Ruth's Answers

All the way from Walnut Creek, Ruth Bancroft asnwers your questions in a reputable publication, the Contra Costa Times or some such.

Q: I heard that succulents could be grown from a single leaf, which has the ability to sprout roots and grow a new plant. This sounded doubtful to me, but I took a leaf off my aloe plant and put it in soil to see if anything would happen, and it simply dried up.

Is there a secret to making this work?

A: Succulents vary widely in terms of their ability to grow from a leaf. There are many, such as aloes, which will not do this at all.

With other groups, such as echeverias or haworthias, it is sometimes possible to successfully root a leaf…. Certain… leaves will easily root, including sedums and crassulas….

Gasterias and sansevierias are even more eager-to-please, and can be grown even from a piece of a leaf, though they are slow to put out roots as well as to send up new shoots.

We find crassulas and pachyphytums (and pachy hybrids) to be very easy leaf-rooters. As for cutting a leaf into bits and rooting – rex begonias are a classic, but they take more moisture than we care to provide, so we have very little success with growing begonia leaf cuttings ourselves. I’ve never tried to grow the gasterias from leaves, only from offsets, and am surprised to learn they readily grow from even a leaf-piece, since they are closely related to the aloes and haworthias. But that is certainly good news for us. Thank you, Ruth Bancroft.

Fertilize Cactus?

Hello,
I live in Illinois and I’ve become a little cactus/succulent collector over the last few years. I know it’s getting to be winter, but I’ve been scared to fertilize my plants in the spring. I’ve heard fertilizer for tomatoes is good at half-strength. I don’t want to kill any of them, but I also think they might flower more. What do you think? Can you give me some tips?

Julie E.

Julie,
We do not recommend fertilizing cactus and succulents in winter while they’re dormant. They need fertilizer in spring when they’re starting to grow. (Except for winter-growing succulents like Aeoniums and some Aloes.)

We mix our own cactus fertilizer, which we do ship – it’s slow release and good for a year. We also have a bloom food. They’re listed on our page here.

As for tomato fertilizer, it may be OK at very low strength, but I’d have to see the brand. In general, we only use organic fertilizers and ingredients for cactus and succulents since their roots are easy to burn, and the plant is easy to overfertilize.

Hope this helps,
Peter

We Get Questions

I have a cactus that I have grown since it was tiny in 1990. It is about eight feet tall now but never got any bigger around than its original two inch diameter. picture attached.

I moved it from my office to my house in Tacoma Washington last year with much concerted effort and it didn’t break! But I have to move it again soon. Oddly, for the first time in these 19 years, a little baby cactus sprouted on it about two feet from the top. It has grown to about 6 inches. The cactus part above the new growth isn’t looking very good, as if the new little arm is taking out the nutrients. I am afraid the old cactus won’t survive another move. If not, can I break the new arm off and grow it?

download download2

Thank you.
Cathy

Cathy,
You can certainly carefully cut off the new branch. I recommend spraying the cut end with hydrogen peroxide to help it heal. Let it callous over for 1 to 2 weeks, and then plant in fresh, new, dry cactus soil. Don’t water for 2 more weeks.

In general, I would recommend not doing this ’til spring, but if you are moving it soon, you might as well try now.

In addition, it looks like the original plant is under-potted (I think, looking at the photo), and not getting enough light, which is why it never got any bigger around.

Good luck, and send us a picture of the baby in it’s new pot.
Peter

Bulb Issues

….but only if you consider grubs in your bulbs to be an issue.

Help!!!!!

(We) dug up all our bulbs to sort and replant.  We were having a wonderful time in the cool Felton afternoon.   Lo and behold some of the bulbs are squishy.  Not all and not most but still. Once I squished it and a poopy looking type stuff came out of one of the bulbs followed by a creature.  Once we squeezed the other soft bulbs we saw they all had these grubs in them.

There is not much on the internet about bulbs and grubs.  I’ve never seen this before.  What do we do?  Where are they coming from.  These are all planted in a wine barrel not even in the ground.

Do you have any suggestions?  Obviously we won’t be putting the grubs we find back in the pot.  But how do we prevent this from happening again.

