Hi Peter,

I hope you can help me out with an unusual repotting problem.

A well-meaning friend of ours recently sent us a “cactus garden” as a gift from an online website, pictured below:

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Any idea what the different species are? The online vendor simply labeled them all as “cacti”.

Well, the various cacti and succulents are doing fine so far, but now I think they are starting to crowd each other out. I was hoping to repot them, but the potting soil that they used is as hard as concrete! I can barely dent it with a hammer!

IMG_2483

Yes, it is that hard. I can’t even pull the wood chips out of the soil!

I have no idea what crazy concoction they are using as a soil. The directions that came with the garden only say that, “The cactus soil is a blend of nutrients combined with a hardening compound. It was scientifically developed to provide a healthy growing environment for cactus while also providing protection during shipment. Although it appears hard and impenetrable, the soil does absorb water and distributes it throughout the planter.”

Have you ever run into this strange potting medium before? If so, are the poor plants going to be okay in that stuff as they grow? And if not, what is the best way to get them out safely so that I can repot them?

Finally, it is currently winter here in southern California, and the cacti are sitting outside on our back porch. Should I wait until the spring growing season before attempting to repot them? And how much space should I give them?

Thank you for all your help!

Sincerely,
Jonathan

Jonathan,
You have 3 cacti and 3 succulents. This type of potting is not intended as a long term solution, so yes they do have to come out of the concrete (and they do add gypsum, i.e. concrete, to the mix to get it to harden). So basically you will be rescuing the plants.

If they are healthy now, I would wait until spring. If they look desperate, then go ahead and get them out now.

I don’t have any secrets for rescuing them – get the whole thing out of the pot and chisel them apart as best you can trying to save some roots where possible, but allowing for the fact that these may be cuttings you are starting with once they are out.

Pot them in dry fast-draining cactus soil, keep dry for a couple weeks. I would try a 4″ pot for each plant, if I am judging the size correctly.

Succulent Species:
Crassula ovata (Jade)
Faucaria felina (Tiger Jaws)
Pachyphytum, maybe longifolium

Cactus species:
Cleistocactus strausii
Mammillaria
Parodia

Peter