So you want to get a plant.
You’ve never had one before but you figure it might brighten up your dorm room a little bit, lift the mood in the room, be a cute decoration, etc.
You go to Home Depot and gravitate immediately to the prickly succulents that come in all shapes and sizes.
The perfect plant for beginners. They’re easy to take care of and almost impossible to kill, thrive on neglect, all that good plant-beginner stuff, right?
While cacti are considered very hardy plants, they are not invincible to death via unknowing-plant-owner-who’s-just-trying-their-best. In fact, cacti can sometimes be the worst plants for beginning plant owners to buy.
This is because the majority of cacti are used to a dry, hot and sunny environment, like the desert or very arid landscapes you would find out west. Simulating this environment is very hard to achieve in a New Hampshire college dorm room.
Cacti require an average of six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day in order to thrive. They can survive on less, however if you want your cactus to grow or be healthy it’s best to keep them in the sun for as long as possible. In a dorm room, the best way to have your cactus reach those 8-hours of sunlight is to either place it in a south-facing windowsill (south-facing looks towards Brickyard Pond) or put it on your desk under a lamp, natural light is always the best though.
Sunlight aside, most cacti also thrive in drought-like conditions which is one of the main reasons people think they are good beginner plants. However, this can actually become a challenge for some people because they feel the urge to water their cactus more than it actually requires it. This can lead to root-rot and several other issues which cause your cactus to turn, quite literally, into a pile of mush. Cacti require watering once every couple of weeks. When you do water them, make sure that the water is soaking into the dirt and that you are giving them a really good drink. Some people will even use a bucket of water and fully submerge their cactus, pot and all, into the bucket for 5-10 minutes. You don’t have to be that extreme though.
Cacti, although hardy, are also extremely finicky. They don’t give you warning signs like other plants do when they are dehydrated or in non-ideal living conditions. More often than not you will think it’s fine one day and then the next you will poke it with a pencil and it will fall over into a pile of cactus puree.
So, here are two alternatives that I think beginning plant owners should buy.
The Golden Pothos is a vining plant that requires lowlight and does not need to be watered often, however it won’t die on you if you give it one too many drinks every once and awhile. Snake Plants are similar to the Golden Pothos, thriving in lowlight environments and also needing little water. They are slightly less tolerant of over-watering, but still will not die from too much water.
Claire Boughton can be contacted at: