Since most cacti thrived beautifully in the open desert field, many think cultivated cactus would also survive if brought outside. Fortunately, it will. I’ll tell you why and when to move cactus outdoors.
Cacti are brought outdoors in early spring to access adequate light, better airflow, and encourage blooms. However, the time when cactus should be moved outside matters in order to avoid frost damage, prevent sunburn, avoid excessive water, and also keep off from pests and predators.
Bringing a cactus out in the open will encourage them to reach their optimum growth. While it is best to provide the conditions that the cactus need, there are other things you need to know when bringing indoor cactus out.
Cactus should be brought outside because this will 1) provide adequate light 2) provide better airflow and 3) encourage blooms.
Cacti that are native to arid environments would appreciate it if moved outside. As long as they are well-taken care of, you will notice them flourish and enjoy the open surroundings. Let us delve into the more specific details.
Desert cacti require partial or full sunlight to maintain their form and color, carry out photosynthesis, and bring about new growth. They need sufficient light exposure, and moving them outside can help them achieve remarkable growth.
Adequate light is one of the basic requirements for cacti to sustain their development. Although you can provide them with light indoors through filtered sun rays on the windowsill, sometimes it is not just enough for the cacti.
Some indoor gardeners use artificial grow light on their cacti, but nothing can mimic the amount of natural light that the sun can give. Therefore, bringing cacti outside is more favorable in order to provide them with sufficient sunlight.
Bringing cactus outside provides the plant with better airflow. The excellent air circulation in an open outdoor environment allows the soil to dry out faster, reducing the risk of root rot caused by prolonged wet periods.
Proper air ventilation is also crucial for better carbon dioxide intake, which is needed in photosynthesis. Cacti will have satisfactory growth if food is readily available.
Placing cacti outside encourages flower development. Aside from feeding and proper soil media, the surrounding environment contributes to the formation of blooms in most cacti species. Outdoor cacti that receive sufficient light and warm temperature are likely to develop flowers.
The amount of sunlight the cacti receive provides them with energy and activates flower buds to form. Cacti native to the desert, when exposed to plenty of the sun outdoors, have a higher chance of blooming than those growing indoors with inadequate light.
Cacti should not be moved outside if there is a risk of 1) frost damage, 2) sunburn, 3) excessive water, and 4) pests infestation and predators attack.
Although most cacti thrive outdoors, there are instances when you should refrain from bringing them outside for an indefinite period. Here are the reasons why you should not get them out.
During winter, cacti should not be moved outdoors, especially the frost-sensitive species. Frost can turn the plant’s bright color dull and permanently damage the cactus epidermis, resulting in stem rot.
Most cacti species can tolerate cold weather but cannot withstand frost. Wait for winter to be over, and you can move them outdoors, gradually introducing sunlight. Astrophytum, Mammillaria, and Rebutia species are not frost-hardy and may easily damage upon frost exposure.
Cactus should not be brought outdoors if heatwaves are common in the region, as it can burn the plant’s epidermis and tissues. Extreme heat outdoors will scorch the cacti and cause irreversible damage. Tropical cacti should not be exposed to too much sun outside.
Despite the fact that some cacti can withstand direct sun exposure, intense heat outside can damage them. It will cause shriveling of spines and burning of the sensitive and soft stems. Burnt epidermis will discolor and dry out, leading to an unsightly scar.
Cacti species such as Schlumbergera and Rhipsalis may easily suffer from sunburn because of their thin stems.
Cacti placed outdoors without any shade can be prone to overwatering in an instance of continued rain for several days. Although some cacti can adapt to prolonged downpours, most can rot quickly.
Avoid leaving your cacti outside without roofing if you live in a country where rain falls most of the time. Cacti do not appreciate potting soil that stays wet at all times because they have sensitive roots that will rot with excess moisture. Moreover, pathogens will likely develop in damp soil.
Mammillarias, moon cacti, and astrophytums do not like excessive water and should be kept in the shelter during rainfall.
Outdoor cacti can be vulnerable to herbivore predators roaming around. Both can pose a danger to the cacti and may eventually kill them.
Deers, rabbits, rodents, and birds are some herbivore animals that eat cacti plants. These predators may munch on your cacti if they are just free around nearby. So, refrain from moving your plants outside if you suspect these common cacti eaters.