I love that you are there to ask.
Dani

Dani,

In the old days we rolled the bulbs in nasty chemicals that persisted and killed the grubs for a year or two… but those chemicals are now banned with good reason! You can however add some Neem Seed Meal to your planting holes as both a fertilizer and to help keep away the grubs without making your garden a chemical warfare site. You could also spray them with Neem Oil, but that is sort of messy and the crushed seed seems to usually do the job. There are a number of weevils and beetles, as well as gross looking waspy-flies that lay eggs in the soil and the grubs feed on roots and bulbs before pupating and coming up to breed and cause above ground havoc as well. Life is complicated….

Check with your local nursery for a box of Neem Seed Meal (or get it from us next time you are up) and then sprinkle a tablespoon or two around each bulb as replant and it should do the trick.

Hugs,
Hap

Radiating Cactuses

Clay Thompson at the Arizona Republic gets the best questions.

Q: I have a friend from China who told me it is a good idea to put a cactus by your computer so it will absorb the radiation from your screen and protect you. She says this is because cactuses live on the desert where they are under a lot of radiation. Is there any truth to this?

A: Why not put a roadrunner by your computer? They live on the desert and probably absorb radiation, too. This cactus-and-computer thing is a new one to me, but apparently, it is a fairly widespread batch of hooey….

For the sake of argument, however, let’s say a cactus really did protect you from radiation flying out your computer screen. Putting the cactus beside your computer wouldn’t help much… you would have to put it right there between you and screen… Wouldn’t you feel a little silly doing that?

That Clay Thompson, he’s such a card. He even has a video.

How to Water a Cactus in Nevada

The Las Vegas R-J gets questions.

Q: I bought a Mission cactus last year. The tag said to water it well until it “was established,” but I didn’t really know how much water to give it after that. I looked up Mission cactus on the Internet and most sites said little or no water, or arid dry. It has grown quite a bit since I planted it, and even now has small new growth on a few ends. Lately though it has twists and folds with a yellowish color in the middle of the “hands.” I have no idea whether I am watering it enough or too much as it doesn’t respond much differently. I really like this plant, and it is a focal point when anyone comes through our gate into the courtyard.

A: Mission cactus is basically a beavertail or a nopal-type cactus.

When you are watering a cactus it is important to water it deeply but infrequently. This is what is meant by telling you to water it “well” until it gets established. If, by chance, you interpret that to mean watering frequently with small amounts of water, you run the risk of having it fall over when it gets bigger or possibly killing it….

If you click through to read the rest of the article, you’ll find out a lot more about growing cactus in the desert, like,

Many cacti will indicate they need water through the appearance of their “skin.” Their outer surfaces will become slightly wrinkled…

and

fertilize it once a year…

All good advice, and the article is just chock-full of advice.

Sick Succulent Questions

Hello

My campfire plant developed this fungus, I did mist it recently?

Can you help

0913091809

Thank you

Tom and Joy

Tom and Joy,

It looks like your plant has a fungal infection. I recommend you treat it with a Neem Oil 1% solution, sprayed on once a week for the next month. That kind of infection is usually brought on by over watering, how often are you watering your plant? It needs to dry out completely between watering’s and is happiest with at least 4 hours of sun.

Take care,

Hap

Cactus Problems Heading into Winter

Hey Hap…hope things are going well…a bit of rot has set in in both branches of the mealybug cactus…should I cut off above the rot and put both branches in the potting room for a couple a weeks after a dousing of roottone and then have you come back to repot it? thanks dianne

Dianne,
treat the rot spots with hydrogen-peroxide and leave on if you can… it is hard to get cacti to root this time year.
hap

Hi Hap…me again…so I’ll spray the hp…how often?

Sorry about that I should have told you!

Spray three days apart, repeating three or four times. The rot should dry out and scab-over in a couple of weeks. If it doesn’t by then, more drastic measures will need to be taken.

Hap

Cereus

Hello:

My name is Allen and I live in half Moon Bay. I’ve got 4 large cactus growing in pots and they seem generally healthy and are growing. But they are developing what appears to be a scale or fungus and I’d like your advice on how to treat them. I’ve attached some photos of the worst/most representative areas of concern. I’ve sprayed several times with Neem oil and it’s possible that it’s making a difference but it’s to early to tell. The columns are firm, no mush is developing and all is good other than what you see in the photos.

