH to ±6.0 using a General Hydroponics GH1514 pH Control Kit.

Fertilizer: I use Algoplus (Algoflash) 5N.7P.5K Cactus Formula liquid fertilizer (which contains magnesium and micro-nutrients) in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions once per week during the growing season.

Watering Regime

Active growing period (outdoors under 30% shade cloth): With the arrival of warm spring weather I water my plants with increasing frequency. I insure my plants receive copious amounts during the hot Arizona summer months, When I water during this time I do it from above and soak the plants until the water runs freely from the drainage holes. During our Arizona summer "Monsoon" thunderstorm season the frequent (but sporadic) heavy rains (quite acidic in the pH 5.0 to 5.5 range) reduces the hand watering requirements for my container grown plants significantly.

Because these are CAM plants (stomata opening at night) I water at early evening, often every day except for thunderstorm days, during very hot weather here in Tucson, which equates to late May until late September, when the high daytime temperatures are often in the 100°F+ (approx. 38°C+) range (often much higher) with night time temperatures dropping into the 75°F (approx. 24°C) range.

Resting period (on the windowsill): The plants that I grow do not require a winter cold resting period in order to produce flowers the following spring (that is one reason I favor them). Winter dormancy for them results from the very dry conditions they experience during this time in their habitat. Therefor they only receive occasional light watering during this time to maintain general plant health.

Staging on window sills and outdoors on the patio

During cold days, and at night during the winter months, I maintain my plants in small square plastic pots indoors on south facing window sills that receive full sunshine. On sunny winter days, when the temperature rises to around 60°F (approx. 16°C) -- which happens quite frequently in southern Arizona -- they go outside on the patio, coming inside as the temperature drops at nightfall. With the arrival of spring - when the daytime temperatures climb into the 80's F (mid 20's C) and the nighttime temperatures are in the 50's F (10's C) - they stay outside on shelving under 30% shade cloth until the arrival once again of winter temperatures.


South facing windowsill - a rainy day in Tucson


Summer staging under 30% shade cloth


Some small growing Brazilian cacti -- close-up photo


"Wintertime" roll-around patio staging cart
After a brief acclimation period I remove the shade cloth
so that the plants can benefit from the weak winter full sun


Link to the Cactus Cultivation Directory