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Growing Cacti And Succulents

A cacti or succulent should never have to endure sodden soil.

I always know that spring is coming when my cacti and succulent plants, spurred on by the increasing length of daylight in my sunroom, begin to bloom. I have a large collection of cacti and succulents and although I enjoy their unique beauty year round, I especially enjoy the blooms that they put forth in the spring. If I were to put the plants outdoors for the summer, I would be rewarded with additional bloom during the summer months as well. All cacti and succulents have one main characteristic in common, and that is that they can store water in their fleshy tissue to enable them to endure periods of drought.

Even though they are drought tolerant, these plants prefer a gritty, sand-based planting medium and in fact if cacti and succulents are planted in too heavy a soil, and particularly if they are overwatered, they often rot or appear unhappy.

Many cacti and succulents (cacti have spines or needles; succulents don’t) are rather small plants and most are slow growing, so they can be planted in relatively small containers, although those which grow as clumps should be planted in larger pots. These clump-forming cacti are often, but not always, members of the Mammillaria or Chamaecereus families. The more upright cacti that grow as a single trunk belong to a number of families, including the common barrel cactus. Succulents often develop offshoots and become clumps over time, such as the well-known aloe vera.

When I pot up succulents and cacti I use a basic soilless mix, but I add a bit more perlite to the mix, as well as some sharp sand. Rather than adding the sand to the mix during the potting-up process, I often add a layer of sand to the surface of the soil in the pot after the plant has been potted up. Over time some of this sand will be carried down into the soil during watering. I think this layer of sand improves the appearance of the potted plants and I sometimes add a small animal figurine or a couple of small, polished stones as accents.

Cacti and succulents should be watered infrequently, and seldom during the dormant period, which is the winter season. If the plants are kept in a cool location during the winter, such as the sunroom where mine are located, they will only need watering about every six weeks or so, and then just enough to slightly dampen the soil. A cacti or succulent should never have to endure sodden soil.

If cacti and succulent plants are put outdoors for the summer they must be in containers that have excellent drainage. Even then, it might be wise during heavy rain to bring the pots indoors to avoid getting them too wet. If they are exposed to a lot of rain, the pots can be tipped on their sides to facilitate the drainage of excess water from the soil. A grouping of several pots of cacti or succulents makes a nice focal point in the outdoor landscape, particularly if some of them are in bloom.

I rarely fertilize my cacti and succulent plants although I do relent and occasionally feed larger specimens which have been in the same containers for several years. This is another distinct advantage of growing cacti and succulents: they do not have to be repotted very often. Cacti and succulents are such interesting plants – there are thousands of varieties – and they are so easy to grow, and can enhance both the indoor landscape and the outdoor garden.

– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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