Cactus - the coolest houseplant on the block
PUBLISHED: 09:18 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 09:21 14 December 2017
Cactus expert Gynelle Leon shares some sharp insights for making the most of these ultra-cool plants.
In just a few short years, the humble cactus has gone from being the token potted plant of non-gardeners to coolest houseplant on the block.
Garden centres can’t get enough of them, Prada has stamped prints of them on purses and shirts - and last year, Prick, London’s first cacti and succulent boutique was opened, by expert Gynelle Leon.
“Cacti have always been cool for lots of people, who’ve been collecting them for ages,” says Gynelle, whose new book - Prick: Cacti And Succulents: Choosing, Styling, Caring - offers a guide to these low-maintenance plants. “But the current boom comes from a number of different contributing factors.
“There’s a big emphasis on interior design at the moment, with things like Pinterest really fuelling that. We are spending a lot more time indoors, and plants have become the new show-off factor. It’s not just about having limited edition prints or designer furniture, it’s also now about your plant collection.”
While Instagram’s gone mad with ‘shelfie’ posts of lines of cacti, the focus on these plants has also emerged because of our growing focus on wellbeing, Gynelle notes.
“We have such stressful lifestyles, both in work and with the climate of the world, that we are trying to do as much as possible to improve our wellbeing, and plants are proven to do that.
“We are bringing the green within,” she adds. “Most of us don’t have gardens, we are living in cities, so bringing the green within our homes makes a difference to our wellbeing and sense of peace.”
Here, Gynelle shares some of her top tips and insights about the best ways to care for and style your cacti and succulents...
Style cacti for the festive season
“For the last few years, I’ve used a cactus instead of a Christmas tree. After Christmas, you can still use it - there’s nothing to throw away.
“I always use a Euphorbia acurensis,” Gynelle explains. “Any of the larger, branching euphorbias can be used, but a columnar cactus would also work as you could put the lights around it, rather than over it.
“Some people have smaller trees which they put on a table, so you could always buy a mid-sized variety and dress it up. I use very thin clear LED lights. Last year I made pom-poms, which we put on the trees in the window and we used fish wire to go through the pompoms. You want to make sure there’s less string being seen. I like it being minimalist, using just lights, or just small decorations.”
Create table decorations
You can also make table decorations, using candles surrounded by succulents including echeverias and sempervivums, which look great as you can get a whole range of colours. You could use wire to secure them, or moss, which you’d just have to water lightly.
Succulents can also be used effectively to make a wreath, and you can grow them on afterwards if you don’t damage the roots. On the whole, they are shallow rooted so should be sustainable.
Give them sunshine
While cacti are relatively low-maintenance, there are a few handy pointers you should know about.
“The general rule is that they need direct sunlight, so a windowsill is the best place to have them, or a wall next to a sunny window,” says Gynelle. “The soil needs to be free-draining, so use cacti and succulent soil rather than a multipurpose compost, which is made to retain water. It’s about keeping the roots dry. Most people kill their cacti and succulents through overwatering.
“Good circulation of air is good for cacti as well, so keep them well ventilated. It helps to ward off any pests you might get in the house as well.”
They really don’t need much water
“If it’s in the summer on a south-facing window, you’ll be watering about every 10 days, depending on the size of the pot,” says Gynelle. “The larger the pot, the longer it takes to dry out. You can pop a kitchen skewer into the soil to make sure it’s dry all the way through.
“In winter, when you have to give them their winter’s break, with cacti you can go without watering at all from October to March. And try to keep them cooler in winter,” she adds. “However, if you live in a very warm, centrally-heated home, you’ll probably have to give it a little water every three weeks or so.”
Will they flower?
“All cacti do flower, but it’s hard to get them to flower within our homes because the plants need the seasons to flower, and central heating throws them off,” explains Gynelle. “I bring them outside in summer, but bring them inside in winter.”
Style with care
Wondering about the best ways to style up your cacti? Gynelle says: “Lots of people like building up collections and making clusters. I use the three or five rule - you either put three or five together.
“Putting some which are exactly the same size on a shelf or a windowsill can look really good,” she adds. “If you are making a collection, it’s always nice to have a variety of different shapes, textures and colours. That makes the group look more interesting. You could combine a tall columnal cactus with a leafy succulent, and just make sure there’s a diversity of sizes, ranges and forms.”
Prick: Cacti And Succulents: Choosing, Styling, Caring by Gynelle Leon is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £15.