Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Trichocereus Grafting: Beyond Pereskiopsis

So you have grafted your little cacti seedlings to pereskiopsis, and they have grown like weeds. However, you have come to the realization that your grafts simply won't be able to stay on pereskiopsis forever; eventually they will need to be degrafted, and you will have to find them a new home.
You could just root them and put them on their own, but depending on the species, you run a higher risk of running into conditions such as root rot, and they may require more specialized growing mixes and attention to moisture levels (not to mention you will probably notice a diminished growth rate).
So today I am going to show you how to use trichocereus to provide your grafts with a more permenant home. Trichocereus (almost any variety will work) are obviously more physically robust than pereskiopsis, but they are also quite fast growing, and very tolerant in terms of growing medium, sunlight, and moisture levels; don't go treating them like your pereskiopsis, they aren't that tough, but they are still very easy to take care of as far as cactus go.
For this tutorial, I am using a section of Trichocereus Pachanoi that was grown out on pereskiopsis to its current size, approximately 4 inches tall. For the scion, I am using a Discocactus Horstii that was grown on pereskiopsis from a seedling. You will notice in the picture below, that the Pachanoi grafted onto pereskiopsis has been cut back a few times; when you cut off a tip, at least two more replace it, giving you a steady supply of rootstocks. The supplies you will need to do this are the same as those used in "Pereskiopsis Seedling Grafting 101", and the sanitary procedures are the same as well.
After you clean your blade thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, cut the rootstock (Pachanoi in this case) off at its base, and then cut the bottom off so that it is even, and cut as much of the tip off as is necessary to give a solid base for the scion. I also like to cut a small angle off around the top of the rootstock after I remove the tip; this is so that if the edge of either the rootstock or the scion curls in at the union, there will be some extra room so the two wont be forced apart.

You can discard the piece you cut from the bottom, and in an upcoming post I will show you something cool you can do with the top portion, but for now I guess you can throw that away too...So once you have your rootstock prepared, you need to get your scion ready. When I do this, I always make sure to leave a portion attached to the pereskiopsis with plenty of areoles, so that I can get more tips out of it in the future; never degraft completely (unless they are dying or just not producing anymore), because they almost always put out new tips over and over again.
After you have your rootstock and your scion prepared, get yourself a piece of plastic wrap approximately six inches square, and one of those little wires we used when grafting to pereskiopsis. Now, place the scion on top of the rootstock, and center the plastic wrap over it, and then bring the sides down around to the bottom and twist so that the scion and rootstock are forced together firmly, then secure the twisted plastic wrap with the wire, as seen below.
Since the scion and rootstock are of similar diameter, and they have much more developed vascular tissue, placement isn't that big of a worry; just shift the two around until they are more-or-less aligned (like with the seedling grafting, it is best to do this after the wrap is in place and secured). After you have done this just leave it in a cool area to bind together. In my experience, four to seven days is adequate time for this to occur. After this time has passed, carefully remove the plastic wrap, and allow the bottom cut to callus up a bit before planting, just as though you were planting any other cactus cutting. Once a callus has formed, I prefer to plant in a dry cactus soil, and simply give the cactus a few sprays of pure water around its base every other day or so. Remember, the soil needs to be somewhat warm (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit) for good rooting to take place.
There you have it, hope this helps. Stay tuned, we are going to go over some more grafting techniques pretty soon. The weather is warming up too, so we will probably try some outdoor pereskiopsis experiments in the near future.
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Monday, March 25, 2013

A Watched Cactus Never Grows

     So I had neglected my cactus for about a week (terrible, I know); things had gotten busy and they skipped my mind. So I went to check up on them, expecting the worst, but was pleasantly surprised to see some health rapidly growing grafts. The pereskiopsis were growing rapidly as well, twisting and contorting as they continued to grow, even as they pushed up against the tops of their growing compartments. I noticed that the soil, almost across the board, was dry...To dry, under normal circumstances. The plants all seemed quite content and healthy though. I would have expected some minor wilting had I known what the condition of the soil had been, but the foliage all seemed very health and vibrant. Here are pictures of some grafts that I was especially happy with:

