CACTI AND SUCCULENTS
are part of a larger group of plants called succulents. Through
natural selection most Cacti species lost their leaves, which
allowed too much evaporation in the desert. Their stems became
thick, and round to minimize surface area, and to store water.
To protect themselves from the Sun and predators many species
developed spines and hair, waxy skin, along with bitter alkaloids.
Cacti do fairly well as house plants; however they are quite
slow growing. Be sure and save the sunniest spots in your
house for your Cactus plants as they need lots of light. Don't
forget to turn them every few weeks so that they are evenly
illuminated. If you are going to grow some of your Cacti to
flower, or for seeds, then don't move them while in bloom.
They are very sensitive to disturbances at this stage and
can drop the buds.
as it sounds, you can sunburn even a Cactus. If you are going
to put your Cactus outside, they must first be acclimatized.
Keep them in the shade for a few weeks, and then move them
into partial sun. Don't be in a hurry to scorch them under
a hot July Sun, give them a month or more to get gradually
used to it. If after you put it outside your cactus starts
to acquire a lighter green or tan tint, it is probably sunburned;
move it to some shade.
over-water your Cacti. However, when you do water, soak it
good - like it just went through a thunderstorm. Cacti and
other succulents prefer hot and dry conditions and a soil
that affords good drainage and aeration. Let the soil dry
out completely between waterings during the growing season,
and water even less during the winter. When watering your
Cactus don't forget to use lukewarm water, cold water can
shock the roots. A good way to test if your cactus needs water
is to poke a small, clean redwood stake in the soil. If it
comes up with small particles clinging to it, then the soil
is still moist.
prefer to be in unglazed clay pots with a layer of course
gravel in the bottom. Most Cacti have far ranging lateral
roots so a shallow, wide clay pot is preferred. Be sure not
to put your cactus in too large a pot because that can lead
to later problems-primarily root rot. A tall narrow pot often
leads to stress and stunted growth.
transplanting too many times as this can also shock the plant.
The best time to transplant is during the spring. Have a plastic
fork on hand to help poke soil into those tight places. Clean
off any loose soil that might be stuck to your plant with
a small brush. Don't water for a few days.
A tip to remember. When handling small Cacti, use a pair of
tongs, and for larger ones, use a rolled up newspaper. Cactus
spines can be very sharp and can penetrate gloves, as you
may well become aware of. Ouch!
good soil mix is essential if you expect good growth and health
for your Cactus. They prefer a porous alkaline soil. Contrary
to popular belief, Cacti don't grow well in plain sand. There
are several good brands of commercially available Cactus soils
that come prepackaged. For those of you who want to do it
yourself, the easiest formula is to just mix equal parts of
commercial potting soil and builders sand. You can also add
some bone meal and ground limestone - but not necessary.
mature actively growing cacti need to be fed regularly during
the growing season. Formulas are available that are specifically
designed for cactus like 7-40-6. (Nitrogen, phosphorus, potash)
Use a mixture with a low ratio of nitrogen, as cacti can be
burned by it. A commercial formula such as miracle grow or
rapid grow can be used, but should be diluted to half strength.
Regular Bone Meal, available at most Garden Centers, makes
an excellent organic fertilizer. Don't forget the macro-nutrients
like Iron (Fe), Calcium (Ca), Sulfur (S), and Magnesium (Mg).
Also important are the micro-nutrients Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn),
and Manganese (Mn).Many Cacti have beautiful and fragrant
flowers, but they can be quite hard to get to bloom. The optimal
conditions to induce flowering are, a cooler temperature (especially
at night), reduced day length (12 hours or less), and variations
in nutrients (lower nitrogen levels)..
you order your plants, don't be concerned. Cacti are well
suited to being packaged for extended periods without light
or water. They will almost always arrive at your house in
good condition. As most species are cold resistant, they can
be shipped any time of year - except the dead of winter. Since
Cacti are tough and hardy, they don't have to be shipped by
an overnight service, like most tropicals.
CACTI FROM SEED
should be germinated in sandy, well-drained soil. A commercial
sterilized cactus mix works fine. Use small ceramic pots 5
x 5 cm (2 x 2 inch) since they allow soil to dry out completely
(after germination) and prevent root rot. Most cacti germination
temperature should be around 70 degrees F. Peyote should be
around 80 - 90 degrees.
a small piece of cotton over the pots drainage hole and pull
a few strands thru to act as a wick. Fill the pot with cactus
mix. Place the seed on top of the soil in the center of the
pot. Additional soil should be sifted through a tea strainer
to barely cover the seed.
the pots in a container with a translucent snap-top lid."Bottom"
water the pots by pouring about 1/4 inch of tepid water (never
cold) into the container. Bottom watering causes the roots
to grow strong, from searching for the water. When you first
plant the seeds, you should also top water once with a fine
mist water sprayer. The soil should be well watered throughout
but not soggy. Place the lid on the container and place it
outside (April - July) or under artificial lights (For an
earlier start indoors).
tupperware creates a mini greenhouse, and should be kept closed
except for a daily check on the seeds progress (which allows
some necessary air circulation) until the seeds germinate.
