Please note that this post contains affiliate links of products that I love and use. This rewards me with a small commission if you choose to buy through the links and none of this will cost you anything – but it does help me pay the bills and deliver you quality content. – Love, Gloria.
Cacti and succulents are plants that I have always liked and as our water use has become a huge problem in certain areas of the world we need to adapt our gardens to a more conservative model. Some people seem to be put off by the tough and spiky exterior of the cacti but if you do it right they will reward you with some of the loveliest flowers that nature has to offer. Here’s how to grow cacti in a foolproof way to get flowers.
Although most people probably have a cactus in some shape or form they rarely get to see it flower. It takes a few simple steps to make sure that you also see the splendid display that they offer me each year. Please note that this post is about the desert cacti and succulent types, not leaf cactus or tropical types.
The biggest cactus killer out there is too much water combined with too little drainage. When I re-pot my cacti I add at least 50% grit to the soil to ensure that they get ample drainage for any longer spell of wet weather. I also add a layer of about 2-5 cm of gravel in the bottom of any pot to ensure that water does not get trapped in the bottom of the pot. Cacti and succulents will rot readily if their soil remains wet for too long. I also always use terracotta pots as they breathe and let excess water out through their pores.
As for temperature and sun conditions you want full sun although some shade is okay for parts of the day. Temperature wise cacti and succulents are quite hardy. As long as they are dry they can handle temperatures down to freezing and there is really no max temperature that they cannot handle unless you live in Death Valley.
How to get flowers?
This is a question I get a lot. To make this simple I’ll say exactly what I do with my succulents and cacti to force them into flowering. I find that plants will want their natural habitat to be perfectly happy, and since most cacti and succulents come from warmer, dry areas this is what you want to duplicate. However it is not the warmer temperatures that will make your cactus flower – it is the opposite. To properly get a cactus to flower you need to make sure they go into a winter rest period. This is usually a period of 2-4 months of temperatures under 15c with very little water. Think of a desert in winter – cold, crisp air with pounding sunshine and maybe one or two showers.
I take most of my cacti in around the end of October as the chance of frost starts increasing, they go in various locations like the shed, guest room windows and anywhere we are not heating. Please note that you do not need to store them over winter in light if you ensure that the temperatures are below the range where a cactus would grow. In fact most of my cactus stay in a totally dark shack for most of the winter, I then gradually introduce them to the light when the temperatures outside are warmer again. I do this by leaving them in the shadow for about 1-2 weeks with a few hours in the sun here and there. I water my cacti on Christmas Eve, once in the end of January and then I gradually water more and more as the weather heats up. Please note that you should not water any cactus without light in winter more than a few drops here and there to make sure that the roots survive.
From May on I give my cacti and succulents a seaweed plant food once every two weeks. I also sowed a smaller type of clover in the bigger pots to give them a small, steady amount of nitrogen which is called nitrogen fixation. The clovers also ensure that the pots dry up quicker.
In short, the three keywords to having a display like me is drainage, hibernation and sun. Good luck and do share any pictures of your cacti and succulents with me! I will be posting about how to divide your cacti soon for a smart way of creating more plants out of the ones you have.
In case you do not have a cactus or have never seen one blossom you’ll be surprised by how big the flowers actually are. Here is a picture of a flower with the hands of a grown up as comparison. Depending on the type of cactus the flowers can get as large as a dinner plate! There you have it, my guide on how to grow cacti.
I have also written a guide on how you can grow succulents from seed, you can grow cacti the same way by following these steps.
Stunning flowers!!! Will you post an update of how they look this year? I would love to see them. I have so many cacti but only 3 of them flowered so far.
Howard D. says
It seems so logical. Replicating what they would experience where they actually grow. Never thought of it myself. So weird.
Sue Hanson says
Your pictures are stunning! I have followed your guide on how to get flowers this winter and now my 13 year old cactus has buds for the first time ever!
Glad I could help!
R. Rick says
Those flowers are HUGE! WOW!
Hannah Olana says
Found this on pinterest. Beautiful pictures – what camera did you use?
