Plastic, terracotta, square or round? Here’s how to choose pots for cacti and succulents

Plastic or terracotta pots? Round, square, shallow or deep? And then again: is it better to have one plant per pot or several plants in one box or in a large bowl? At first glance, the subject may seem trivial, but the choice of the right vase for growing cacti and succulent plants has an undeniable impact on the consequence of the cultivation. The choice of the right pot, it can be said, is indeed closely related to the type of cultivation we adopt for our plants (indoors, on a balcony, in a greenhouse, in the open air, etc.) and to the various elements that characterize it, such as watering, type of substrate, exposure, temperature, and much more.

Net of purely aesthetic and therefore personal choices, let’s see how to choose the right containers for succulents’ cultivation, evaluating the pros and cons of the various shapes and materials with which the pots available on the market are made. (…)

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Preparing cacti and succulents for spring: exposure, fertilizing, here’s what to do

Bright blooms, fleshy and brand-new leaves, sparkling spines sprouting from the vegetative apices: for succulent plants, spring represents a real rebirth. Here in Europe, the vegetative stasis that characterizes the winter of most succulent families ends between the second half of February and the beginning of March, when the plants gradually resume vegetation and reactivate the root system. For some families, the restart is evident: this is the case of Cactaceae, which already in February show new spines and often the first flower buds (genera such as Stenocactus, many species of Turbinicarpus, some Mammillaria, etc.). Also, leafy succulents such as Crassula, Echeveria, Portulacaria, Aloe, Adenium are well-known for producing new shoots, new branches and leaves. For other species as the Agavaceae family, the recovery is less evident: it slowly forms fresh sprouts at the centre of the apical rose, destined to be noticed only in a few months, when the separation of the true leaves will take place.
Whether the recovery is sudden and flashy or slow and hidden, in March it’s essential to devote some extra care to succulents: in this way, it will be possible to obtain healthy and robust plants that show their full potential development and flowering.

Now let’s see everything we can do at this time of the year, especially if we don’t have a greenhouse and we grow on the windowsill, on the balcony, on a terrace or in the garden. With a warning: whatever you have to do, with succulents and cacti, you must not be in a hurry: hurry to water, hurry to treat, hurry to move the plants… Getting caught up in the rush, the anxiety, the fear of doing something wrong, is the best way to run into mistakes. So let’s see how to avoid them. (…)

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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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