Saturday, May 8, 2010

Can I Cacti?

Cactus' or Cacti are probably one of the easiest plants to grow. They can take unbearable heat, think Arizona Desert in August. And to some extent, they can take some wicked cold.
This was my Cacti, out on my back steps during the Snow we had here in Charleston.

Sad huh?
Well, they stayed there all Winter. Took the Snow, well below freezing temperatures and everything else Mother Nature threw at them.
Look at them now!!

There are more that will be open in a couple of days. These things are tough! Just to remind you, I live in a Zone 8B, almost a 9.
The main trick to growing cacti is proper watering. Many cacti have been killed from overwatering during the winter. I will admit, I lost a couple due to this. There was a couple of weeks that we were getting anywhere from 1-3 inches of rain...EVERY OTHER DAY!
The Cactus family (Cactaceae) is one of the most striking, distinctive, diversified and specialized groups in the plant kingdom. It includes about 2,000 species.
The distinctiveness of the cactus family shows itself not only in the flower structure but also in one characteristic, that, although possessed by every cactus plant, is absent in all species of all other families. This is the spine cushion or areole. Whether or not spines are present, all cacti have areoles. Because these areoles differ in structure on different kinds of cacti, this is one way of distinguishing one cactus plant from another.
An areole is the radial arrangement of spines on pad-like buds where shoots and flowers may appear. The areoles themselves are arranged in a regular pattern, either along the ribs of columnar or barrel cacti, or at equally spaced intervals over the face of pad-like cacti.
One plant family that is often confused for the cactus family is the Euphorbia family (Euphorbiacea) which contains such plants as Cow's Horn Cactus (Euphorbia grandicornis), African Milk Bush (E. trigona) and Crown of Thorns (E. milii). While all these plants have spines, have green stems and few or no leaves, they do not have areoles. If you are still in doubt about whether you have a Euphorbia or a cactus, make a small cut in an inconspicuous place. If the sap is milky white and sticky, then you have a Euphorbia, since cactus sap is clear and watery.
Most cacti prefer a nutrient rich, rocky soil with good drainage. Pure sand will not work. There is actually soil under the sands of the desert. Just remember that cacti roots need a well draining, airy soil that will rewet easily.
Cacti need sun, and lots of it. I have not had any problem growing mine on those steps on the West side of my house. Like I mentioned at the beginning, mine take temperature extremes of 18 degrees as a low and probably 100+ as a high.
Cacti have practical uses as well as being fun to grow. The long, soft spines of Oerocereus celsianus are used as pillow and bed stuffing. Remind me not to go to a hotel using these pillows. Spines of other cacti are used as toothpicks, combs, sewing needles and fishhooks. Yet other cacti are used as building materials and as living fences or hedges.
If you are looking for a very easy plant to grow, consider Cacti. How many plants can you grow that, when you go away for a two week vacation, didn't even know you were gone!? They CAN be grown from seed very easily too. You can buy the seed at any of the big box stores for very little money. Patience is the key for this adventure however. There are many ways to start Cactus from seed. Do some research and see which method might fit into your lifestyle.
This picture is of one of my babies that is about 15 years old. I started it from seed, back when I lived in Maine!

Happy Growing!

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