Astrophytum Myriostigma

Turbinicarpus Jauernigii

L-Trichocereus Bridgesii, R-" Pachanoi

     Just for the record, I DO NOT recommend letting your cacti dry out completely between waterings; the root structure of cacti is such that excessively long dry periods can cause root death, and can open the door for rot upon rewatering. If you are cultivating mainly peresiopsis like I am (or other jungle-type or epiphytic cacti), you are a bit better off, as these cacti, in my experience, tend to be more resilient to stresses such as these. Once again, this is why grafting with pereskiopsis can be such a boon to the cactus enthusiast and collector; as many of the pitfalls associated with the cultivation of collectible and/or ornamental cacti are related to soil, root rot, watering, etc., these are not of such major concern when pereskiopsis serves as your rootstock.

     It is amazing how the pereskiopsis just keep on growing and growing, as the pictures below clearly show. It is amazing as well, that they grow at this rate (grafts as well) with very modest growing conditions, in terms of light and soil.

Those are some twisted sisters! I almost feel bad for them :)

     I think it is about time I touch on fertilization. First off, I fertilize every time I water; this may sound excessive, but I use a rather dilute nutrient solution. My nutrient solution is mixed fresh every time I water, and consists of half strength Cactus Juice and quarter strength Miracle-Gro All Purpose. As you can see this isn't very strong at all, and I have noticed no adverse affects from these treatments, only healthy growth. As stated before, I now am a die-hard top-waterer. I used to ONLY bottom-water, but as the collection grew, it just became too time consuming to water all of the trays in this fashion. Also, I try to always spray the foliage gently with pure water (especially the grafts) to prevent (even if unlikely) any burning. That is about all for today. Stay tuned, as things warm up here in the frigid Northwest I hope to get some outdoor experiments going. Thanks for reading, and happy growing.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

What is Cactaceae?

I thought it would be nice to give people an overview of just what a cactus is; what differentiates them from other plants, and what purposes their most distinct features serve. This may seem elementary to some, but I like to get back to basics from time to time, and I think most who read this will learn something from it. Here we go!

A cactus is a plant that is a member of the family Cactaceae. This family is of course within the kingdom Plantae, but further more, Cactaceae is of the order Caryophyllales, which encompasses many families of flowering plants, many of which posses some of the features of cacti; succulent-type leaves for one, which reduces surface area and thereby reduces moisture loss through evapotranspiration. Some members of this order don't bear much resemblance to cacti at all, and their inclusion is often based on genetics.

Back to Cactaceae, the typical features of cactus serve important purposes. The absence of leaves (except in one of my favorite cacti, Pereskiopsis, though this trait hasn't developed in many other species as well), is an evolutionary adaptation to combat moisture loss in the arid environments in which these species have developed. Some tend to associate arid or dry, with hot, but this isn't always the case; there are many species of cactus which are in habitat in the northern mid-west of the United States, up into the Dakotas and further north, where it can get incredibly cold (check out the lophophora blog for some pictures of some of these such cacti in cultivation). These northern areas, while they can experience extreme cold and copious amounts of snow, are relatively arid (or dry, or lack much available water), and the latter condition is more or less typical in most cactus species' native habitats.

Here you can see a rainfall chart of the United States. You can probably guess that the red denotes low rainfall, going on up to the blues and purples which denote heavy rainfall. Much of the northern mid-west has an annual rainfall in the 10-20 inch range; pretty dry where I come from.

The arid climate which is home to many cactus has spurred the adaptation of, not only loss of leaves, but the development of ribs. Since the cactus has shed the leaves, and reduced its overall surface area to combat moisture loss, some may ask why not get rid of the ribs to reduce surface area even more? The answer is, because the ribs typical of most cactus (though less pronounced in some species), increase the plants ability to take in water when it gets it. The ribs, as you have noticed when you neglect your cactus and forget to water, will shrivel somewhat, but after you water it you will notice the ribs becoming full and firm again in the days that follow; the ribs can swell to hold moisture to get it through until the next rain (or the next time you remember to water it). Species from especially dry areas have developed a spherical shape (these are many of the species we prize, and that are widespread in collections, such as Astrophytum, Ariocarpus, Lophophora, etc.), which is the best possible structure for retaining moisture and limiting its loss (the most volume with the least surface area).