Cacti growing outside have a higher chance of pest infestation because the wind may carry them to the plants. Expect also some slugs and snails to attack your outdoor cacti. Unless you have pest control management in place, avoid bringing your cactus out.
The most suitable timing to move the indoor cactus outside is during the start of spring when the temperature starts to get warmer and the sunlight is not yet so intense.
The warm climate and bright sunlight in spring arouse the dormant cacti and trigger growth in the plant. Flower buds will develop, and the roots will produce new branches due to the better airflow. When moving the cactus outside, you will need to do it properly, or you’ll end up damaging your plant.
Many think that cacti can withstand any level of sunlight without scorching. But the truth is that exposing cacti to the sunlight that they are not accustomed to can harm them. The light outdoors is way brighter than the plant can get indoors, and they will get burned when exposed right away.
Indoor cacti need to acclimatize to help them adjust to the current outdoor situation without suffering from climate shock. Give them low-intensity sunlight, gradually increasing the exposure every week until they reach the condition of the desired location.
For example, you want to move your indoor Fairy Castle cactus outside in a sunny spot so it can get ample sunlight from spring to summer. Do not position it immediately in that bright zone, but leave it under a shade where it can get dappled sunlight for a week. It will keep the cactus from burns and stress.
In the following week, transfer it to an area where it can only get an hour of morning light. Increase the exposure for 2 hours the next week until it is fully adapted to the intense sunlight.
If you have several cacti to bring outside, put them all in a tray or crate to carry them all at once. It will be convenient to transport them this way, especially if you plan to put them back inside again during winter.
It is fine to leave the cacti outside indefinitely, but it should depend on several factors such as 1) location, 2) climate, and 3) species.
There are almost 2000 cacti, and some of them can thrive and do well outdoors throughout the year. They can weather the most inhospitable climate, scorching dry desert, or cold months. And these are all thanks to their adaptation abilities that helped them deal with the environment.
Location – Cacti will thrive outside with shade cloth as it keeps them from getting scorched when the sun gets too intense. Also, plastic roofing can shelter them from frequent rains and seasonal snow.
Climate – If you live in areas where it does not rain consistently, then there’s no danger for your plants to be overwatered, and you can leave your cacti plants outside. Just provide a shade net when the weather gets extremely hot so they’ll not burn.
Species- Cold hardy cacti such as opuntias, echinocereus, coryphanthas, pediocacti can be left outside even during frost. At the same time, they can survive the harsh summer sun, so they are suitable to grow outdoors without shelter.
Some cacti are tough enough to weather the harsh outdoor environment. Examples of cacti species living happily in open areas are Opuntia, Cereus, Gymnocalycium, and Echinocactus.
I have cacti that I always keep in my greenhouse and mostly are grafts, seedlings, and sensitive species such as Mammillaria. But most of my stable and well-rooted cacti, I leave them outside with only UV plastic shade and a garden net to protect them from intense sunlight and prolonged downpour.
I have been growing several cacti outside my greenhouse for quite some time, and in my experience, they pretty much survive the tropical weather. Though this might not be applicable in areas with heavy snow and heatwaves, these cacti species do well in an outdoor setup.
- Hylocereus undatus ‘Dragon Fruit’
- Opuntia microdasys ‘Bunny Ears’
- Gymnocalycium mihanovichii
- Opuntia santa-rita
- Cereus hildmanianus
- Echinocactus grusonii ‘Golden Barrel Cactus’
- Disocactus flagelliformis ‘Rat Tail Cactus’
- Parodia magnifica
- Gymnocalycium anisitsii
- Echinopsis oxygona
- Schlumbergera truncata
- Gardeners bring cacti outside to give them adequate sunlight, good airflow and encourage them to flower.
- You should never move indoor cacti outside to avoid frost damage in winter, prevent sunburn during sweltering weather, and avoid excessive water amidst extreme rainfall. Another reason you should not get your cactus out is the risk of predators and pests.
- Do it in early spring after their winter dormancy when you plan to get your cacti outside. The warm temperature and bright sunlight awaken their plant cells to shoot up new growth and produce blooms.
- Always remember to acclimatize your cacti and not expose them right away to the outside environment to avoid stress and shock. When you want them to get ample sunlight, gradually introduce minimal light and increase it over time.
- “Plant of the Week: Cactus,” by Gerald Klingaman, University of Arkansas
- “Winter-hardy cacti,” Colorado State University
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