Sometimes these questions we get are very difficult and the answers take a long time to write, and we have to ponder and fiddle and germinate and have a coffee break. This is not one of those times.
Hello, Is it possible to ask you to look at this plant and see if you know what it is please. I thought Haworthia or agave or yucca, but searching these has not been successful so far. Thanks for your time, John
John, You have a very nice Agave leopoldii. Congratulations. Peter
They get questions in Jacksonville, Florida about why a Crassula ovata is blooming. That’s strange. If it’s blooming, then stop asking questions already. Post the photo on Facebook, blog it, send a cutting to your grandchildren, have a nice plate of brownie sundae and be happy.
A: Jade plants are very popular succulent plants. They grow well here, if they are protected from the fall rains and cold. As succulents, they prefer to be allowed to dry out between waterings. They bloom regularly in California, producing their whitish starlike blooms.
They are triggered to bloom by long nights and a sharp contrast between day and night temperatures. We don’t see much of that until we get into winter here. They are not reliably hardy during our cold weather; 30 degrees is considered to be the cutoff point for survival, so I hope your plant has been coming inside during these northern blasts.
Good to know. But that really was a strange question to take the time and effort to send in to your local newspaper.
Sometimes I’m more diplomatic than other times. This is not one of those times.
Hi there, My name’s Diane and I’m e-mailing you from Toronto.
A friend of mine gave me this cute little plant for my birthday two days ago. I’ve absolutely no clue what it is. I tried doing a Google search on my own, but no luck.
I’ve attached a few close-up pictures of the leaves. I asked Mr Subjunctive – he thinks it might be a kalanchoe of some sort, but he wasn’t sure.
What do you think? Do you think it’s a succulent of some sort? If you’ve got any clue, I’d appreciate it … or if you don’t know, but know someone who might, please let me know.
Thanks so much!
Diane, Your plant is a Kalanchoe blossfeldiana.
I thought you might also want to know that your camera is very good at getting the closeups. In fact, it’s so good, that one can see all the little aphids infesting the plant. We recommend spraying with neem oil. You may also need to drench the soil.
How long do cactuses live? They always look like they’ve been there forever.
— Wayne, San Diego
Yep. They just sorta sit there, it seems. Most only grow a few inches a year. But since they don’t have growth rings like trees, and nobody’s hung around one cactus year after year to see how it goes, most estimates are educated guesses, pretty much. Short life span is maybe 25 years. But consider the saguaro. That’s the typical cartoon cactus with the robot arms and sometimes a Mexican peasant leaning against it. Those puppies apparently have convinced botanists they can live from 150 to 300 years. Maybe somebody found Cortez’s initials carved in one. Montezuma. Somebody like that. Anyway, all bets are off if the cactus is in a plastic pot on your desk. That probably has a life expectancy of six months, tops. Not because it dies, but because you get sick of it and throw it out.
And if you click the link, check out the question just before this one in the article.
Dear Dr. Fox: I would like to buy some houseplants. I have a cat and know there are certain kinds of plants that are poisonous to animals. Could you please tell me what they are? – M.A., Visalia, Calif.
Dear M.A.: The list is long and questionable, some “poisonous” plants being bitter irritants that most cats in their right minds would never swallow.
Above all, avoid all members of the lily family, including those in cut-flower arrangements – a not uncommon cause of cat poisoning. Cyclamen can be risky. Your safest choices are the various cacti and succulents that are decorative, easy to care for and either have their own weapons to deter cats or won’t cause harm (even benefit, such as aloe) if eaten.
Oddly enough, while warning against plants in the lily family, this writer recommends plants in the lily family (Aloes). To be fair, that designation is under dispute. Oy, the arguments.
A neighbor gave me some cuttings from a couple of their cactus plants. Can you help me ID? I have an idea on the cactus on the right side, but for the sake of not sounding stupid ill defer to your expertise. The one on the left I can’t don’t have a clue. Your help is greatly appreciated.
I also have a Ferocactus with what looks to be some black fungus or mold or bug in the deep ridges, new growth and on the white hairy areoles. I don’t have a picture at this time, but can provide one if necessary. The cactus is firm and very healthy otherwise. I have been hitting it with Neem weekly which seems to be working fine. The black stuff can be easily wiped away with a paper towel and/or soft brush. I was also considering repotting it but have not done so thinking that winter time is not the best time to do so?
Any input you have is of course appreciated.
The smaller left hand cut, looks like it is a type of Cylindropuntia fulgida, most likely the variety Cylindropuntia fulgida mammillata. The larger one is Cereus peruviana monstrose. On your Ferocactus, I would not repot until late March-April, cactus are dormant over the winter so they don’t like root disturbance and it can lead to infection in cool wet weather. If you have treated a few times with Neem I would just take a soft small artist brush and clean the skin with warm soapy water and let it dry out. Hopefully it is just sooty-mold and will clean right off.