Another adaptation with the purpose of limiting moisture loss, though not visible to the naked eye, is known as Crassulacean Acid Metabolism. This process is complex, and it could have several articles of its own, but I will try to simplify it. Most plants, during the day, are constantly taking in carbon dioxide to use to carry out photosynthesis, and excreting moisture and oxygen in the process; this process results in a very high moisture loss through the plants pores (known as stomata or stoma), as the pores are left open to allow carbon dioxide in, but at the same time moisture laden air inside the structure escapes. Cactus and many other species of plants have found a way around this, through the Crassulacean Acid Metabolism, also known as CAM. Essentially, with CAM, the plant's stomata only open at night, when it is much cooler (and the air is often more moist at this time), to take in and store Carbon dioxide (and any moisture vapor that comes with it). During the day, the stomata close, and the plant uses the carbon it stored during the night to carry out photosynthesis. This could be the single greatest (or at least one of the top two or three) adaptations that allow cactus to inhabit the harsh environments they do.

Another characteristic that many cacti posses, spines, serve a couple main purposes. The first, and main purpose in my opinion ,as you would guess if you have ever been stuck by one, is to keep away herbivores (and humans probably). The second main purpose is to provide some protection from wind and sun, both of which can cause moisture loss. While we're on this topic, we should discuss a key part of cactus anatomy, the areole. This feature is specific to cacti, and it is from this small organ that spines, glochids (really nasty spines), flowers, and new growing tips come out of. This feature is indicative of a cactus; if you see an areole, its a cactus basically.

The root structure of most cacti consists of mainly fine feeder roots, an adaptation to limited availability of water (see my article The Best Cactus Soil for a little information on cactus root structure). These roots are typically shallow to uptake water before it can drain down through the soil, and can spread out a considerable distance around the base of the cactus, for essentially the same reason. Some cacti, such as many of the aforementioned spherical, or globose, cacti, posses large taproots. These act in a couple capacities for the most part. For one, they act as a further means of water storage, and a good one, since they are not exposed to the harsh sun and drying wind that the aerial portion is. They also stabilize the plant and help keep it from being uprooted, and new growing tips can spring forth if the head is damaged or removed, provided there is a sufficient portion of the plant intact. Then there are species of cacti, often called Jungle cacti (or epiphytic cacti), which climb, or grow primarily in trees, and develop roots anywhere along their stems where there is an adequate growing medium (much like ivy, briars, etc.).

Well I think this is going to have to be part of a series. This was just something I wanted to touch on, hopefully I can add more to this in the future, but I think we covered some good territory. I like to get back to basics from time to time, and every once and a while I learn something new or relearn something I forgot, hopefully you guys did to. Thanks, and stay tuned.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Top Heavy Grafts and a Little About My Setup

Here are some pictures showing what can happen when you graft on a pereskiopsis that is a little too much on the tall side. You can see just how much they lean; if they didn't have the sides of the tubs they are planted in to lean on, they probably would have up-rooted themselves. The amazing part is, they continue to grow like always. Pereskiopsis is a very adaptable plant, and can put up with just about anything. The scions in these pictures are all Trichocereus Peruvianus, except the one that has been topped; I think this is a Macrogonus. They all have tags at their base, but with the way they are leaning it's hard to tell where they all start.
The trays they are planted in hold about 30 pereskiopsis each, and are about 13 inches long by 8 inches wide, and have only about 2 inches of soil (see The Best Cactus Soil). Pretty amazing huh? In addition to this, 4 of these trays (roughly 120 pereskiopsis and grafted pereskiopsis) are placed under just 26 watts of fluorescent light, and they all grow like weeds.
Everyone can have a cactus collection, and they can do it on the cheap. I will get into the details of my whole set up in the future. Thanks, comment and subscribe to my feed.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Pereskiopsis Seedling Grafting 101

This will be a short tutorial on seedling grafting onto pereskiopsis. This will cover the method I use myself, and I have found this to work at least as well as any of the techniques out there. The main reason I do my seedling grafts this way is for ease and simplicity. Other methods I have seen employed include letting one end of a slightly weighted piece of glass rest on top of the scion for a number of hours (if the description doesn't make sense, trust me, trying to get it to work in real life will really give you a headache), or leaving a pen cap or something similar over the scion for a certain length of time... These methods have proven to be a real pain in my experimentation.