Your thoughts on the malady and the cure?

Thanks, realy appreciate your help!

cereus

Allen,

It looks like your cacti has either a virus or a fungus (or both) as well as a few scale. Neem Oil should deal with both the fungus and scale with a few treatments. I recommend retreating it with Neem Oil, spray to the point of run-off, once every seven to ten days at least three or four more times. If any of the infection looks like it is turning to rot, (the spots will turn either orange or slimy-black), treat those areas with regular 3% hydrogen-peroxide, paint or spray on the infected area. Alternate with the Neem treatments.

If it has a virus, the best thing you can do is give it some liquid kelp (Maxicrop or other brand) to help boost it’s immunity and fight off the virus, just like you taking a vitamin, or drinking orange juice when you have a cold. Hopefully the plant will fight off the infection and heal. It will likely always be scarred, but the infected areas will “bark” and give it character.

Take care,

Hap

Reader Questions

Can you help me identify this plant?

sam

Samuel

Are you asking about the euphorbia or the leucadendron?
Peter

euphorbia!

They Get Florida Cactus Questions

The questions they get in Florida are totally different than the questions we get in California.

Several years ago we placed a potted cactus at the base of our lakeside cypress. We did not know that it was a climbing cactus. It has climbed 45 to 50 feet to the top of the cypress and is branching out in each direction. It has become a conversation piece for visitors, but will its growth harm the tree? — Maggie Robin, Plantation

The climbing cactus is a night blooming cereus, which has spectacular night opening blooms that are very fragrant. People used to stage entertainments around the opening of the flowers at night.

The white flowers can be 1 foot wide. I think the cactus will not harm the cypress as the tree is strong. The cactus is heavy but the cypress should be able to handle the weight.

I wish they had pictures, don’t you? Now, as for it being a “Night-Blooming Cereus” that could mean anything, as there are dozens of species that are called that. Do they mean Cereus, Peniocereus, Epiphyllum, Hylocereus, etc…? Harsh.

Greenhouse Recommendations

I plan to build a new greenhouse, any suggestions?
Nothing huge or outrageous, just functional. Any do’s and don’t’s?
Nothing commercial or industrial, I just collect a ‘few’ cactus

Matt

Harbor Freight Tools has a good kit, but it’s a pain to put together, and it has to be extra reinforced.

Better quality would be Charley’s Greenhouse or Farmtek.

Walls should be lexan, polycarbonate, or glass. In general, larger is better, make sure it has great air ventilation, and tall enough for you to stand. Shade cloth the roof in summer so it doesn’t get too hot.
Peter

Cactus Not Doing Well

We get a follow up from a previous question, and it’s not looking better.

Hi Hap –

I’m not sure if the cactus is better. I’ve used the milk solution weekly, the good news is that the scaly bugs have significantly reduced. However, the browing doesn’t seem to be improving and seems to have spreaded.

cactus

I appreciate any additional input.

Thanks,
Tish

Tish,

It looks like you need to spray with something more aggressive than milk and baking soda. I would suggest trying a Neem Oil spray, in a 1 or 2% solution. Retreat with Neem about every week to ten days for three or four treatments. You should also “paint” the dark brown spot on the lower part of the cactus in one of your photos with hydrogen-peroxide to stop the infection there from spreading and turning in to rot.

If you would like, you can bring it by the nursery and we can do the first treatment with you, so you can see just how we do it and we can make sure we are making the correct recommendations.

Talk to you soon,

Hap

Plant Questions

Hello Cactus Jungle,

We lover your store. We bought these plants there.

They are getting brown curling on the ends of some leaves, and some leaves have fallen off?

Help? Save us?

004

003

001

Thank You

Tom and Joy

Tom and Joy,
You have 2 different problems.

1. Rex Begonias are a generally easy houseplant, preferring bright indirect light, but there’s a few tricks. The first thing is they like a moist environment, even though they’re drought-tolerant. So water weekly. And when it’s warm, mist the leaves twice a week. But the problem is, they don’t like wet leaves. So the trick is to water the soil, not the leaves, and to mist with a very fine spray, with no visible water droplets on the leaves. Also, direct sun can burn the leaves. Even then, they are semi-deciduous and will have fewer leaves in winter. For the brown leaves, just cut them off.