Good luck, Hap
Thanks a TON! I thought the one was a Cereus Monstrose for sure, but the Cylindropuntia has been difficult to ID. That’s part of the fun I know.
My Ferocactus is soooo cool. I’ll send a photo some time. The black stuff seems pretty harmless, and ill get it cleaned up and replanted early spring.
I don’t know if you can help us or not. But we are going to remodel our back yard and want to sell this giant cactus that is in it. It is over 15 feet tall. Do you have any idea who would want to buy it in California? We live in Palm Springs.
Here is a picture. I can take a better one if you need it.
Stan, Your cactus is a Saguaro, and at 15 ft. it weighs a ton or more. It would take special equipment to remove it. I would recommend you check with your local cactus society for Saguaro rescue groups. Peter
Well that wasn’t very helpful of me. Maybe you can help Stan out and walk away with a 15 ft. saguaro too.
Sometimes there’s just nothing that can be done. It can be hard to say what caused the problem in the first place, but when it gets to looking like this, there’s not much left to try. If you look at the original post back in November, you see that the plant was well on it’s way to this end, but we had more hope that it could come out of it. Viruses are tough on plants.
My cactus isn’t looking so good lately. After your original email in November, I thought it was due to water stress from my watering in October (I also fed it for the first time a little bit of dry cactus food I bought at your shop), but it seems to be getting sicker. I did come by your shop again to get the kelp, but was talked out of it by one of your employees. We decided that time and delaying its next watering would help it back to life. Based on my 3 month schedule for watering, i would be watering it this month. I attached some recent pictures.
I’m kind of attached to this cactus and would like to fix any problems before its too late (hopefully it can be saved). I live in Oakland. Please let me know what I can do to cure my cactus.
In the recent pictures the “brownness” has spread all over the cactus and its starting to get crusty white spots near the bottom.
Thank you for your help, Shahriar
I have to say it really looks like a virus. At this point I think it is unlikely to pull out of it, but you might be able to try a strong chemical fungus-virus treatment that are available for roses and other fussy ornamental. Unfortunately we grow organically and do not use dangerous chemicals like that so I do not have a suggestion on what might work.
I have recently bought a cactus plant from market. Its a grafted cactus. You may see the attached photos. Could you please tell me what type of cactus is it? Secondly, the spikes/spines of the top yellow part is getting dark brown. Is it normal? I have just noticed a big brown spot on the lower part of the cactus. Could you please tell me if my cactus is ok or suffering from any disease? What should i do in this regard? Can i repot it with new potting soil in a bigger pot?
Fahad, What you have is probably an irradiated echinopsis without chlorophyll grafted onto a hylocereus base to provide nutrients. These generally are not long-lived. There’s not much you can do, but if you want to try, repot the whole thing into fresh fast draining soil, and hope for the best. Don’t overwater. Peter
[Have you noticed that when Hap answers questions, he goes into great detail, trying to help people save plants, while I tend to be more pessimistic telling people that it’s hopeless? I wonder what that’s all about?]
In this edition of We Get Questions, I lay it on the line when a Euphorbia gets advanced rot.
Hello, I have what I beleive is a Euphorbia based on the pictures on your website. Recetnly the plant starting turning a blackish color on some of the branches, they would then drie up and droop. I don’t know what is causing it and it’s starting to spread to other branches.
Is there anything I can to do stop it?
Attached are pictures of the top portion of the plant.
I cut off the other branches that had dried out. The plant sits near my front door and has been there for several years. And then all of a sudden, these problems started.
Daniel, The plant has caught an infection, probably a virus, and it looks like it is too late to save it. You can try to save some uninfected branches if you like. Cut them clean, spray with hydrogen peroxide, let sit for 2 weeks, and then plant them in dry soil to root. Don’t reuse your existing infected pot or soil, use fresh and clean materials only.
In August I finally had success in fertilizing two of my Echinopsis. Now the fruit has dried and opened. What do I do with the solid clumps of seeds to prepare them for planting? How long are they potent? When is the best time of year to plant them? What supplies will I need to pick up the next time I stop by your store?
Your seed can be freed from the dried fruit mass by gently rubbing it on a paper towel until the seeds separate from the dried fruit. Then you can sort of blow across them and usually the fruit bits weigh less that the seed and it blows away leaving the seed. Start with a gentle puff and see what it will take so the seed doesn’t go flying!
When you have the seed separated you can plant it all or save some for later, as long as you keep it dry and cool. Most cactus seed can last for years and still sprout. We start our seeds early spring, so in the next month or so it is a good time of year to plant them. We use domed seed trays filled with cactus soil, we scatter the seed on the surface and then barely cover with crushed Horticultural Charcoal (this acts as both a cover mulch and helps keep algae and mold growing on the soil under the high humidity of the domed seed tray. the charcoal also has chemicals in it that make the seeds think there has been a fire and it is a good time to sprout).