The fact of the matter is, you are going to loose some grafts no matter what you do, so you might as well not spend all day doing it. My method is quick and easy, and is more or less as effective as any other method I have tried. So lets get right to it.

The supplies you are going to need are as follows:

1. A razor blade

2. Some rubbing alcohol
3. A clean rag
4. Some squares of plastic wrap (about 2 inches or so)
5. Some thin wires (ones pictured are 22 gauge) bent like so
6. Some healthy young pereskiopsis plants
7. Some healthy young cactus seedlings
Now, first things first, lets get an overview of the process and some preliminary tips. First off, we are going to attempt to join the seedling and the pereskiopsis (duhhh). We are going to facilitate that union with the plastic wrap and the wire. the plastic wrap will go over the scion once it is in place and the wire will hold the plastic wrap in place. These two pieces can be reused over and over again (usually). I made the little wires out of 22 gauge wire rope; separated the strands, cut them into little pieces, and bent them to shape. In case you were wondering why the wire is shaped the way it is, it is because when it comes time to remove the plastic, it is much easier to remove the wire by grabbing each end between two fingers and pulling them apart, rather than having to pick at the two wire ends to try to get something to grab on to (all that fiddling can knock scions off, trust me). You can probably figure out how the squares of plastic wrap were prepared, and what their use is, so I won't bore you with that.
The condition of the plants and soil is the next topic. Make sure your seedlings and pereskiopsis are healthy and show no signs of disease, rot, etc. Also, make sure your soil is of the proper moisture level; not sopping wet, not bone dry, but pretty much right in the middle, or leaning a little more to the wet side is fine...Just don't graft on a dehydrated pereskiopsis.
Now that we have covered that, I think we are ready to get to the actual grafting.

First and foremost, you are going to want to clean your razor blade using the rag and rubbing alcohol. Set the cleaned razor blade somewhere where it wont get dirty (on top of the clean rag is a good place).
Now you have to select the pereskiopsis most suitable to be grafted; I like to pick the thickest stocks I can, this gives a nice little platform for the scion, but make sure they are not too stiff and fibrous, as this can inhibit the union. Here is the one I chose for this demonstration:

Once you have found a nice pereskiopsis, take the top off (just cut off enough so that you will have a large enough base for the scion) and then remove all of the leaves perhaps an inch or so down from the top. Also, if you notice any areoles closer that maybe 1/8 of an inch from the cut, gently cut these out; when your graft is young, these may start producing shoots, and the swelling associated with this, in such a close proximity to the scion, could disturb it or even push it off completely. Here is a picture of the pereskiopsis above after this treatment:
Once you have done this begin looking for the best seedling to graft onto your pereskiopsis. I like to pick out the fattest and healthiest looking ones first, but it is up to you; just don't pick any that are discolored and/or deformed (its a good idea to get rid of these altogether). Here is a particularly nice looking Hylocereus Undatus that I chose to graft to this pereskiopsis (there are no roots on this seedling because when I tried to pluck him out he started to pull all of his buddies out with him, so I had to cut him off at ground level):
Once you have picked your seedling, gently grab it and pull it out of the soil. Shaking off the excess soil is a good idea even though you are going to be cutting off the bottom half anyway, as it just helps keep your razor and the scion cleaner. The next step now is to cut the scion so it can be placed on the pereskiopsis. I personally like to cut the seedling at its widest point (roughly the middle of the above-ground portion in many species), or at least so that there is sufficient width at the cut so that it isn't wobbling around to much on top of the rootstock.

