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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Cactus without roots: how to save the plant and which soil to use to get it back to full health

Cacti can be capricious plants, expecially because of their roots. It can happen, in fact, that despite all the cares we dedicate to one of our succulent plants, it stops growing, stops producing thorns and flowers and, in the space of a few weeks (or months, in some cases), begins to deteriorate, deflating and turning yellow. At the origin of this phenomenon, not always a pathology exists, as a bacterial attack that can cause the rot. In the same way, the cause may not necessarily be due to a parasitic attack. If you look closely at the plant, for example, you might not find any traces of spider mite or mealybug, the two main pests of succulents.

With experience I have learned that when a plant, even apparently healthy (i.e. not affected by parasites or bacteria) and grown in the best conditions (light, air, watering, soil, etc..) begins to deteriorate deflating and yellowing despite watering, it is always better to remove it from the pot and check the health of the root system. More often than we might think, the problem can hide just there, below the collar.

In this article, we will see everything we can do to save a cactus or a succulent plant in evident difficulty or when, after having flared it, we realize that it has lost all or part of its roots.

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Schlumbergera, the “Christmas cactus”: how to make it bloom in all its abundance

As every year, between the end of November and the first half of December, my Schlumbergera blooms. As always, the blossoms are very abundant, with inflorescences on every “article” of the plants. These are very common, thornless cacti that I consider a classic “houseplant”, but no less interesting, than other genera. Let’s start by saying that Schlumbergera are for all intents and purposes cacti (family Cactaceae). They are epiphytic succulent plants that in nature live leaning on other plants that simply act as a support (epiphytes are therefore not parasitic plants). This genus, also commercially known as “Christmas cactus” because they bloom at this time of year (actually they bloom from November), is very beloved even among non-succulent enthusiasts.

In this article, we’ll learn how to cultivate the “Christmas Cactus”, for obtaining its abundant blooms without any problems.

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