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Home > Types of Plants > Cacti and other succulents > Pots and Containers
Pots and Containers
Pots and ContainersTwo types of pots are available, clay or plastic. Both types of pot are used successfully by growers, mainly as a matter of personal preference. Plastic pots are lighter, cheaper, require less watering and are easy to keep clean. Clay pots can provide stability for tall plants and can help to mitigate the effects of over-watering, but their accumulated weight requires strong staging.

Many cacti and succulents have fibrous roots and do not require or use the full depth of a standard pot, and half pots or pans are more suitable. Putting a shallow rooted specimen in a deep pot is counter-productive as the soil below the reach of the roots will stay wet for prolonged periods after watering and may become stagnant. Those species which have tuberous or tap toots may require more depth and will probably grow better in a standard pot or even a "long tom" if you can find one. All pots of whatever type chosen, should have drainage holes and the bottom should be lined with several pieces of broken clay pots or large clean gravel.

Bonsai pots can look very effective with caudiciform plants where the caudex (a swollen root or lower stem) is raised up above the compost. Finally, some cacti and succulents are native to limestone areas and often seen there growing in cracks in limestone boulders. Such plants are suitable for planting in a block of tufa and can look very effective as an alternative to alpines.

Repotting

Ideally, plants should be re-potted every year to provide fresh compost and room to grow. This is also an ideal time to inspect the roots for diseases such as root mealy bug.

A good way of handling spiny cacti during repotting without breaking the spines is to wrap a roll of newspaper or paper towel round the sides of the plant. This may be kept in place if required by elastic bands or a wire twist tie. If the spines become entangled, wetting the paper will make it easier to remove, and small bits can be taken off the spines with tweezers. `Old hands` often handle plants with bare hands during repotting by distributing the weight on the hands between as many spines as possible. However, this is not recommended with Opuntia Sp. as the fine spines (glochids) will break off and become embedded in the skin, or with Mammillaria species with `fish-hook` spines that tend to catch in the skin.

To re-pot, invert the plant and tap the rim of the pot against the bench or with a piece of wood to loosen the pot from the compost. Inserting a piece of cane into the hole in the pot may help this process, but beware of damaging plants with fleshy or tuberous roots. If the plant is in a plastic or other flexible pot, squeezing the pot gently may help to loosen the root ball. As a last resort, it is better to break the pot to free a compacted root ball rather than damage the plant.

Remove the pot and clear away the old compost from the roots, keeping an eye out for pests. Use a thin stick or plant label to tease out the roots and remove old soil. If you see white fluffy patches in the soil and tiny insects, similar in shape to woodlice, but about 2 mm long these are root mealy bugs. If you find any pests, remove or wash off as much soil as possible, and soak in systemic insecticide, preferably one containing dimethoate.

Repot the plant into a new pot, which should be a little larger than the old one (perhaps 1 cm extra all round) if the plant has grown to fit its old pot. Replace fairly dry new compost around the roots and allow the plant to rest for about two weeks before watering to allow broken roots to heal.
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