Six identical cacti in three different soils: a cultivation test with Mammillaria hahniana

Here is another test of mine. In the cultivation of cacti, a bit like with many other passions in life, there are two different approaches: a “static” approach, let’s say “contemplative” and “collecting”, and a “dynamic” one, experimental and inspired by an ever greater understanding of these plants. In this second approach (which is the one that has inspired my passion for years) the study of reliable texts, the comparison with other growers and, above all, the experimentation in the field, for example, working on potting media, exposure, cultivation techniques and more, are fundamental.

Just growing plants – succulent or not – for years and years, in the same way, never changing the type of soil, exposure or method of cultivation is fine, mind you. Clearly, it’s perfect for those who only appreciate plants from an aesthetic or collecting point of view and have no particular demands. In short, it’s valid for those who are not interested in learning more and are not willing to take risks to improve and better understand the plants themselves.

Instead, the aim of “wild” cultivation is to obtain specimens as robust as possible, and with the same look to those that grow in the habitat (I write about this cultivation’s philosophy here). In addition to the documentation and possibly travel to observe the plants in nature, it is essential to engage in some experiments and be willing to question continuously, even if it could lose some specimens (not the valuable ones, of course).

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How a cactus changes depending on the type of cultivation: the difference made by soil and exposure

When they say that a picture is better than words. In this case, there are three photos, but the concept doesn’t change, and the difference between a cactus grown in a “natural” (or “wild”) way and one with a “garden-style”, based on basic notions and beliefs is quite evident. The plants I’m writing about are Ferocactus latispinus obtained from a 2012 sowing of mine. From that same planting, I’ve got at least forty plants. Over the years, I have given away some of them, but most are still with me and are growing beautifully. It’s important to point out that these are plants born from seeds contained in a single fruit (gift of a dear friend), sown the same day and grown over the years in the same conditions, i.e. in my greenhouse, in standard soil (pumice, lapilli and peat in equal parts), watered and fertilized with the same frequency. This is to say that the starting conditions, including the genetics and the grower’s hand, are the same. And yet, as you can see from the photo above, where the three plants (three at random of the twenty-five or so that I have kept for myself) are side by side, they show remarkable differences, at least to the discerning eye and the grower with a minimum of experience.

So let’s see how and why different cultivation regimens, assumed as a whole and not just limited to the soil, affect so much the final result and really make the difference between a cactus grown and cultivated in any garden or generic nursery and a cactus grown by an enthusiast or an expert.

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Marl as a substrate for cacti: is it really so good? How to use it and with which plants does it work

The use of marl as a substrate component for the cacti’s cultivation has been widespread for years, especially in Italy. Thanks to the studies and research conducted by my friend Andrea Cattabriga – grower, researcher and succulent expert at the international level. But what are we talking about, when we discuss marl? Quite simply, a greyish and highly friable rock, to the point of breaking up into flakes until it becomes powder. It’s used to create substrates for the cultivation of many cacti and some succulent plants when combined in some dosages with other materials such as quartzite, pumice, sand, gravel, lapilli, peat, field soil (clay).

In this article we explore the benefits of using marl in cactus cultivation, we see how to make a valid marl-based substrate, and we try to understand, above all, with which kinds of cacti this material can work and with which ones it should be avoided. (…)

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