Do Cactus Thrive in Being Crowded? [6 Tips, Pros, and Cons]


Growing several cacti in one container sounds like a fabulous idea. Imagine their different color, shapes, and size in one nice looking container recreating a mini desert or a garden. Be careful! If you do not respect one basic principle, you might kill half of your beloved cacti!

Cacti grow successfully in crowded environments as long as they have very similar growth requirements. Here are the critical points to successfully grow cactus in a crowded arrangement:

  1. Water Requirements
  2. Sunlight Requirements
  3. Spacing
  4. Container or Pot Used
  5. Potting Medium
  6. Shape and Form of the plants

There are vital points to bear in mind when planting cacti altogether in one container. If you are not mindful, you will end up in trouble with your plants. Read more to avoid harming your beloved cactus.

Cactus Crowded Arrangement

Putting various compatible cacti together in a single pot is referred to as a cactus garden. It is planting cactus in a most artistic and attractive display.

An artistic way to plant cactus in a single container

Cacti have interesting shapes and fun colors that can add flair to your garden. Artsy cactus growers would love to mix and match them in one container. It would make an excellent presentation of cacti arranged to mimic a mini desert landscape or garden.

Some gardeners enjoyed creating miniature settings, furnished with tiny ornaments to depict fairy gardens, zen temples, and parks, using plants. Other collectors arrange their cacti in a single pot because they have limited space, or they find it easy to maintain having to water fewer pots.

You can also buy cactus arrangements readily from the stores. But you must be mindful since commercially available arrangements often put incompatible cactus together. It may look beautiful at the time, but some of the cacti in the arrangement will soon lose their vigor and die.

Do Cacti Thrive In A Crowded Environment?

Cactus will survive in a crowded environment. Cacti don’t mind crowding, provided they are compatible with an adequate supply of water, sunlight, and nutrition to keep them thriving.

A surviving community of clustered Echinopsis Calochlora

Proper potting mix and pest control are also crucial to survival. Some cacti develop pups that form a clump over time, indicating that they enjoy being in a crowd. Cactus arrangements will reach up to 2 years (case to case basis) before they outgrow their pot when adequately cared for and maintained.

Growing Cactus In A Crowded Arrangement – Infographic

The 6 Factors To Grow Many Cactus Together

The right approach to multiple cactus arrangement is to select plants that have similar environmental and maintenance needs. This is crucial. It is essential to know the growth requirement of each cactus before putting them together.

Potting together the same species with similar growing requirements is ideal.

Knowing which cactus go well together can also save you time and work when caring for them. Below are the tips on making cactus crowded arrangements.

1 – Combine Cacti With Similar Water Requirements

Some cacti need frequent watering, while some are sensitive to excess moisture. For example, schlumbergera species can tolerate high humidity, while some mammillarias species are triggered by excess water. Placing both species together in a single pot can harm either one of them. Gymnocalycium, echinopsis, and mammillarias are a perfect tandem.

Mammillaria and Gymnocalycium species have almost the same watering and light requirement. They can make a good crowd of cactus arrangements.

2 – Group Cacti According To Their Light Requirements.

You cannot combine a moon cactus with a golden barrel as their light needs vary. The moon cactus will get sunburns with too much light, while the golden barrel will become elongated with lesser light. Golden barrel and Melocactus go well together.

Moon Cacti is not compatible with Golden Barrels as they have different light requirements. In contrast, Gold barrels and Melocactus will thrive together in one container as they both love full sun.

3 – Provide Space When Planting Fast-growing Species

When planting multiple active growing cactus in one container, a distance of at least 2-3cm from each other should be provided to avoid heavy interference.

This will avoid crowding the pot rapidly. It is also best to arrange cactus with the same growth rate. For example, Gymnocalycium and mammillaria grow almost at the same rate. When placing bigger cactus among smaller ones, ensure that they won’t get deprived of the light.

4 – Choose An Appropriate Container

The pot must have drainage holes and be spacious enough to hold the plants and the substrate to nourish them. Select a container just the right size that can accommodate the root system of the plants. Consider the composition of the pot as well – outdoor ceramic or clay pot needs periodic watering, while outdoor plastic containers get brittle in the sun.

5 – Use Suitable Potting Media

The potting mix will depend on the container and the cacti species used. The medium should drain effectively but retain enough moisture and should not be very rich. Nutrient-rich substrate promotes rapid growth. Amendments like perlite, pumice, and scoria improve drainage.

6 – Consider The Form And Shape Of The Plants

Cactus comes in different shapes and forms. Some are columnar, while others are flat globular. When planting cacti into an arrangement, group them according to their structure- combine long-stemmed cactus such as Myrtillocactus with some other upright species like Opuntia. Globular Gymnocalycium grows well with Parodia species. Columnar cactus will tower over the spherical species hindering light absorption.

