How to Care for a Cactus in Winter

How to Care for a Cactus in Winter

Table of Contents

Cactus care in winter can be a cause of worry for some plant parents, especially for those living in cold areas with lots of rainfall. However, with just a little care and some preventative measures, it is easy to keep your plant thriving right through the nippy months, ready to continue growing again come spring.

So, if you’ve ever wondered how to keep a cactus alive in winter, let this article be your answer. Here’s everything you need to know about caring for these plants.

Can a cactus survive winter?

Let’s not forget that cacti are known for being hardy plants and so, while they might need a little extra loving care during cold snaps, they are perfectly capable of surviving winter.

Like most plants, their care needs change with the seasons so a simple adjustment of how you care for your cactus should be enough to ensure it has everything it needs to withstand the dreariest of winters.

How to care for an outdoor cactus in winter

The easiest way to care for a cactus through the chills of winter is simply to bring it inside. The warmth of indoors takes care of any threat of your plant freezing or developing root or stem rot due to being exposed to too much moisture and rainfall.

Moving your plant indoors needs to be done with care. Gradually transitioning it from outdoors to inside conditions takes some foresight but is definitely worth the extra effort for a happier, healthier plant.

Begin moving your cactus just before winter hits, when temperatures are dropping to below 65F at night. Put it in a shaded outdoor spot, one that will get a couple less hours of direct sunlight than the cactus is used to, for a week or two.

Then, with the same care, move your cactus to a spot that receives another one or two less hours of sunlight. This allows your plant to grow acclimatized to colder temperatures gradually and takes care of any risk of shocking it.

Finally move it one more time – this time inside. Choose a spot with care and attention, picking a place that is sunny and will receive as much light as possible. South-facing windows are normally good choices.

How cold can cactus tolerate?

How cold a climate cactus plants can continue to survive in really depends on the particular variety and the plant’s age. While most can’t tolerate subzero temperatures or frost, some varieties – hailing from particularly nippy desert regions – can withstand freezing temperatures.

In general, your succulent or cactus will be able to tolerate temperatures as cold as 50 to 55 degrees but only a certain few could withstand much colder without needing extra care.

A golden barrel cactus temperature range is typically from 50° - 75° Fahrenheit though mature barrels are known to still be able to survive in temperatures as low as 14°.

Here’s some of the best outdoor plants that bloom in winter.

To make sure your cactus is getting the best care, check its hardiness zone before you buy it to be sure it can survive your region’s climate. Thankfully, there are several ways to care for your cactus to keep it warm even in very cold conditions. Let’s look at some of them.

How to care for cactus in winter

Taking care of a cactus during the winter months doesn’t need to be as arduous as you might think. In fact, let’s not forget that cacti are dormant during winter and so don’t need a lot of food or water. The main care they need is some protection against cold and moisture and ensuring they have as much light as possible.

So, the first item on the cactus care list is sunlight! Ensure your plant has access to as much light as possible by leaving it by a south- or south/west-facing window. If you think it needs extra care, you can also supplement natural light with grow lights but this probably won’t be necessary once your plant is receiving a minimum of three to four hours of bright light a day.

Whether your cactus plant is indoors or outdoors, mulching your soil with small rocks is important when caring for it during winter. Adding this layer of small rocks takes care of any potential for overwatering, as well as providing a protective blanket that helps to keep your plant warm. 

This is particularly important for outdoor cacti, who need extra tender loving care to stave off the cold.

Despite the urge to care for your cacti with excessive feeding, avoid fertilizing it during winter. Cacti do not grow during the winter and so fertilizers can actually damage your plant. Be sure to take care and wait until spring before fertilizing.

How often to water cactus in winter

A cactus that receives too much water can quickly become unhealthy and might experience root or stem rot. The best way to care for your cactus and avoid this from happening is to exercise extreme care when it comes to watering.

Firstly, given it rains more during winter, bringing your plant indoors is a simple solution to prevent it retaining too much water. Covering them with tarp, a tent, or any other kind of protective layer is another way to keep it safe from too much rain. 

When it comes to watering, there is no set schedule to follow and instead how often you water your plant will vary. Some cacti can survive entire winters without being watered! Check the soil, placing a stick right down to the bottom of it, to gauge how wet it is. Only when your stick comes out clean to show the soil is dry should you water your cactus.

However, if your plant does seem unwell and needs to be brought back to life, here’s how to save it.

As you can see, caring for a cactus in winter really isn’t all that hard! Now you know how much a cactus can take care of itself, why not enhance your plant collection with this hardy and resilient plant? Plants.com has a brilliant range, all of which are ready and waiting to be taken care of!


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