2. The Aeonium kiwi looks like it’s not getting enough sunlight, or it’s getting too much water. Or maybe there are little pests on the underside of the leaves? Hard to say from the photo.

Hope this helps,
Peter

We Get Questions

Hello,

I have been a follower of your blog for quite some time. We are raising some hen and chicks and wondered if you had any tips on increasing the number of “chicks” produced. Our stock of hens is increasing slowly.

Thanks
Steve

Steve,
There are 2 different types of plants commonly called “Hens and Chicks”. A good place to start is a fertilizer. We mix our own organic nutrients called cactus meal, and recommend you apply them once per year for healthy, natural growth.

If it’s a Sempervivum, they like a lot of root run, so if they’re in a pot, they will stay small and multiply slowly. In the ground they take off. To help them along, we use Supergro, a balanced organic ferilizer.

If it’s an Echeveria, the growth rate depends on many factors, however some species are just very slow to multiply. You can cut off the main rosette, and that will often cause branching at the cut end. Supergro is also beneficial.

Other factors include watering and sun, depending on your climate.
Peter

Succulents v. Ivy

Hello Cactus Jungle,
My ultimate goal is to eventually turn my backyard into an all-cactus-succulent garden and I’d like to know if there are succulent vines that can climb walls. I have ugly concrete/ masonry walls with cracks and would like to find a vine that will not grow into cracks and make them into bigger cracks. For instance, climbing fig is not a good idea.

Could you recommend a succulent vine or two that can climb walls but will not dig into cracks?

Thanks for any advice.
Tint

P.S. I read about you in SF Chronicle.

Tint,

Alas vines have two basic stratagies to climb, one is to glue themselves on to the vertical surface with sticky roots, or to either “twine” (grow in a spiral pattern so they cling and climb like a snake) or have “tendrils” which do the same thing. Sticky rooting plants are great at climbing walls since they can glue themselves to the rough surface or like you said by expanding cracks to help catch water and soil.

So if you want to build a trellis over you wall you can plant twining vines and they will climb the trellis without bonding to the wall, however they will be limited to the trellis. A good plant to consider is Senecio confusus “Mexican Flame Vine” which is not super succulent but is nice and drought tolerant and has great orange flowers. Another cool one is Dalechampia dioscoreifolia “Purple Bat Wings” which is a strange vine from Costa Rica in the Euphorbia family. It will get knocked back in a hard frost but usually comes back pretty quickly.

Take care,
Hap

Another Photo From Matt in Portland

With a story to tell too.

Sirs,

Matt from Portland here. Your recent entry regarding the Myrtillocactus
Geometrizans has me writing you…again. It so happens that the MG was my
first and favorite cactus. Actually the start of my cactus interest. Had
one given to me from a friend who visited Arizona. They brought one back on
the plane to Portland carry on. At the time, 6 or so inches and crested.
Not a huge plant but still a unique looking carry-on item; don’t know if you
can pull that off anymore, this was back quite a few years. Never seeing
one before I was amazed. I kept it in a greenhouse. I had no other cactus
at the time just Jade plants. Anyway this plant turned into maybe 8-10
plants over a number of years. All crested and amazing. Sadly one year,
heavy rain got in the greenhouse and soaked them all. I couldn’t dry them
fast enough; it was a few days before I found them. Brown rot on all but
two. After the mass devastation, one in the greenhouse and one in the
kitchen window were left alive. Those two now are slowly repopulating the
collection. Attached is a happy survivor…

DSCN8781

Anyway thanks for the memories. Never had flowers or berries on mine, but
maybe one day soon. How old or how long before one gets berries/flowers?

Sad to hear your larger plants are gone. I have a hard time finding large
healthy, “outrageous” MG plants.

