As the weather cools down, you can still bring some summer vibes to life in your home with a selection of cacti and succulents. Although hailing from various climates, they are synonymous with warmer temperatures and desert skies and for those new to houseplant growing, are relatively easy to care for. Cacti and succulents, what’s the difference? For many years we believed that ‘all cacti were succulents but not all succulents cacti’ and while it does still generally hold some truth, these days progression in botanical science has meant that some cacti are being excluded from the succulent group all together. While this scientific difference prevails, generally gardeners consider them to be all in the same bunch of plants as they have similar needs.
Succulent and Cacti Care
Although it is possible to grow these plants in containers without holes, drainage and soil aeration is much improved if your pots have holes. Add a layer of larger gravel in the bottom to boost drainage. Never use potting mix or garden soil as these are too dense. Find a commercial cacti and succulent mix or make your own by combining 50% loam-based compost to 50% horticultural or bonsai grit and you may find that some plants, particularly cacti benefit from the addition of perlite to increase the drainage.
The main reason we kill succulents and cacti is that we overwater them and using distilled water or rainwater is best as the minerals in tap water can cause issues. Water the soil not the plant and do this either carefully from above using a thin spouted vessel or even a syringe. Fertilising is going to depend on your individual type of plant and this information can easily be found online or ask your local nursery.
Only repot if they outgrow their container or if affected by pests and disease. Outgrowing a pot usually occurs every couple of years and can be indicated by root bound soil. Use a small paintbrush to swipe away soil or grit that lands on the plant after potting up and be sure to add a layer of pebbles to the surface to keep the potting medium cool and moist. Wear gloves working with cacti and cover with a few layers of bubble wrap first when transplanting or moving.
Tidy up your plant and help it thrive by pruning away any damaged or diseased areas and by thinning out stems when the plant gets too leggy or crowded. This will ensure more vigorous and healthy growth. Always use very sharp scissors or secateurs and clean them often with a cloth dipped in methylated spirits to prevent cross contamination of pests and disease.
A lot of these types of plants produce offsets. These look like miniatures of the parent plant and grow around the base. Most can be eased off by hand or cut with a sharp small knife to separate them. Leave offsets to dry out in a in a warm, dry place for two weeks before putting up. Another method of reproducing more plants is by propagating through leaf cuttings. Gently pull off mature, healthy leaves from the base of plants. Again, leave to dry for a couple of weeks and then pot up. Seed propagation is also possible, but seeds are difficult to obtain from your own plants. Stem cuttings can be achieved by removing a leafy stem of about 8 to10cm in length with secateurs. Remove the bottom 3cm of leaves and leave to dry for a couple of weeks. Pot up as with other forms of propagation mentioned.
Yellowed leaves or stems can mean over or under watering, lack of light or food. Mushy or soft leaves or stems indicates overwatering, high humidity and possibly fungal growth. Reduce watering and increase air circulation, and wait and see. Remove any areas that go brown or die. Light brown raised areas could be the non-fatal ‘cactus corky scab’ and you will need to increase air circulation and reduce humidity. Round dark spots usually mean ‘fungal leaf spot’. Affected areas have to be removed to save the plant. Be careful not to wet leaves and stems in future when watering as this is usually the cause.
Fine brown markings, distorted growth, plant collapse and strange fibres appearing on your plants are all signs of pests. While it helps to identify the pests, physical removal by washing the plant in very mild soapy water and quickly drying in a well-ventilated area helps. Spider mites usually mean a death sentence for your plant, but you can try an eco-friendly pesticide and removing the infected parts. Thrips and fungus gnats can be combated by the placement of sticky traps around your plants and vine weevils and root mealybugs will mean you need to repot and clean your roots. Scale insect is a difficult one and you can try washing your plant, using a methylated spirit-soaked cotton bud directly on areas of infestation or a systemic pesticide.
Whole plant collapse is a sad looking problem and usually means that there is a pest or fungal disease in the roots of the plant, have a look, remove pests or fungal damaged roots and repot. Should all the roots look affected, then the plant needs to go to the bin I’m sorry to say.
Distorted growth can also mean insufficient light as well pests. Inspect closely and if nothing has been found, try a position with more light. Should you plant seem to not be growing in a non-dormant period, it could be any of the above so check weekly for signs of pests or disease, revise your watering method, and amount and perhaps move to a position with more favourable air movement, light and temperature. Etiolation is a common succulent problem. It is leggy and outstretched growth of the stem and leaves caused by a lack of sunlight and usually occurs after you have fed your plant. Simply move the plant to an area in which it will receive more sunlight.
WHAT’S ON FOR PLANT LOVERS
Growing Food for Abundance Live 25th May - 9.30am - 11.30am. An online workshop with Megan Cooke and Kerrie Anderson. Now is the time to learn how to grow your own food & have an abundance of produce.
For more details: www.facebook.com/gardentotablepermaculture
Terrarium Workshop Saturday, 10 June 2023, 11am-12.30pm. Learn to design and make a closed glass terrarium to take home, complete with living plants and ornament to create interest. You'll learn how they work so you can make more at home, and how to care for them so they last. Everything you need to participate is provided on the day, along with a warming brew from our in-house cafe, The Leafy Green. Burbank House & Garden, 443 The Entrance Rd, Erina Heights. To book, call 43 655 396.
Australiana Trivia Night with East Gosford Community Garden Saturday 10th June, 6:30pm. Support one of our wonderful community gardens. A fun night with cash prizes for winning table and other great prizes. East Gosford Progress Hall, tickets at door or book at: www.trybooking.com
temperate areas, late autumn
You can plant the following now: Culinary herbs, artichokes, broad beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, cress, garlic, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas, shallots, spring onions, silverbeet, spinach, ageratum, alyssum, calendula, candytuft, Canterbury bells, carnation, cineraria, columbine, cornflower, delphinium, dianthus, everlasting daisy, forget-me-not, foxglove, godetia, gypsophila, hollyhock, honesty, larkspur, linaria, lobelia, nigella, pansy, poppy, primula, snapdragon, statice, stock, sweet pea, viola, wallflower
I write the weekly 'DOWN IN THE GARDEN' page for the Coast News Newspaper and this originally appeared in The Coast News as below -