Once the seedling is cut, quickly, and while the seedling is still in your fingers, slice a very thin piece off of the top of the pereskiopsis, to ensure that both surfaces are fresh when joined. Then place the scion on top of the pereskiopsis and press down gently to make sure there is no air between them, then grab your wire and plastic wrap. First, here is a picture of the above seedling after being cut, and initially placed on top of the pereskiopsis:
Gently place the plastic wrap down over the scion, and while maintaining slight pressure on the scion, twist the excess plastic wrap around the stalk of the pereskiopsis and hold with your fingers. Then grab your wire, and push onto the stalk and pinch down around it until the plastic wrap is secure. Now is the best time to properly position the scion, by gently sliding it around and pulling on the bottom of the plastic wrap to keep it in the right position. Here is a picture of the scion once secured and wrapped:
This is a big topic actually, proper scion placement, so I will devote some time to it..Like I said before, you are probably going to lose a fair number of grafts no matter what you do, so don't go pulling your hair out trying to get the perfect placement. A good rule of thumb, in my experience, is to try to get the scion just slightly off center, and make sure the cut surfaces of the scion and the rootstock are in full contact. If you do both of these things you will be a lot better off than you would be if you sat there all day with your micrometer trying to get a perfect placement; in fact, messing around with a graft too much can damage it and have the opposite effect. Its a crap-shoot to a degree; I have had grafts that I was sure were going to make it bite the dust, and grafts that I was sure were going to fail do awesome. All in all if you follow these recommendations though, im sure you will have respectable results.
I usually leave the plastic on for three or four days, and then take it off and treat the graft as I would any other plant. I know a lot of people recommend a humidity chamber for the first week or two, but honestly I haven't had the chance to try that myself and I still get satisfactory results. Perhaps in the future I will be able to experiment with humidity chambers, but I think I will be doing things this way for the near future at least.
This was a brief tutorial on grafting with pereskiopsis that I have been meaning to do for a long time, but couldn't find the time, so I just threw this one together. I hope to be able to give you guys some pictures of new grafts as they start growing soon. Thanks for reading, comment and subscribe.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Christmas Cactus Flowering (unexpectedly)

     I must admit, I had been ignoring my Zygocactus recently. Today when I had the crazy idea to check up on them after about a week, I was surprised to see that one batch (all in the same pot) had begun to produce flowers, some of which were fully developed. Here is a picture of one such flower:
     What struck me as odd, is that none of the pots of Christmas Cactus surrounding this one displayed any signs that they were even thinking about flowering. Also, since they are also under artificial light, they could ALL theoretically be expected to flower if it were an issue of photoperiod...I knew something was up.
     Upon further inspection, I noticed that the soil in this particular pot was quite dry, while the others weren't TOO wet, but somewhat still. So I hopped online and tried to find out if lack of water or drought could induce flowering. It made sense to me; if conditions are harsh and the plant feels it might be in trouble, it might do all in its power to reproduce and perpetuate its kind.
     I found a few references to obscure plants and trees I had never heard of before, stating that drought can occasionally cause premature flowering, but nothing about Christmas Cactus, or any cactus for that matter (maybe my search skills aren't what they used to be :/); I find this odd as this is such a widely cultivated species, and often grown by people who know close to nothing about cactus or plants in general, I would expect a blurb about something on a gardening forum or something similar.
     Anyway, just thought I would share this little development. Keep an eye on your Christmas Cactus' moisture level (or don't, if you really love flowers :) ), as it looks like this could be what caused it. Thanks, and COMMENT AND SUBSCRIBE :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Artificial Light and Cactus Cultivation

     It is about time I touched on artificial light, since my cactus cultivation relies so heavily upon it. A lot of people think they need to go out and buy some $300.00 dollar light fixture, fancy meters, and gadgets, in order to grow cactus indoors; this is total BS as far as I am concerned. I don't know if better results could be obtained with this type of equipment (they probably could), but to get started they absolutely aren't necessary.
     Let me start off with a little background on my own situation. I started out with 3 fully rooted pereskiopsis, each maybe 6 inches tall. Outdoor cultivation was out of the question because I am in the northwest (cold) and didn't possess the funds (or the real estate) necessary to construct a greenhouse. So I constructed a cabinet out of strand board with 5 shelves, and wired 1 standard light socket into each shelf, into each of which I put a 23 watt Compact Fluorescent bulb...One year later I had nearly 500 fully rooted pereskiopsis, as well as a large number of well developed grafts (now I'm at the point where I have to throw them away sometimes)...The point I am trying to make here is, you can build your cactus collection on the cheap, no matter where you live, with inexpensive fixtures and relatively low-watt CFL bulbs. If you already have an unused cabinet or small enclosure, you save yourself the cost of lumber and screws (the biggest cost with this type of setup).
     If you have the real estate and the money, build yourself a greenhouse!!! Jump on it if you have the ability...But for everyone else, never be discouraged; with a little money, a little work, and some grafting skills, you can build up a great cactus collection a lot easier than you think.
     That's all for now. Subscribe and comment if you like. Until next time

