Decorating With Cacti — 5 Expert Tricks to Make These Sculptural Houseplants Feel Modern

From tiny to tall, these desert-dwelling wonders deserve a place in your home. Here are some clever expert ideas for decorating with cacti

Botany plant pots by Aaron Probyn
Botany plant pots by Aaron Probyn
(Image credit: Designs: Aaron Probyn / Photography: Jake Curtis)

The hot craze for cacti and succulents may have simmered, but these desert-dwelling wonders are still popular plants. There's no denying that decorating with cacti makes an interesting display.

Forget weekly watering schedules and wiping leaves - give cacti the right soil (usually sandy), bright light, and water them when the soil has dried out, and they will reward you with their unique beauty.

They're low maintenance too, so they make excellent houseplants for beginners and busy people - able to withstand extremes of temperature and drought, cacti will thrive with minimal attention. So how can you decorate with them and make beautiful indoor gardens? We ask the experts.

1. Choose a statement cactus

room with a large faux cactus

(Image credit: Future)

First up, pick the perfect cactus for decorating with plants. 'As with a single large houseplant, a single giant cactus (approximately five feet tall) provides a statement in any room,' says New York and London-based stylist Rebecca McEvoy. 'Place it next to a vintage leather armchair in a classic large terracotta planter and finish off with pebbles over the top of the soil.

'The best cacti to look for are a White Ghost cactus, Giant Euphorbia, Cowboy cactus or San Pedro Cactus.'

'Decorating a room with larger, dramatic cacti will easily draw attention or anchor the space,' adds Paris Lalicata, plant expert at The Sill. 'To effectively grow them, you need bright light to full sun conditions. If you don’t have natural lighting, then you can use grow lights instead.'

These plants are tricky to maneuver, so ensure the location has bright light and adequate space before you move your large cactus into place. Wrap your plant too, if you need to reposition it–those spikes get everywhere.

2. Fill a window sill with different cacti in a mix of pots

cacti on a windowsill from Westland Horticulture

(Image credit: Westland Horticulture)

One of the many elements that make cacti special is their unique sculptural shapes. These unusual forms are amplified when a variety of cacti are displayed together, so make the most of them and turn your window sill into an indoor garden.

'I like to style a space by grouping my favorite small to medium-sized cactus plants, each in a mix of terracotta, marble, and vintage pots, and place them on a windowsill to fill the whole length,' says Rebecca.

'They will thrive and look great as a little gang. The cacti I like to display are Prickly Pear, Milk Tree, Paper Spine, Boob Cactus and Bunny Ear.' You can also include some succulents in the mix. 'I like Hedgehog Aloe, Agave, or a Hanging Donkey Tail too.'

'By selecting various species with different shapes, sizes, and colors, you will create contrast and visual interest,' adds Paris. 'Choose any decorative planters that complement your interior decor style, but ensure they have drainage holes or double pots to avoid overwatering your cacti.'

3. Make a mini indoor zen garden

mini zen garden by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, author, Creative Houseplant Projects by Cool Springs Press

(Image credit: Cool Springs Press/Creative Houseplant Projects by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf)

Zen gardens are a part of Japanese indoor plant culture and can help create a feeling of calm. These 'dry landscapes' are often found at temples and are arranged with rocks, plnts, water features, and sand or gravel, which is raked over, offering time for quiet contemplation.

Recreate the look by situating a mini indoor version of a zen garden with a tiny rake in a home office or desk area for a moment of calm. Cacti or succulents are the perfect plants to use. Plant guru, Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, author of Creative Houseplant Projects has created one and offers some advice.

'Choose a shallow, decorative container and fill it with cacti potting mix. Leave approximately 1/2" to 1" (1 to 2.5 cm) of space at the top of the container for the sand,' says Lisa. 'If the potting mix is too close to the top, the sand will wash over the side of the container when you’re watering the plants,' she adds.

'Plant your cacti or succulents along one edge of the container. Carefully snuggle the plants in close to each other so you have more room for the sand area of the design. Lightly firm the soil around the plants and across the top of the container to make a level plane for the sand. Water the plants to settle them in.

Now it’s time to add the sand. 'I used two colors of sand, but plain-colored sand can also be used and is more in keeping with the zen garden aesthetic. Use a funnel or small container to add the sand, being careful to keep the sand off the plants, especially if colored sand is used.'

If you do get some sand on the plants, use a small brush, such as a paint or makeup brush, to carefully sweep it off. Place your zen garden on your desk or somewhere you’ll be able to use it often to settle your thoughts and bring calmness to your day.

4. Create a focal point with identical terracotta pots 

row of cacti in terracotta pots

(Image credit: Future)

Green plants in terracotta pots always look good and this is still the case with cacti. In a small area, such as on a narrow shelf, or in the middle of a dining room table, place different cactus plants in a row or group in identical terracotta pots to create an eye-catching focal point.

'An arrangement of cacti make a great focal point or centerpiece,' says Paris. 'Place taller cacti at the back or center of an arrangement and shorter ones towards the front to create depth and dimension.'

'Alternatively, create visual interest by arranging cacti at different heights or using layering techniques.'

5. Turn a planter into a mini desert

mix of cacti in a planter

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Planting cacti together in a large container will not only simplify how you tend to them, a perfect approach to houseplants for beginners, it will offer the effect of a mini indoor desert too.

'For a sleek look, a great way to display cacti is in a long concrete trough or metal planter on a window sill or shelf,' says Rebecca.

'Using a single variety, such as Old Man cactus or Fence Post cactus will keep it sharp and simple, or mix them up with a trailing cactus such as a furry monkey tail, or those that are tall or flower for some drama, like a Coral Cactus.

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.