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Potted cactus care: 5 tips to keeps plants happy, hands unhurt

August 09, 2013|By Barbara Thornburg
  • Kurt Kamm describes Mammillaria compressa as "one nasty cactus." The big ones look like trouble, with all those thorns, he said, "but the little ones that look soft and fuzzy are the real killers."
Kurt Kamm describes Mammillaria compressa as "one nasty cactus."… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

John Trager, curator of the desert collections at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, offers these five tips for growing cactus and succulents in containers: 

1. Plant in a well-drained mix of 80% pumice and 20% compost.

2. Fertilize during the growing season, spring and summer.

3. Handle cactus carefully. Wear latex surgical gloves, which provide the dexterity you need without damaging the plant. If you have to handle larger specimens, use a piece of old carpeting or an old pair of pants. Best strategy: Carry them by the roots.

4. Along the coast, give the plants full sun. If you live inland, provide a little afternoon shade.

5. Water judiciously -- usually no more than once every one to two weeks, depending on the size of the container.

Trager shared his advice while we reported on the potted cactus and succulent garden of author Kurt Kamm in Malibu. If you have any questions about cactus, succulents, California natives, edibles or any other types of plants, write to our SoCal Garden Clinic panel of experts. Garden design questions also are welcome.

Email them to and put "SoCal Garden Clinic" in the subject line. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we cannot respond to all questions, but some will be answered here and in our print edition.

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