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GROWING CACTI and SUCCULENTS MY WAY
(In the East of Scotland)

By Allan Weepers

Light
Containers
Compost
Top Dressing
Pest Control
Choosing
Summary

To grow cacti and succulent plants, a basic understanding of their native growing conditions is useful. This group of plants grow in arid (dry) areas of the world where regular rain is not guaranteed, so the plants have adapted to store water to preserve life during these dry periods. Therefore, in cultivation a dry period is required, usually October to March depending on temperature. The lower the temperature the longer the dry period and the warmer vice versa, never going below 3 to 4 months of "drought" minimum temperature 400 or 500 F.

The arid areas of the world have little growth, therefore not much decomposing vegetable matter, resulting in poor soil with little organic content so we should add a quantity of sharp sand, grit, gravel or expanded clay to our growing medium. This also aids drainage allowing us to water freely in the summer months. A top dressing of gravel is also recommended giving super drainage in the top of the pot, meaning that the bottom of the plant does not sit on wet compost which causes rotting. It also looks good.

Light
The other effect of little growth is limited shade so cacti and succulents have adapted to high light levels producing "wool" to shade themselves or dense spination, both acting as a "sun block". Thus by giving our plants maximum light, we can achieve good balanced growth. Care is required in early summer after months of dull winter light to ensure plants do not burn. This can be achieved by netting or paint-on shading. Keeping plant bodies dry stops patch burning by magnified light through water droplets. [Back to Top]

Containers
The containers we grow our plants in can be clay (my preference) or plastic, but should be large enough to accommodate all the plant, including spines. Thus neighbouring plants cannot be damage. [Back to Top]

Compost
My compost mixed by volume
3 scoops Humex or Westland with added J I mixed with
½ scoop Grit
½ scoop Sharp sand or crushed expanded clay
½ scoop Vermiculite
This mixture varies depending on the grit/gravel substitutes I have at the time. [Back to Top]

Top Dressing
Top dressing can be harling, granite chips, pea gravel or grit. A reasonable layer is recommended
Last but not least, chemical additives are required for growth and health. A high potash food is recommended such as phostrogen or tomato food. Alternatively, Chempak supplies specialist food. [Back to Top]

Pest Control
Although many pests do not affect cacti and succulent plants, some do. Red spider and mealy bugs are the main ones. Mealy bugs on the plant body may be removed using cotton buds soaked in methylated spirit. However root mealy bug needs a soil drench (good watering containing insecticide). With so few chemicals on the market, this is getting more difficult but Provado seems to work even although it is for vine weevil. [Back to Top]

Choosing
Now that you know how to grow succulent plants, all you have to do is choose the ones you want, remembering that some require higher minimum temperature than others 40 or 50 degrees F as mentioned above. Using a proper Cacti Nursery, you can check this out. However using Supermarkets and DIY Stores you cannot. A rough guide is tall cacti; all succulents with swollen roots (turnip like with shoots out of the top) and Melocactus ALL require the higher temperature. [Back to Top]

Summary
So now you have bought your plants, here is my quick reminder

  • WATER in Summer, once a week, twice if really hot
  • FEED one week in three
  • DRENCH with insecticides annually
  • REPOT when plant out grows the pot - using open compost
  • REMOVE DEAD FLOWERS - do not allow to stay on the plant and rot. [Back to Top]

But most important of all - HAPPY GROWING.