After a somewhat mild December, the month of Jan­uary is centainly living up to ex­pectations of a New England winter. Less than half way through the month we have already ex­perienced accumulating snowfall and frigid temperatures.

As the thermometer drops, our minds wander to a warmer climate. But due to concerns from the ongoing pandemic, many daydreams of a warm sunset over the picturesque Arizona desert will remain in our dreams this year.

If traveling to a warmer climate is not an option for you this winter, why not try bringing a bit of desert warmth to your home this season with an indoor cactus garden.

Cacti and succulent plants have become in­creasingly popular indoor plants in recent years. Growing these desert-na­tive plants in the bitter New England climate can be a challenge, but not impossible.

To ensure a successful indoor cactus garden this winter, start with healthy, well-prepared plants.

If purchasing cactus for the first time, buy from a reputable, professional gar­den center or nursery to ensure a healthy, well cared for plant is what you are purchasing.

Healthy cacti should be planted in a nutrient-dense, sandy soil to allow for proper drainage.

If you are repotting a cacti you already have at home, use a soil mix that is specifically for cactus and succulent plants, or mix regular potting soil with one-third of sand to make more suitable for these desert plants.

Your cactus should enter the winter season well fertilized to help the plant prepare and maintain over the cold winter months.

Also check for signs of any unwanted pests. In­spect leaves monthly for signs of infestation.

The most common house­plant bugs are aphids or mealy bugs. If found, move any infested plants away from other plants and mist with a mixture of three parts rubbing alcohol to one part water.

Once you have established your cactus are in good health, choose an ap­propriate place in your home to have your cactus oasis.

Most cactus and succulents require between four and eight hours of sunlight each day during the winter months.

If you don’t have an ap­propriate spot that will receive that much sunlight, you can always supplement mother nature’s sunlight with an electric grow lamp.

Grow lamps are available online or at home improvement and garden supply stores.

Grow lamps are also beneficial to add additional warmth to your cactus garden in homes that tend to get chillier during the evening hours.

Although sufficient sunlight is necessary for healthy cactus, too much sunlight can be harmful. Over exposure can cause spine discoloration, uneven texture, and overall wilting and sunburn effects to your plant.

The average winter home temperature runs between 65 and 70 degrees Fahren­heit. This temperature range is ideal for most cactus species, and will prevent outdoor temperatures from having any adverse effects to your plants.

Be careful not to expose your cactus to dramatically fluctuating temperatures in your home. Like the overall vibe of the cacti, they prefer a stable, even-keel atmosphere to remain healthy during the winter season.

Avoid exposure to drafty doors and windows. Cacti will go dormant and stop growth production if temperatures drop to about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold­er temperatures than that could result in death to your plant.

When it comes to watering your cactus, the winter season should have no effect on your watering regiment of your cactus.

As a rule of thumb, most species of cactus only need to be watered about once a month, making cactus the perfect houseplant for the absent-minded (like myself)!

If you notice your particular species of cacti is showing signs of wilting, adjust your watering sche­dule accordingly, being careful not to overwater.

It is always best to err on the side of underwatering when it comes to cactus and succulents, as both are prone to root rot. You can always add more wa­ter, but there is little you can do to stop the damage of overwatering.

Most cacti species have low toxicity levels and are safe for both humans and pets. However, the spine and needles on certain varieties can be dangerous. Keep in mind that the needles on a cacti are meant to be a defense mechanism for the plant against unwanted intruders, so if small children or pets are a concern, keep cactus gardens out of their reach.

When purchasing plants of any kind, most will come with a label that has the plant's specific species name. It is always a good idea to keep the name labels with the plants to make it easier to research any questions you may have about the plant in the future.

If January is any indication of what mother na­ture has in store for us this winter, it appears this New England winter will be as harsh as usual.

Keep the winter blues at bay by basking in the warm ambiance of the desert right in your own home. With a little planning, and a small amount of maintenance, you can enjoy your own desert “staycation” for years to come with an indoor cactus garden.

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