By GEOFF MIERS
Creating a potted cactus garden is a great holiday activity for kids and parents, especially for older kids who like to flirt with a little danger.
Start by selecting a shallow container, pot or any such vessel suitable for growing plants in – metal dishes, water trays for pots (all with holes drilled into), or old boots, kettles, pots, etc are all suitable and may add a little extra interest or artistic flare to your creation.
Make sure what ever you use as a container that it has good drainage as succulents and cacti hate wet feet. Sitting in water for any length of time will result in the plants rotting off.
With any container with ample drainage holes consider covering the drainage holes with a layer of flywire screen or light shade cloth to prevent the planting mix from washing out through the holes. Once in place consider adding a free-draining layer of fine gravel or small pebbles to facilitate or guarantee good drainage.
Then fill the container with a special mix suitable for succulents and cacti. These mixes are available from your local nursery or you can make up your own mix.
A good premium potting mix can be used although to this you need to add 50% course river sand and or fine pebbles to ensure good drainage. Once the soil is in place, water well and then its time to plant.
As many cacti have sharp and even hooked spines they need to be treated with care as they can be quite dangerous. Some can even cause body reactions once spiked sometimes causing redness, itchiness and at times limited swelling.
Remember most cacti have modified their leaves into sharp spikes or spines. They have done this as a survival mechanism: with spikes water loss is dramatically reduced and they will also will deter most animals from munching on these plants.
Thus the biggest challenge with many cacti is how to safely handle them without getting spiked. Generally a wrap of newspaper or cloth becomes an essential tool when planting.
Wrap this around the plant when transplanting into your cactus garden. Transplant with care as surprisingly while cactus are hardy plants their roots are easily damaged. Gently ease the plant into place and push potting soil into place around the plant to give it support.
Alternatively consider using succulents, they don’t have needles and thorns, are easy to grow and mostly are so easy to propagate from cuttings.
With small or young plants a good mix can be massed together in the container to good effect. Eventually these plants will outgrow the container however that’s a problem for another day.
Generally cacti are slow growing and your blend of plants will look good for a couple of years before they start to outgrow the pot or container you are growing them in.
Ongoing care for cacti and succulents is generally straightforward. In our climate many succulents and cacti while able to tolerate extreme conditions best results are often obtained by placing the cacti / succulent garden in a lightly shaded location or in half sun half shade.
I have two small pots with cacti in them on the back patio table. They receive only a couple of hours of early morning sun otherwise them are in the shade. It is however a well lit area and they thrive there and I love them as if I don’t water them it doesn’t really matter they just keep sitting there looking quite heathy.
In reality its best to water regularly although it is important to allow the container to almost dry out before watering again. A permanently moist soil will cause problems, mostly root rot will occur and he plant will simply shrivel and die.
During the growing seasons cacti will benefit from being fed. Thrive Cacti & Succulent Plant Food has been blended with a suitable mix of nutrients. It comes in a convenient liquid form that’s easy to measure and apply. Otherwise simply use a liquid fertilizer at half strength or the recommended strength for cacti and succulents.
Cacti and succulents have few pest problems although scale and mealy bug can cause some problems. Treat insect pests with systemic Confidor or give them an occasional spray with PestOil as required. If using oil move the cacti garden into a shaded location for a week to limit potential burning from the sun.
Root and stem rot can cause problems if the soil mix isn’t free draining or over watering has occurred. Treat the soil mix then with a suitable fungicide. A twice a year application with a product such as Yates Anti Rot will protect your cacti and succulents from these fungal rots.
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