The Q&A Archives: Growing Cactus

Question: I would like to find information on the Operculicarya decaryi. What should the conditions be, such as light, soil, watering, etc. Is it a hardy plant?

Answer: Your Operculicarya decaryi is also known as Madagascan bursera. The first step in ensuring success in growing a healthy cactus plant is to purchase one that is already in good health. Avoid any plant that has damaged spines, obvious signs of bruising, or that has lopsided or uneven growth. A plant that has put on new spindly growth during its time in the store should be avoided. Even under ideal growing conditions, the spindly growth produced in a dimly-lit place will never broaden out to normal size, leaving the plant with a permanent disfigurement. Ideally a cactus should be purchased in the greenhouse where it was grown, or as soon as possible after it has been shipped to a retail outlet.

The care required by a particular type of cactus is largely dictated by the climatic conditions where that cactus would be found growing in nature. A good rule of thumb for looking after any plant is to provide conditions as close as possible to those under which the plant would be found growing naturally.

While most cacti tolerate a wide range of growing temperatures, most will do best at temperatures similar to that of most other house plants. When temperatures are either too hot or too cold, a cactus will often simply go dormant. An ideal placement for a cactus in winter would be a sunny cool room. During the summer, cacti will appreciate being moved outdoors where they can receive brighter light in combination with cooling breezes during the day and cool humid conditions during the night. If moving your cactus outside for the summer, be sure to place it in a position of partial shade for the first few weeks, and slowly move it to a sunnier location. A plant going directly outside into full sun will likely be scorched by the more intense light found outside the home.

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