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.
Subscribe and comment :) 


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? ;)
     Subscribe and comment

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.
Subscribe and comment :)

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!