They don't need any additional watering or misting during
this time (unless for some reason the water level in the container
drops below 1/16 inch). Be careful that your mini greenhouse
isn't too humid. Wipe off any beads of condensation that form
on the containers lid. Also be careful that the temperature
isn't too hot, as this can cook the seedlings.
species germinate within a few weeks. When the seedlings first
appear, they look like tiny green spheres. After they have
sprouted, replace the container lid with a piece of stretched
muslin secured with string or a rubber band. This will allow
air circulation, which can be increased by placing a fan above
the container. Adequate air circulation is essential as all
green plants require plenty of CO2 to grow. Seedlings are
more sensitive to light than mature plants. They should be
dark green. If they are a reddish or brown color, they are
receiving too much light, and additional pieces of muslin
must be placed over the top of the container to shade them.
If they are yellowish then they are not getting enough light.
the seedlings have germinated, place a thin layer of very
fine aquarium gravel on the surface of the soil. This gravel
will help to support the new seedlings and protect the surface
from drying out too quickly. Be careful to gently scoop out
any green moss-like growth that might appear because of high
four to five months (when spines have formed on seedlings)
remove the muslin shading for one or two hours a day to give
the seedlings more light. Stop bottom watering and use a watering
can twice a week. Water around the seedlings, not on top of
them. The seedlings should be misted occasionally (not a lot)
in hot weather. Seedlings should be brought inside for their
first winter, and kept moist (they cant handle very cold weather).
They should be placed in a sunny window away from cold drafts.
note: The use of some sort of fungicide when germinating cacti
seeds is almost mandatory due to the high humidity levels
involved. I have heard reports that the fungicides Daconil
and Consan 20 can cause reduced germination rates, and are
not recommended. I have heard a recommendation for the brand
name Chinosal, but have not used it personally.
CACTUS INDOORS, UNDER LIGHTS
is recommended that a minimal level of illumination to grow
Cactus indoors is around 15 watts per square foot (150 watts/
sq. meter). Fluorescent lighting should be placed 12 - 15
inches (28 - 35 cm) from the top of the plants. High Intensity
Discharge Bulbs should be placed considerably further away
(depending on wattage). Plants do much better if the day length
is kept more or less constant, depending of course on the
season. Be sure and use a timer set to 12 - 18 hours a day.
Most plants grow best if the light, dark period matches that
of their native habitats. When using artificial lights, be
sure and use reflectors to catch and concentrate as much light
as you can on the individual plants. For maximum growth, your
plants should be rotated about every two weeks to assure even
like most plants are more sensitive to certain frequencies
(colors) of light. This is usually towards the blue and red
parts of the spectrum. For best results use a grow light type
of tube for fluorescent lights, or for killer results, step
up to a metal halide. These kind of lights produce more light
in the colors that the plant can use.
Halide fixtures also produce a great deal of heat and some
UV radiation, your Cactus will love it. These fixtures have
proven to work well in an indoor environment as they have
been used by "closet" growers successfully for years.
AND PARASITES OF CACTUS
Cacti are very disease free, but occasionally. Especially
if the plant is over watered, any part may be susceptible
to molds or rot. If the roots are infected, then most probably
the core is also and the plant is lost. If an above ground
part of your plant is affected, the area should be cut out
with a sharp knife to remove any infected matter. The cut
parts should then be dusted with sulfur or a fungicide.
any of the roots are affected then the plant should be unpotted
and thoroughly cleaned. Of course all rotted or dead parts
are removed. The plant should then be repotted in pure sand
and kept dry at a temperature between 64 - 70 degrees. Cactus
are tough and are designed to withstand long periods of drought,
they should start growing again when healed and watered.
only pests that may plague your Cactus collection are scale
insects belonging to the superfamily Coccoidea, and nematodes.
Of interesting note, one species of scale is grown on opuntia
Cactus so that their eggs can be harvested and made into a
environmentally friendly method of controlling scale is to
spray the plants with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and nicotine.
If nematodes are present, the plant must be unpotted and the
roots cut off. It is then repotted in a sterile mix till rerooted.
The soil should then be sterilized and all infected matter
a Healthy Cactus