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cactus Watering Notes

     You all know about WHEN to water, I've covered that previously, but here are some tips for when you DO water. First off, there are two types of watering; top watering and bottom watering.
     When you top water, you pour your water or nutrient solution over the plants down onto the soil. When you bottom water, you submerge the plant, container, soil and all, into the water or nutrient solution, and wait until the soil is saturated.
     I used to be a die-hard bottom-waterer...But recently I have become tired of the excessive time consumed in waiting till the soil is saturated, waiting for the container to drain of excess water/nutrient solution, etc.
     Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of putting your container in the nutrient solution and letting it sit until the soil is saturated; set and forget :) . However, when you have close to 100 said containers, this can become time consuming...Here enters top watering.
     I have recently been toying around with top watering, and love its speed and ease (it can take a hell of a long time for a saturated pot to drain off its excess water)..There are some pointers though, with the health of your cacti in mind.
     First, water a little bit at first; even without a high-peat soil, when it is getting near dry, if you administer a large amount of water at once, most of it will roll right off the top, down the sides, and out the bottom. A minute or two after your initial watering, water again, and you will notice this watering has much greater penetration. Let sit for a minute or two, and try to water again; if almost as soon as you start pouring you notice water trickling out of the bottom of your container, you are done watering.
     This has proven to me to be much quicker than bottom watering, and better all around in my opinion; I don't have to fuss around making sure my planting containers have the proper sized holes to keep in soil and yet still let excess water out; by observing the soil and the drainage from the bottom of the container during watering, and following the above procedures, it isn't a very big concern because if done right there isn't much runoff and waste.
     Just one note though, If you are using a fertilizer solution when top-watering, you should probably spray your plants afterwards with a spray bottle (filled with pure water) just to be sure your cacti aren't burned.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Are you echinoCEREUS?

     My Echinocereus Viridiflorus are all splitting their heads, growing new heads, etc. This is a very cold hardy species, native to the central United States; up through Colorado down into northern Mexico. I have a ton of them grafted, in hopes to degraft, root, and plant them outside eventually and finally be able to have some outdoor cactus year round. Anyway, here are some pictures of what I'm talking about
     It's kind of hard to tell, but there are 3 (possibly 4) heads coming out of 1 in the top picture. You can tell exactly whats going on in the bottom picture; 5 heads and counting. I'll have to look into this. It isn't necessarily a bad thing I guess, but its a little odd. I have even noticed some of my other grafts forming new heads near their base recently as well, but not to this extent..Time will tell if this is species-specific.

...Farewell old friends

This happens from time to time..You hit the point where you have to kick some of your little buddies to the curb. There just isn't any room for these guys.
I built up a large supply to really get some grafts going, and really expand my collection, but you know how it goes..I tried to throw some up on eBay, so maybe someone could use them, but I guess there aren't a lot of cactus grafters out there, or maybe its the season or something, cause no one was interested in the slightest...So into the trash they go, hopefully I won't have to throw too many more away.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pereskiopsis Experiment Update

      I'm back for an update on the Pereskiopsis Experiment. For those just coming on, I am experimenting with a very close planting arrangement with my pereskiopsis, in order to keep from having to throw too many away, as they are out-growing my available space. I have undertaken this by using planting trays, each accommodating 72 plants. This arrangement gives each plant roughly one square inch.

      There hasn't been too much activity yet, a little growth, but slow. This is typical with any re-planting; there is a certain degree of trauma associated with any re potting from which a plant must recover from before anything else. I am having my doubts about this arrangement though to be honest.