I have a canon Eos500d. – Love, G. =)
Kathy Stearn says
I love your cactus. I have had 2 since 2013 and they never flowered then this spring I moved then outside. And have had so many flowers. They are the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen and now I am so addicted to cacti and succulents.
I am sooo happy to hear that. Do feel free to share your pictures with me. Would love to see them. – Love, G.
Gail Fox says
Help !! I have outdoor cactus .. prickly pear .. I can’t getvthem to bloom . They are at least 10 yrs old
Karen C. says
I love your advice and the whimsical flare you add to it.. I definitely must join you.. and your fabulous photos!! Succulents and cacti are two of my favorites to grow here at our Oasis.. I would post some photos of ours here but see no way to upload photos here.
Happy you liked my post and that you too are a lover of cacti. You can send me pictures via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can gladly start a post with reader’s pictures. I can also link back to your social media account(s) if you have instagram or pinterest. – Love, G.
Hey! I live in a tropical climate (temperature here never goes below 75 F). Is there any way to get cacti to flower if they don’t go through a cold hibernation period?
Hi Christinne. Yes, there are ways of doing this in a more tropical climate, you can also give your cacti a short resting period by allowing it no sunlight for about a week, and then gradually giving it more and more sunshine. Start by putting it somewhere dark for about a week, then take it out and leave it in the shade for a day, then half an hour of sunlight the following day, and start scaling it up by an hour per day until you get to about 5 hours. This can also lead it to flower as it thinks spring is coming up. Also give it no water in the dark, and let it have a sip every now and then when you take it out. – Love, G.
Hi. I’ve been obssessed with succulents and cacti since I saw your posts on Pinterest. My lithops succulents and cacti seeds that I ordered online will be arriving soon and I’m glad I’ve read your posts here. Your post gives me a complete guide in growing these plants from seeds. Btw, I’m from the Philippines and happy to learn there are ways to grow flowers out of cacti even if we’re in a tropical climate. Thank you so much!
LaVon Cloward says
I enjoyed your information on growing succulents from seed. I have received seed I ordered online and I’m wondering if they can be planted anytime or do I have to wait for Spring? I have read January and also April. How about September. (if I use a grow light?)
Hi LaVon, yes you can grow your succulent seeds in the autumn. I would always use a grow light in winter as they will grow very slowly if you do not. From about March you should be okay on a sunny windowsill without the growlight. Love – G.
Raelene Price says
I guess you are in the northern hemisphere when you talk about the chance of frosts increasing in October. I always find it confusing reading seasons and months of year, I live in Australia.
When you start with a little water on Christmas eve, this would be your beginning of winter, so would we do that in June?
Also the seaweed fertiliser in May, would be our November.
I would love to follow your ideas for my non-frowering plants.
I live in England – the south part of it. It does get confusing with seasons and months when you write gardening posts. I do try to add seasons to the posts and point out where I live – I failed with that this time. The cactus post was so extensive on it’s own that it totally slipped my mind. End of October is autumn here, Christmas eve is the middle of winter and March is when the spring is slowly starting. Hope this helps a bit. Thank you so much for telling me that you found it confusing. I will edit this post and make sure to make this clear in all future gardening posts. Have a lovely weekend! – Love, G.
Raelene Price says
Thanks for your reply. I thought that it had to be northern hemisphere, by the October reference to frosts.
I greatly appreciate your response.
I worked all weekend on a picture that shows the seasons with corresponding months here in England so you can easily adapt it to your location. As soon as it is done I will add it to the post. I will add that little picture to all gardening posts with relevant notes or perfect sowing and/or harvest times. Thanks for giving me the idea of doing that – it was the most simple solution I could come up with. I hope it will help in the future. – Love, G. <3
Raelene Price says
Wow, that is fantastic, thank you.
Melissa Sherwood says
Thank you so much for the advise on How to grow Succulents. I have been trying so hard and what I seem to be doing wrong is trying to grow them in cactus/citrus soil. I live in Arizona how hard can this be? So I will try the builders sand and see how that works! How and when do you know it’s time to transplant? Again Thank you sooo much!!!
Hello Melissa, so glad to be of help. I have done the same mistakes and it took a lot of attempts to get it right. The struggle is real! =) It is hard to give a precise time frame for transplanting since it highly depends on the variety. Generally I tend to wait 3 months before I check if I can carefully lift them out of the sand – using a tiny spoon. – Love, G.