Best,
Matt

Matt,
Your crested myrtillo looks very healthy and happy. In general, crested varieties don’t bloom or fruit – you need an unmutated individual. Such are the choices we face in life: crest vs. fruit.
Peter

Night Blooming Cactus

Could you help me identify a cactus I have in my yard? PLEASE :-))

I have been looking all over online and it seems to be a cereus repandus, trichocereus peruvianus or echinopsis peruvianus. But ultimately I have no idea other than seeing similar pics online and want to care for many cactus I have on a property I have purchased recently. The blooming of the flowers is beautiful at night. Thank you for your help

DSCF4247

Yvonne

Yvonne,
You have a night-blooming cereus, which we identify as Cereus peruvianus. This is a synonym of Cereus repandus, so you did figure it out. Also, Trichocereus peruvianus and Echinopsis peruvianus are day bloomers, and are synonyms for the same plant.
Peter

Aphids

A customer has sent us some very clear photos of aphids in action.

Hi,
I came by Tuesday when your store was closed and showed you a digital photo of some bugs that have infested a cactus I bought. You told me they were “scales” and that I should clean them off the plant w/ rubbing alcohol and a q-tip and then spray down with neemoil… Here are the pics in case you notice that they are a different pest.

IMG_3958

Thanks again.

Christine

Christine,
Actually those are aphids – and they’ve infested the bloom stalk of your echeveria plant. They like the flowers. It looks like the blooms are done, and so the easiest way to deal with aphids at this point is to cut off the bloom stalk, and toss it.

You should still spray the plant with Neem Oil to help kill any strays.
Peter

Another closeup Read More…

Gophers? Euphorbias!

Will gophers go after succulents planted in the ground?

Here in So Ca I’ve had to rely on plants that gophers dislike (daffodils, oleander, brugmansia, etc.) but since we’re being encouraged to use more water wise plantings, can you think like a gopher and tell me if an aeonium looks tasty?

Thank you.
Susan

Susan,

Gophers are sort of like deer, they will eat pretty much everything, at least at some point. However they seem to leave Aeoniums, aloes and most other succulents alone… at least if there is a few more lush plants to feed on and there is a water source in the area. All though I have to admit I have seen a huge old jade collapse because the inside of the trunk had been eaten out, to just a hollow tube from below by a hungry or perhaps thirsty gopher. Considering most Crassula are toxic in one way or the other, tells you that Gophers are pretty tolerant of plant toxins. However they do not seem to be able to ignore the nasty latex poisons of the Euphorbias, so as a general rule of thumb, whenever we install a succulent garden in gopher territory we mix in ample Euphorbia (both the bushy spurges and cactus-like). The nasty sap that is in all the roots seem to deter the gophers quite well and perhaps even protect the more tasty plants since their roots are all intermingled.

Good luck,

Hap

Succulent Wreath Questions

There seems to be opposing views on creating succulent wreaths and the like — can you confirm whether creating them out of moss is sufficient, or if soil needs to be involved in some way?

Thanks!!
Melissa

Melissa,

We find that moss alone works great.

Peter

That was an easy question. Any others?

Arizona is Filled With Cactus Questions

Q. Do jumping cholla cactus really jump?

A. Yes.

Cholla(1)

Photo Chaz Kasanicky

I may have cut their answer a little bit short. You’ll have to click through to see the rest of it. And if you do, don’t blame me for changing the meaning of the answer by cutting it short – it’s not my fault.

Canary Island History and Followup to the Previous Post

Previous post.

Hi Hap,
Thank you very much for identifying my strange plant. No wonder my searches for native and indigenous Lanzarote succulents didn’t get the results I wanted. Google has found good pictures of thisice plant, and I can’t wait for mine to flower and fruit.

Your history resume of the plant is very interesting, and it fits in with where I got the seeds. The castle on the volcano rim dates back to the 1500’s, and overlooks the (then) island capital Teguise. Lanzarote was an important stopoff on trade routes of the time from South Africa and the New World. San Antonio, Tx. was later founded by Lanzarote emigrants.

Maybe my little plants have been naturalised on the side of that windy volcano for 500 years before coming to a less-than-ideal UK climate?

Cheers,
Phil

ID a Plant?

Hap gets right to it and identifies a mysterious, though fairly common, mesemb.

Hi,
I’m wondering if yourselves or any of your readers can help identify this plant from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. When I collected some dried fruits/seed pods in Sept ’04 I took a picture of some still succulent fruits, which look a bit like raspberries, with red and colourless ‘cells’. The seeds were in the black pods in the centre of the fruit.

