Fertilizing Cactus Plants: When And How To Fertilize A Cactus

Potted Cactus With Large Pink Flower
cactus fertilizer
(Image credit: OlgaRakhm)

Wondering how to fertilize a cactus plant can present a bit of a dilemma, because the first question that comes to mind is “Does a cactus need fertilizer, really?" Keep reading to find out and learn more about fertilizing cactus plants.

Does a Cactus Need Fertilizer?

The classic perception of the perfect environment for cacti is a harsh, dry desert with two extremes: periods of no rainfall whatsoever or sudden deluges that the plant must absorb, store and use throughout the next dry spell. 

It’s important to remember that whether they are outside in the garden exposed to seasonal extremes or in a bright sunny spot in the house, fertilizing cactus plants can keep them happily growing no matter the season. 

Just like with any other garden or houseplant, fertilizing cactus plants will help them adapt, actively grow, and even multiply if that’s one of their characteristics. Cactus fertilizer requirements are pretty simple. 

Any good houseplant food (diluted to half) that’s higher in phosphorus than nitrogen is a good choice. A 5-10-5 solution can work well. Now that you know that they really do need fertilizer, it’s also important to know when to feed cactus plants.

How Do I Know When To Feed Cactus Plants?

Despite the fact that cacti can survive (and thrive) in some of the harshest conditions on earth, most of them prefer multiple small feedings instead of one gigantic flood of food. 

Cactus plants really don’t require a ton of water or fertilizer (they do require a lot of bright light). At a minimum, fertilizing cactus plants once a year is a good rule of thumb, but if you’re really organized and can set up a schedule, feeding them 2-3 times per year in the spring, summer, and fall will easily satisfy your cacti fertilizer requirements. 

Cactus plants need fertilizer during their active growing periods more than at any other time. Many gardeners use a time-release mechanism that will feed the plant for a longer period of time, such as 3 or 6 months in order to be sure not to miss their peak growing time. 

Finally, remember one of the “golden rules of growing” as you plan to care for your cactus plants: never overfeed! Overfeeding is as dangerous to your cactus plants as overwatering is to any plant. Being careful not to overfeed is just as important as knowing when to feed cactus plants and how to fertilize a cactus. It gives your plants the best chance of staying healthy and happy.