Melissa Sherwood says
I now have my seeds in sand in a tray and I do have a couple already popping up. What I suspect is that they are not succulents. I keep buying from ebay (China,Hong Kong etc…) Where do you suggest to buy quality seeds that actually grow into succulents? Thanks, Melissa
Ebay is a hit and miss. I got a few really great seeds from there but also fell for scams a lot. I recommend local garden centers or http://www.seedaholic.com I get almost all my seeds from them, they are very reliable. – Love, G.
I live in Connecticut, U.S. I put my cacti out but brought them in because we are having rain every 3 days or so and I’m scared they will rot with too much water. How do you handle rain? Do you bring your cacti indoors?
Hello, Catherine, I live in England. It is fairly rainy here and my cacti are doing fine outside. Rotting occurs when there is not enough drainage and when the cactus has no chance to dry properly. The roots should never be submerged in water for a longer period of time and it has to be warm enough outside for them. They dry fairly quickly once the rain stops, provided there is enough drainage. I make sure the bottom (1/4 to 1/3) of the pot is filled with grit. When it comes to the planter itself I use terracotta pots that are not glazed. I keep my cacti in spots that get a lot of sunshine and out of the shade. If your cacti are not used to the sunshine you need to introduce them to it gradually. Start with 2 hours a day and increase it over the course of a week. They can get sunburned just like we do. Cacti can handle rain during summers when the temperatures are warm, it only turns into a real issue during colder months (autumn/winter). To sum it up:
– Make sure they have a sunny spot.
– The roots should never be in a situation in which they can be submerged in water for longer periods, make sure there is drainage.
– Do not use sealed pots and stay away from saucers unless you are quick with emptying them after it rained.
Hope this helps.
– Love, G.
Is there such a thing as blue blue rope pearls? I ordered seeds from amazon.
Hello Linda, I have never heard of those. But that does not mean they don’t exist. There are so many varieties it’s impossible for me to know them all. That being said you should look into “pearl string succulents” on google. I own a succulent that goes by the name “donkey tail”, it is a string succulent and has a slightly blue hue when the light hits it in a certain way. I assume the seller tried to convey this when calling them “blue blue”.
Excellent post! I live in Serbia and the most beautiful cactus plants I buy in a store in Zemun https://www.cvecarajelena.com . They have an excellent collection of cacti.
Hi! loved the article! I was wondering what to do about my cactus though, as it started out flowering consistently and well when I first bought it and has not flowered in almost a year. The top bit seems to have shrunken a bit even though I still water it. Do you think it’s possible for it still to flower? Thank you!
Hello Madison, cacti flower about once a year or even less if the conditions are not ideal. In their natural habitats, they grow in arid areas where they need to preserve their energy. Flowering takes a lot of energy for them, so the perfect conditions need to be created for them. I have gotten a lot of different types over the years from people who had given up on them. Each and single one of them went into bloom again. Do not over water them. There are a few reasons why it might have shrunken. Water damage is one of them. Is the soil too wet? If so, then let it dry thoroughly. Did it discolour? Then it might have gotten a sunburn. They can get that just the way we do. You need to make sure they are in a bright spot but do not just place them into the direct sun if they are not used to it. Expose them to sunshine gradually any slowly. The temperature in the winter should be on the lower side if you want them to flower in the spring. Just follow the instructions in the post, and it should bloom again. Give it some time and love, they need very little care, but they are very particular about what they need. – Love, G.
Margaret Chan says
What if we do not have winter? Here in the Philippines is wet and dry season.my cactus just grow and add itself without any flower.
Sorry for the late reply I had quite a few issues with the hosting of my page. Not having winter is tricky. They do need a period of colder climate to flower. If nature does not provide you with the climate you need you can create it yourself. Do you have a colder cellar or a place that is a little bit colder? You could put them into whatever room you like for that – if that is an option.
