Arrangements of cacti and succulents have been adding new textures and colors to our northern gardens for years now. However, with cooler temperatures and shorter days upon us, it is time to bring those cold-weather intolerant specimens inside for the winter.

As you make ready to place your plants in their new indoor setting, take a few moments to evaluate the existing pot arrangement and soil conditions. Many cacti/succulents will have grown throughout the summer months in response to the warm weather and long days. As with any other houseplant, they can become rootbound or maybe reach a point where they are spilling out of their current container.

If it is time for repotting, choose a container at least a couple inches larger in diameter than the preexisting one. There are many variations of potting soil available on the market, but make sure you choose one specifically for cacti/succulents. Consider where these plants live in nature -- they prefer dry, well-drained soil. If you make your own mix, use a 50:50 combination of topsoil and course sand. If the ratio is correct, when you moisten the soil slightly and squeeze it in your hand, the soil should crumble and fall apart. Both the pot and the soil should be sterile to decrease introducing any plant diseases. Pots should have drainage holes. If not, and many shallow succulent pots lack these, you will need to be very careful when watering. If the plant roots are left in standing water or very moist soil they will begin to rot in a very short time.

During the low-light winter months, water cacti and succulents only enough to prevent shrinking and withering. A good rule of thumb is to water once every three to four weeks during the winter, allowing the soil to dry out completely between watering. Increase the frequency in the spring when the amount of daylight lengthens and new plant growth accelerates. When watering, make sure it flows through the drain holes. Do not leave the pot sitting in water if it has a saucer component. Discard any excess water after a few minutes.

Place succulents in a bright, sunny window. Artificial lighting can make up for insufficient natural light. A cool white fluorescent tube, or a combination of daylight and natural white fluorescent tubes will give good results. There are many grow light systems available on the market. Some have clamps, flexible light extensions, and timers that allow you to provide additional lighting to your plants without taking up very much space. Position your lighting system about 6-12 inches above the plants, and keep them on for 14-16 hours each day. Even under these conditions, some succulents will not fare well through the winter months. There just is not enough light to support growth. You may just need to replace this specimen in your arrangement come spring - or discover a new species to enjoy!

Cacti and other succulents have very minimal nutrient requirements. They should only need additional fertilizer during spring and summer, when they are actively growing. They should not require additional feeding during the somewhat dormant winter months.

The information contained here was taken from the University of Minnesota Extension web page on Cacti and Succulents ( If you have additional questions about raising cacti and succulents indoors, please contact your Chisago County Master Gardeners at

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