      From previous experiments with high-density planting, I have noticed that the pereskiopsis' growth rate is slowed dramatically, in comparison to less crowded plants...Interestingly though, I have noticed that grafted pereskiopsis, when planted closely, don't experience this drop in growth rate (at least not as severe). Perhaps the 'root-to-shoot' ratio has something to do with this; if root growth occurs proportionately to aerial growth, say for example a Strombocactus Disciformis, wouldn't grow nearly as high or as quickly as the pereskiopsis' growing tip (were it still there :) ). That is just a theory of mine, time will tell. Here are some pictures:

     We'll see how this goes..If nothing else it might enable me to keep a lot more grafts. Till next time.
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Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Best Cactus Soil

     There are a lot of misconceptions about cactus soil..Some people have the idea that cactus will thrive in pure sand with no moisture; this is NOT the case. First lets go over the condition of the soil (moisture), because even with all the best ingredients, if you don't get your watering right you could end up with a dead or dying plant.
     Most cactus have very sensitive roots, which are highly developed to take advantage of any and all moisture they can get. These fine feeder roots can, and often do, die back when the soil is allowed to stay dry too long.
     The problem here is, once you do finally water your cactus again, the plants ability to uptake moisture and nutrients is diminished (because you killed its fine root hairs) and now the plant will be sitting in wet soil for an unusually long period of time while it develops more feeder roots, and this can open the door for rot.
     The key is to keep the soil from drying out completely. I like to dig my finger down in the soil a bit and first gauge its appearance (is it still somewhat dark?(you should take note of the appearance of your soil mix when totally dry and when fully moistened)), and then determine what the soil feels like (does it still feel slightly damp?). I may also hold my finger at an angle to a light source and see the level of moisture present on my finger tip as a further verification. It is important to note this test is performed on the sub-surface soil; the surface may appear dry, but you want to know what is going on in the root zone.
     I know when it is time to water when:
  1. The sub-surface soil is somewhat dark (on a 1-10 scale, 1 being totally dry in appearance, and 10 being fully moistened in appearance, from 3-4 is a good range to start with).
  2. The sub-surface soil feels SLIGHTLY damp ( if you were to construct a scale similar to the one above, but swap out appearance with feeling, the same range would probably serve you well).
     Now that we have that out of the way, lets get into the components of the soil. Keep in mind that this recipe probably isn't optimal for all species, but it is a good start in my opinion. This mix works very well for my Pereskiopsis, Zygocactus, and my columnar cacti such as Trichocereus and Myrtillocactus. There are some species of cacti accustomed to growing in limestone or gypsum veins, so the native habitat of the species should be mimicked to a degree.. Something to keep in mind though, is that although a species may be designed to tolerate such austere conditions, doesn't mean it cant utilize a bit more in the way of nutrients and moisture.
     Anyway, the mix I use is somewhat simple by most standards I suppose, but it works for me. It is composed of (by volume) 3/4 coarse orchid bark mix, and roughly 1/4 all purpose potting soil. There are some specifications however. The potting soil, for one should have a fair amount of perlite, some compost content, and preferably a mild time release fertilizer. You can experiment with different brands, but I prefer Black Gold. Some peat is alright, but there are some brands of potting soil that seem to use peat as their base, and you should avoid these types of mixes; it is good for storing nutrients, but it holds too much water if it is used in excess, and if you let it dry out on accident it is difficult to re-moisten. It is very important that you get the orchid bark right as well. There are many brands that market their orchid bark and "coarse", but few that actually are. Here are two examples of orchid bark, both advertised as coarse, just look at the difference:

     How is that for a size difference. The one on the bottom is the one you want. I unfortunately bought a lot of the one on the top because it was a good price, and I couldn't see into the bag, so I wasn't aware of what I was getting. The big chunks you see in the bottom example are ideal, as they allow very easy air flow through the soil, and cactus roots love fresh air. The orchid mix on top surprising compacts quite a bit, which in addition to the lack of fresh air to the roots, also causes the soil to retain more water (further impeding airflow)...You get what you pay for I guess...
     There you have it, a short primer on cactus soil and optimal moisture content..Far from the definitive work on the subject but this should help some of you guys who are just getting started, and maybe some veterans, who knows? ;)
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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A very versatile plant

     Pereskiopsis isn't only useful for grafting small button cacti and the like. Larger species can be given a boost as seedlings by grafting to pereskiopsis. Here is a Trichocereus Peruvianus grafted onto pereskiopsis:
This one was grafted from seed and then had the tip cut off, which was then rooted. Since then it has put out a new tip that is well on its way.. Here is a formerly grafted Trichocereus Bridgesii that is now fully rooted and healthy:
When grafting these types of species remember that they become quite heavy and the pereskiopsis can become top heavy..To combat this keep your root stock short and try to plant it deep to keep it anchored.
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Failed Grafts