DVC00182

I came across the seeds again this spring, and they’ve proven viable after almost five years. The plants are a few months old now, about 2 inches tall. The biggest leaves are roughly 2 inches long, fleshy and rubbery with clear cells on both sides of the leaves, the undersides having bigger cells.

P7261913 resize

Please see the attached pictures to help identify this plant, and if anyone’s interested, here’s where I collected the seeds.

Cheers,
Phil

Cool map. Hap seems to think he knows what it is. Do you agree?

Phil,

It looks like you have Mesembryanthemum crystallinum, an interesting “ice” plant native to South Africa. It has naturalized all over the world, in both temperate and Mediterranean climates. It is so wide spread because it is a quick growing, salt tolerant plant that could be grown in pots for both cheerful flowers and edible fruit and “greens” for cooking that was useful as a treatment for scurvy. So sailors traded seeds and plants all around the world and even grew it aboard sailing ships. It is believed it made it to the Americas on those early sailing ship in the 1500s.

Hap

Carnivorous Questions

I got a venus fly trap a while ago from you guys, but it hasn’t rained here in the bay area for a while, and I’m really tired of driving to a super market paying 50 cents per gallon of distilled/ RO water. Do you have any tips for saving water? Does adding long fibered sphagnum moss work?

Michael,

We find that East Bay MUD Water is PH neutral enough to use with our carnivores… as long as we add a pinch of grape pomace to the pot every now and then… Vinegar at about a teaspoon to a gallon of water is also said to work, but I have not tried it on carnivores, just acid loving orchids.

Good luck,
Hap

And for those who were wondering where you can get this special MUD water that Hap mentions, it stands for Municipal Utility District. In other words, it comes out of our faucets, but not yours.

Watering Plants in Texas

In Galveston, they have some very apropos advice.

(S)ucculents should not be watered as often as most other houseplants.

That’s quite good. But what about specifics? Do you have any specific advice for your readers?

The frequency of watering is determined by the plant species, composition of the potting mix, environmental conditions indoors and time of year.

In other words, no specific advice at all. Bummer, dude.

Yellowing Problems?

Hi Cactus Jungle…

I’m curious why two of the three cacti are looking yellow.

IMG_4334

I’ve given them some liquid seaweed…but I’m not sure
if that will help this specific yellowing problem

thanks
brian

Brian,

The plants look fine. In fact they look great. The color variation (as best we can tell from the photo) is sun and growth. The kelp will help them green up further over time.

Aeoniums! Aeoniums!

Hello,

Attached are two pictures of a plant in the garden in front of my townhouse. Having a few problems and really don’t know what to do. Don’t know if they are getting to much water, not enough water, or to much sun. The garden has sun in the morning for about 4 – 6 hours depending on the time of year. The garden was planted around August 2006.

Plants 009

What are you suggestions?

Thanks for your assistance.
Sarah

Sarah,

Your Aeonium is still doing fine – it bloomed! These Aeoniums will put a lot of energy into the bloom spikes, and then that particular branch will die off. So you can go ahead and cut back that branch as far down as you like. In the future, if you cut it off before the blooms get too far, you can sometimes save the branch.

We Get Questions

Hi!

I recently purchased some Ultra Soil and noticed that it contained lots of seeds. Do you know what these might be (photo attached)? The seeds in the photo are from one trowel-full of soil.

seeds

Thanks!
TVN

Tracy,

The seeds are “Grape Pomace” which is the seeds and skin solids of wine grapes left over after the “wine crush”. It is used as an organic way to adjust the pH of the soil and compost. It is a long lasting component in the rice hull compost we use in our soil blend, the rice hulls which are the bulk of the compost, are the little slivers that sort of look like tiny canoes that you can see in our mix. Occasionally we also have to add additional Pomace to our finished blend, if the lava and coconut coir we use in the soil mix, are not acid enough to get the pH where we want it. As the Pomace breaks down it also gives micro-nutrients to the plants. Grape Pomace is also great to use on blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas because it acidifies the soil. And since it is a local by-product it also helps us fulfill our goals of sustainability.

Take care,
Hap

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