By GEOFF MIERS
Cactus gardens can be heaps of fun to create, are easy to manage and can be absolutely stunningly beautiful when in flower. Give consideration to getting together the materials you will need so you are ready when everyone is at home.
Alternatively you could jump into this activity and create miniature cacti gardens now and give them as Christmas presents. A home made present from one family to another family.
When starting out consider establishing a collection of cacti and succulents in containers initially then growing them on ready to transfer into the outside garden.
Alternatively you may wish to simply amass a collection of different cacti in pots that you can take with you if renting and are moving on.
Initially you need to start by selecting a container in which to grow you cacti. This maybe a shallow pot or any such container suitable for growing plants in.
Metal dishes, water trays for pots (all with holes drilled into), or any container such as 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 cacti in trays of permanent water is the worst thing you can do as most cactus if left sitting in water for any length of time will result in the plants simply rotting off.
With any container with ample drainage holes consider covering the drainage holes with a layer of fly wire 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 at the bottom 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.
The great thing about growing cacti is they are so easy to propagate. By visiting friends you may be able to get together a collection of small cuttings that can instantly be planted into your cactus collection.
When taking cacti or succulent cuttings I like to leave them for a few hours to dry out a little before planting. When ready to plant I moisten the end of the cutting and dip it into rooting powder as this will speed up the process of the cutting developing a new root system.
Aside from visiting your local nursery to purchase plants for your collection look to Buy, Swap & Sell on the internet as they are often available as quite cheap prices.
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 as leaves lose water while with spikes water loss is dramatically reduced, spikes 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 handling and planting cactus.
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.
With small or young plants a good mix of plants 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.
Ongoing care for cacti 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 garden in a lightly to moderately 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 they 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 the plant will simply shrivel and die.
During the growing season 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 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 Pest Oil 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.