     If you graft many seedlings, sooner or later you will experience some failures. There are two types of failed grafts as far as I am concerned however.
     The first type, and probably most common type of failed graft is one in which the scion dries up falls off..I guess you could call this an "obvious" failure.
     The other type is one in which the scion survives...sort of. The scion will begin to swell, becoming hard to the touch, and possibly exhibit the usual darkening in color characteristic of a successful graft that is getting ready to "take off"; the only difference is that the graft never does "take off".
     The scion will stay in this condition for months and months (possibly forever, but I've never waited that long, although it felt like it). Scroll down for some pictures of what I'm talking about.
     You can see the discoloration on the Myriostigma pictured; it looks like a newly grafted scion, but it has actually been hanging out on that pereskiopsis for several months. On both grafts pictured, but especially the Asterias, you can see the swelling associated with a successful graft as well.
     Leaving the scions grafted for more that a few weeks with no signs of growth can be wasteful in a few ways. For one, the rootstock could easily be used for another (hopefully successful) scion. Second, if the unsuccessful graft is left for too long, when you finally do de-graft, the stalk will have become fibrous at its core, which can make future grafts difficult with small scions; young tender growing tips are best for small seedlings. On the bright side though, the old fibrous pereskiopsis can still produce new tips that you can root for grafting purposes.
Astrophytum Myriostigma

Astrophytum Asterias 'Super Kabuto'

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A couple pictures from my collection

     Here are some pictures from my collection:
Here is an Astrophytum Myriostigma.. I am always amazed at how easy this species is to graft; and once grafted they are very fast growing and easy to take care of.
Here is an Echinocereus Viridiflorus..I think the growing tip of this specimen must have been damaged, on account of it having five heads..This is also a very cold-hardy species;hardy to Zone 3...Wow. Thats all for today. Comment and subscribe!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pereskiopsis Pathology?

     I recently noticed one of my plants developed a strange condition, coupled with leaf loss and slow growth rate. This condition is characterized by black warty-like bumps up and down the stalk of the pereskiopsis.
     I have stated previously that I am confined to indoor cacti growing and reliant on artificial lighting..In addition to this I recently relocated and there was a brief period in which my collection was not exposed to light and had inadequate ventilation; it was shortly after this that I noticed this new condition.
     I have my pereskiopsis in trays packed pretty close (not as close as in my recent experiment), and what is strange is that the condition has not spread to the surrounding plants. Here are some pics of what I'm talking about:

    In the first picture you can see the overall condition, including the leaf-loss..The second is a closeup of the deformation and discoloration on the stem of the pereskiopsis. Honestly, I am not sure what this is... I am calling on any readers to share their experiences or knowledge.
     Thanks in advance..Comment and subscribe!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pereskiopsis Experiment

     I'm trying a new growing technique with my Pereskiopsis, since I am confined to the indoors (artificial lights therefore) due to the climate here right now, and my collection is overgrowing my current space requirements, I have been looking for a way to really increase my planting density.
    I went down to the local home improvement store and picked up some seedling trays that accommodate 72 plants each...Then I packed them in there. I figure my watering frequency is going to go WAY up, and possibly my fertilization too, seeing as how the soil mass has been reduced drastically.
   On the bright side, soil use is lowered TREMENDOUSLY, and the time required for watering is reduced as well, so hopefully it will all balance out, I'll keep you posted..
    Here are some pics of this experiment so far:
    As you can see I also have some grafts in there, the one pictured being Ariocarpus Retusus. I will keep you posted on how this goes. Subscribe and comment!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

     Thanks for stopping by my cactus blog! Its new so, as you can see, there isn't much going on here yet. Hopefully I will be able to get some stuff up here soon.
     It is cold as hell here this winter so my cactus ventures have been confined to the indoors. I guess you could say I specialize in grafting. I work mainly with pereskiopsis, and love the small 'ornamental' and button cacti; Astrophytum, Ariocarpus, Turbinicarpus, etc. Don't get me wrong though, I am fascinated by all types of cactus and succulents. I am constantly trying new things with my collection, so stay tuned to see.
     I want to exchange as much information as possible with my readers, so subscribe and comment!