A Beginner’s Guide to Cacti How to Make a Cactus Garden
For all those people who have confronted a prickly pear, at least once in their lives, cacti are boring spiny plants. Also, cactus plants have long been the subject of a superstition that any house, which has cactus growing in it is going to be filled up with strife and trouble and arguments. That is because of the spines of the cactus which are known as spikes promote ill feeling.
There is something so odd about a cactus plant that it is often difficult until you grow them yourself to believe that these really belong to the plant kingdom. Historically, how many pioneer explorers of the desert areas in America saw them in the twilight and thought stories of monsters with their arms outstretched, and no heads, who turned into plants in the desert in the morning. No wonder, these giants which can grow up to 63 feet have always been the subject for legends.
Even today, most of us are told tales about the cactus, which many of us half believe. Some of us have heard that cacti are poisonous. Other people are going to tell us that cacti flower only once in 100 years, and only when the area is subjected to rain. The first tale is totally and true. The second tale is also untrue because certain species of cacti will flower, almost every year, if given proper cultivation and care.
Cactuses, also known as cacti belong to the family Opuntiaceae. Many of these plant varieties have lost true leaves, but they still have fluted and ribbed stems. The stems store water, and many of the desert varieties have very short growing time periods. Their periods of dormancy may be long, because many times, they have to go without water and rainfall for years, especially when they are growing in the Atacama Desert.
Cactus originally are natives of the Americas, except for some species, which grow in Africa.
Just like orchids, cacti, collectors are also very particular about their plants. The spines of their cactus plants are considered to be the highlight and most popular features of their collection. Many of the spines are found in a great variety of types and colors, ranging from white to black through all shades of red, brown, yellow and gray. Not to mention spines of more than one color depending on the plant species.
Spines are different from thorns. Spines are modified leaves, which managed to evolve into different shapes and colors, by the passing of time. Thorns are defensive mechanism plant outgrowths.
In length, the spines may be anything from three – 5 inches and in shape. They may be thin like needles are flattened on one side or on both sides, triangular, hooked, and even as soft as Thistledown. They may also be long like hair. And in a few species, they are white and flat like strips of paper.
Apart from being defensive mechanism to keep safe of a grazing animals, it is possible that the spines also serve as a Venetian blind, to protect the plant from the glaring rays of the sun.
All the cacti have flowers and among them are some of the largest, if not finest flowers of any known plant in the plant kingdom. There are some flowers which you creature diameter of 15 inches. Most of these cacti are definitely not going to grow in cold weather, because, cacti loves the sunshine. The flowers are the ultimate triumph of the cacti grower.
Choosing Your Cacti
These are just some of the popular varieties of cacti, which you can find very easily available in your nursery stores
Mamillaria bocasana have splendid yellow spines.
Gymnocalycium gibbosum has the spikes in areole form.
Growing Your Cacti
It is not difficult at all to grow your cactus in pots. My mother who just loves cacti has not even bothered about growing them in pots. She just picks up and empty bottle of Coca-Cola – yes, she prefers this particular cold drink’s bottle, because it is the sturdiest. It also happens to be a nuisance because it is not easily biodegradable, but she is using it as a cactus container. She then cuts off the bottle into two. The lower portion is the place where she grows the cacti, especially the smaller varieties which we know as desert cacti.
The minimum requirement for growing a cactus is a shelf near the window where plenty of sun comes in and with this modest accommodation you can make a start in your cactus collection. If you have a greenhouse, just plant your cactus in an area where you can get plenty of light and sun, because that is what they need.
The only type of greenhouse to avoid is one where a hot, damp atmosphere is maintained all the year around. So a cactus plant can never be grown in a greenhouse, which you dedicate to orchids.
Cacti prefer resting in the winter, and that is why they should be kept as dry as possible. The temperature should not be over 50°F. If the winter quarters are over warm and even moist, they are going to lose their compact shape due to the accumulation of water in their tissues, and refuse to flower in the next coming spring.
Planting Your Cactus Offsets
Add to your cactus collection by planting the offsets from the original cactus plants. Many species of cacti produce little miniatures of themselves around the parent stem. These can be broken off very carefully. You can also severe them with a sharp knife.
You can also grow fresh plants from prickly pear “pads. ”Just break off healthy and individual pads from Opuntia or branches sliced off from forest cacti. All of these fragments will make roots and grow into independent plans.
How to grow Cacti from Cuttings
This is best done, starting from the middle of May to the middle of July. The earlier in this period, the better. That is because you will have enough of sun to help the plants grow healthy.
Firstly, the cuttings are laid on a shelf in the sun until the cut wound is healed and dry. You are then going to plant these cuttings in a pot which is going to have slightly moist sand. I would suggest a little bit of sand with a little bit of Peat. You can plant a number of small cuttings together in one pot.
The roots are going to be produced more quickly if the air about and around the plants is enclosed. You can do this by inverting a glass jam jar over the pot.
Once or twice a day, you are going to lift the jam jar. The cuttings are then given a slight spray of water just enough to dampen the surface of the sand. This is all the water that is required and that they should be allowed until they have produced roots.
You can test one of the cuttings at the end of a fortnight. Very gently with a pair of tweezers, just lift up one of these plants out of the sand. If it has caught the soil, it is going to stay firm. If it has not, it is going to break away from the sand and come out.
If you feel the slightest bit of resistance, do not disturb the plant anymore. The roots are there. You can now remove the jam jar. Start normal watering, but with caution. Do not splash the soil with water, because you do not know the state of the roots. At the end of another 15 days, you can plant the baby plants into the adult compost. But this compost can be made more hospitable to these gentle young plants by breaking up the compost into a finer grade of powder.
They can live here, in this compost for one year, without you bothering to disturb them. They are just adding to your collection and you treat them the same way you treat your other cactuses.
Propagation can only be done by a person who has experience in growing cactuses. So do not get disheartened by casualties. You will need patience. And the best part of growing these cactuses means that you will have the pleasure of growing an amazing plant and are enjoying your hobby of being a cactus collector.
Cactus as Food
Apart from the water, which is collected in the stem of the cactus, the cactus fruit is also been used as food for ages, especially by the Mexicans. The Mexico court of arms shows an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. You can eat the cactus fruit, which is normally sold in the market under the name of nopal. Opuntia pads are also sliced and used in salads.
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