Cacti Arrangement – Infographic

Example of Cacti Arrangement (Companion Planting)

Here, you can find our list of cacti that can grow well together.

Cacti Arrangement #1: These cacti are globular, prefer partial to direct sunlight and regular watering.

  • Gymnocalycium mihanovichii
  • Echinopsis subdenudata
  • Parodia warasii
  • Gymnocalycium damsii.

Cacti Arrangement #2: The cacti examples below are long-stemmed. Each can grow well together and receive sunlight fairly.

  • Opuntia rufida
  • Acanthocereus tetragonus
  • Cephalocereus senilis
  • Mammillaria spinosissima

Cacti Arrangement #3: Cacti species given below have prominent spines that can withstand prolonged sun exposure.

  • Echinocactus grusonii
  • Melocactus matanzanus
  • Ferocactus glaucescens
  • Parodia leninshuasii.
Provided in rows are the cacti that can grow successfully in a single container.

If you are planting four cactus together (assuming they are all medium size), I would recommend the two container sizes depending on the number of plants and the gritty potting medium like the one below.

Remember, this list is by no means exhaustive. There are hundreds of cacti species out there, and probably many more combinations are possible. However, these are great places to start, especially if you are a beginner, as the plants above are available and easy to find.

The Benefit of Crowding Cactus

Growing crowded cactus can have benefits to the plant and the grower as well. The main advantage of combining cactus is the stunning display they can create if arranged appropriately.

Cactus arrangement is ideal for growers with small areas. You don’t have to buy many pots for your plants. A single large pot can fit up to 3-4 cacti. Having several cacti in one pot can help save up space and cash while growing various cacti species. If you don’t mind hefty lifting, it’s also simpler to move them with this setup.

If you like your cactus to remain small or compact, then the crowded arrangement is the answer. It will hinder the growth of your cactus, hindering its development due to rootbound. Rootbound cactus are those whose root balls almost filled the majority of the container or planter.

The Drawbacks of Crowding Cactus

When planting many cacti in the same pot, it is very easy for disease and insect infestation to spread to all the others in the container.

A pot with many cacti requires frequent watering as the substrate dries up quickly.

It is due to several roots competing to drink from the same water source. Keeping the plants hydrated can be bothersome and needs a bit of your time and attention.

Another downside is that the cactus arrangement will not last long and can only reach up to one to two years since the plants will outgrow the pot.

As the cacti grow in the container, their roots are tangled, making them difficult to remove when repotted.

Tendency to over water is likely to happen in cactus arrangements. You can’t distinguish precisely if the substrate is dry already. So you would be tempted to water generously, which may lead to root rot. The moisture meter below will help you assess if your cactus arrangement needs hydrating.

Does a Bigger Pot Make a Cactus Grow Bigger?

A bigger pot is not always the key to growing a larger cactus. Fast-growing succulents like Agave and Kalanchoe will benefit from a large pot. While cacti, as slow-growers, can thrive easily in small containers.

Slow-growing succulents like most cacti, on the other hand, are average to slow feeders who can get by on a minimal amount of nutrients and thrive even in an under-sized container.

Planting a fast-growing plant in a smaller container will hinder the roots from spreading. Thus the plant cannot reach its potential growth. However, if slow-growing plants are kept in a large pot that stays moist for longer than the plant can handle, it’s likely to develop root rot.

The bottom line is that you need to assess your plants’ growing ability and root system before potting them. Ideal pot size can be described as significant enough to accommodate the growing root system.

The size of the plant should go in proportional to the pot. In addition, the planter should have enough volume to contain a medium that will hold moisture for an appreciable time, thereby giving ample time for the plant to take in water.

I generally recommend putting a 2-inch gap around the plant to the rim of the pot. The depth of the pot will depend on how long the root systems are.

Showing some cactus species with their root orientations

Will Cactus Grow Fast in Crowded Arrangements?

Generally, a crowded arrangement slows down cactus growth. The more cacti in a single container, the faster they will use up the nutrients and water in the medium. As the cacti grow, their roots are confined, making restrictions for additional root growth.

If you want to grow cactus faster, keep them in a suitable pot that will provide adequate space for their body size and their roots to stretch so they can reach their utmost growth.

Takeaways

  • Cacti will thrive in a crowded environment as long as they are compatible and well-maintained.
  • While the cacti crowded arrangement looks artsy and pretty, the risk of pest infestation will be likely.
  • A bigger pot will not guarantee faster plant growth. When potting a cactus, it is imperative to determine the growth ability of the plant. A fast-growing plant needs a larger pot, while slow growers will need just the right pot size.

Sources

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Esther

Esther is the self-proclaimed cactusholic :D of the team. She owns a cacti shop with hundreds of plants that she takes care of. Esther has many years of experience in growing and caring for drought-resistant plants like cacti and succulents.

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