Care for new cacti

POTTING MIXES. In spite of the complicated soil formulas I have seen in print (usually “leaf mold”, “sandy loam”, “sharp sand”, super phosphate, blood meal, bone meal, gypsum, pumice, ect.) I am quite convinced that nearly any mix will work. If you are determined to believe such and such is better, more power to you. We can sell you a commercial cactus mix that we advertize in our supplies section if you are unable to find suitable mixes locally. I have never had any ‘leaf mold’ and have seen many kinds of soil promoted as ‘sandy loam’. What is ‘loam’ in Arizona might be trash in mid-America. The point I am trying to make is that there are no standard names for soils and everyone has their interpretation. If it works for you, use it. Whatever you use, be consistent to simplify your watering.

CONTAINERS. The same advice goes for containers. If you prefer plastic for its light weight and low cost, stick with it. If you can afford stoneware or similar decorative pots, be consistent. Many people prefer clay pots. In Arizona they dry out very fast and our highly mineralized water leaves ugly deposits of salts. Whatever your choice of soils and pots, you must determine that magic instant called “almost dry” when you are advised to water again. This takes trial and error as the time between watering varies with temperature, humidity, ect. Our staff has come up with a simple and innovative way to determine the wetness of soils in containers. We use unvarnished wooden chopsticks or wooden tongue depressors. These are pushed down to the bottom of the pot and are left in place for about 20 minutes. When they are withdrawn the relative dryness of the mixture is obvious. I have personally found electronic meters to be worthless. One read ‘dry’ while the pot was standing in water and thoroughly wet.

WATERING NEW ARRIVALS. Plant new arrivals in a dry mix. Once your new plant(s) are potted up, you should not water for as much as ten days. This means your mixture will be really parched. When most mixes are that dry they do not take up water readily. We have found a good way to water a dry mix is with ice cubes. They release water very slowly as they melt and the ‘soil’ has time enough to absorb the water. Check to see how deep the water has penetrated with the chopstick/tongue depressor. A series of light waterings are better for newly transplanted specimens than a deep soaking. You are trying to stimulate new root growth and dampness is much better than wetness.

SUNBURN. Be extra careful with newly transplanted cactus or succulents as they are easy to sunburn at this stage. Watch them closely and move them to lesser sunlight intensities if you detect any yellowing of the skin on the hot quarter. Be especially careful of plants right at a window as they can burn and be scarred permanently in just a few hours.

SUMMER GROWERS, WINTER GROWERS. Now we are moving into an area where knowledge is hard to obtain. Some southern hemisphere plants are very adaptable and accept our seasons as their own. They are usually no problem. Others stubbornly adhere to the seasons they evolved in–these can be real problems. We will note any ‘winter growers’ we offer for sale and give you the benefit of our experience with them. If you are having on-going problems with plants you know to be from South America or southern Africa, you may be trying to push them when they are inherently dormant. Do some research on your own or contact the grower you obtained them from. An excellent source of advice for your local conditions can be found in your local Cactus and Succulent Clubs.

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