Hannah T. says
Wow! Thanks this is sooo pretty! I’ve been wanting to start a garden and these plants will be great for me cuz I forget to water plants sometimes. Thanks, Gloria! 😁
Brandi Teets says
Hello I live in Arizona USA, and I have outside cactus which I’d love to bloom. How do I do that when I can bring them in since they are in the ground?
Hello Brandi, I had to look the climate of Arizona up and it seems identical to where my dad lives in Croatia. Can you confirm if this is true by checking this link? https://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/phoenix/arizona/united-states/usaz0166 Whether you have to bring them in or not depends on the climate and average temperatures. Waiting for your reply. – Love, G.
Hi, Thank-you for your previous response! I am going to be repotting with extra gravel in the bottom of my cactus planters. How early in Spring can I put my cacti out? I live in zone5/6. What zone are you in?
Hello Catherine. I live in Europe, in the Netherlands to be precise. I had to actually look up what you meant with zone “5/6”. If it is USDA terminology for lowest extreme temperature, then I live in zone 9/10 according to the list. I put my cactus plants out at the end of May. At that point, the temperatures at night are around 5°C which is 41°F. Make sure the temperatures do not get close to the freezing point at night. If in doubt leave them outside during the day so they get used to the outside again and take them in at night. If you choose to do that, then set a reminder on your phone. I once lost a large cactus due to forgetting it outside in April. The temperatures were excellent during the day but dropped significantly at night, and one cactus that was not close to the housewall died miserably. Don’t want that to happen to you since it is very frustrating to lose a plant that grows so slowly. – Love, G.
Thank-you so much! I do have several large-ish cactus. I put them out one year, in full sun, and they got burnt. I have kept them inside ever since, but had no flowering! I am going to repot them and follow your advice. Shade first. Thank-you for all of your excellent posts, responses, and advice! 🙂
You’re welcome. Just treat a cactus the way you would treat yourself when it comes to sun exposure. They need to gradually get used to the sun. I wish there was an SPF spray for them, wish I was a chemist now. I am sure that would sell well! =D – Love, G.
Hi Gloria! This is a very informative page. I am new to planting cactus. I live in Texas where it gets very hot during the summer, this week it will get up to 97 degrees F. I have had about 5 plants since December. I keep the plants on my window sill since I haven’t seen them do well on my balcony. One appear to be permently orange/yellwosih, possibly from a sunburn. Do all cactus have a potential to flower? I can’t imagine mine flowering! I love the photos of yours, what kind is the pink one in the last picture? It’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge 🙂
Hello Kristin! Technically yes, all do flower in one way or another. That is how they spread. If you want you can take pictures of yours and post them on social media and tag me there or email me pictures: email@example.com Yellowish tinge happens due to sunburn, overwatering, the roots not getting enough air, wrong potting soil or too little light. It is hard to guess what it could be without seeing them. – Love, G.
I’m Osie from Indonesia. I really amazed of how you respond on each and every question about cactus. You are wonderful.
Here we only have wet and dry season. In order to give my cactus it’s winter, can I just bring them indoor that have air conditioner to give them cooler air? Outside is about 29 to 30 Celcius. Indoor with air conditioner is about 20 to 24 Celcius.
Hello Osie, you’re from Indonesia? How exciting that my blog reaches that far! You can try to put your cactus inside under airconditioned temperatures. I have never tried that before, but it is worth a shot. I keep my cactus at around 10-15C in a shack in the garden during winter if I have no other option. Do you maybe have a cellar or a shady spot where temperatures drop to around 15C? I am not sure if 20 is low enough to make them “feel” like it is winter. – Love, G.G.
mua hoa says
The flowers are beautiful, I love them.
Thank you! – Love, G.
Hi thanks a lot for sharing this article.
My question is; once we transwer the plant into a pot does it need any fertilizer to be added or you mean only sand will enough for them…
Maggie tiller says
Where do you get your seeds?
Does this kind of cacti and succulent are applicable here in Philippines I really want to grow cacti and succulent but I don’t have any 😑
Thank you for your information. I live in Birmingham and I bought a single small cactus from which a lot of cactus branch has come out and the main cactus is getting bigger. But there is no flower till now. I have kept this on a windowsill for 4-5 years. Can you please give me advice how can I get it to flower. Initially I gave lot of water but now I give water occasionally..