Next we mist the tray heavily with water, cover with the dome and put under lights or in bright, diffused light in the greenhouse. An east facing window will also work. But be careful if you use a west or south window as they can cook the contents of a covered seed tray.
We have a little cactus our then ten year old, now 23 year old, son bought while we were in Texas. it is about seven inches tall, in a little terra cota pot, has sent out, in the past year, two little tiny baby branches that are now nestled in the pot, too. The initial plant has fallen out of the little pot last month while we were moving,now the bottom of it looks sickly to me, some yellowish coloration coming in. How do I nurse it back to full health??
Set hubby’s toothbrush next to it for your size referencing! What kind of cactus is it, and must I cut it apart?? to save it?
thanks much… I look forward to your insight and guidance! Deb
Deb, The cactus needs to get into a bigger pot with fresh soil. It is hard to tell what species it is since it has been underpotted (and also probably it wants more direct sunlight), and thus it’s growth is a bit unusual. However, the key issue is the yellowish color at the bottom. If it is soft there, then there is rot started. If it is as firm as the rest of the plant, then it is fine.
If there is no rot, then carefully repot into a bigger pot with fresh dry well-draining cactus soil; keep it dry through the winter. Around late March, you can add some kelp meal to the soil and start watering on your normal schedule.
If it is rot, then to rescue the plant you will need to cut the top of the plant off above any rot and check to make sure the cutting has no rot on the cut part at all. Spray the cut end with household peroxide to help it heal. Let the cutting dry for 2 weeks, and then plant in fresh, dry soil in a bigger pot. Keep dry until late March, and then start watering on your regular schedule.
Hi I stumbled across your blog while looking for info on a cactus, the euphorbia ammak variegata or golden candelabra. I just got my boyfriend one for Xmas. We live in Southern Nevada, where it gets extremely hot in the summer, he planted it outside with all the other cactus he has, but it has gone all limp and has been ‘sweating’ . We have had extremely cold temps right now, like 26 to 30 degrees at night and think this is most likely the problem. Should we dig it back up and bring it indoors or what would be the best way to take care of it? Thanks so much, and we will be checking out your blog now that we have found it!!
If you are getting down to 26 it has indeed been too cold for an E. Ammak to be outside unprotected. They can take light frosts, but get pretty damaged with real freezes. Either move it in-doors or wrap it with old-style c-9 Xmas lights (the big ones that give off a little bit of heat) and then wrap it lightly in a frost blanket (a spun breathable fabric sold as a season extender at garden centers). If your E. Ammak is “sweating” sap be very careful, as the sap is poisonous and if it gets in your eyes it is a trip to the emergency room! If it has frozen hard it will have tissue damage and may start turning black and rotting, you may need to nurse it through to save it. Keep it dry and warm it up if you can. If rot starts you may need to trim off the infected parts with a knife and then douse the cut parts with hydrogen-peroxide, but again be very careful of the sap, it hurts and cause nasty rashes if it gets on the skin.
Q: We have two large cactus – both approx 5 feet tall – 18 years old. Not sure their type but they grow tall and straight with many 8-15 inch offshoots. We live in Georgia – left them outside all summer and they flourished. We left them outside one night too many though and we had an early frost. They used to bleed a milky white, now they are bleeding a redish brown sap, they have turned a sickly army green color and the tips are black. Most of the prickles are gone and several branches have fallen over and gone limp. Our beautiful plants are dying. Please if you have any advice on how we can save these plants, let us know immediately. We will do anything.
A: It sounds like they really froze hard. Keep them warm and dry and see if they perk up. If the black starts spreading, they are rotting and you need to cut it off to clean tissue to stop the infection. Clean the knife between cuts with rubbing alcohol. After a week or two of dry warmth you could give it some liquid kelp to try and perk it up. Kelp works like a multi-vitamin and growth stimulant.
Hap, You might remember me.. I’m the one who has some fairly rare seedlings and am doing my best to grow them indoors – here in Utah.
Here is how I normally mist these tiny seedlings (still the size of rice, but more round and now sprouting some spines). I take the green box which I bought from your store and keep it at arm’s length (fully extended). I then spray distilled water in the air and kind of move the container around to get a light even mist but nothing soaking. It worked well until tonight. Tonight, the container slipped out of my hands and landed on the ground – carpet. I did my best to find and carefully isolate the 20-30 seedlings that are still going. As you suggested the medium is simply coir and finely crushed carbon on top. Obviously, after the fall, I lost about 2/3’s of everything. Things were clean so I loaded the container full of coir/carbon. Next I carefully placed each seedling in the soil. I used a small allen key to make an indentation and simply put the seedling (roots first obviously – though I was amazed at how few roots existed) into this whole. Finally, I misted again in the same way.
So, my questions are: 1.What are the likely effects of this? I assume I will lose some of these seedlings. That saddens me, but if there is anything I can do, I will do it. That includes re-doing the whoe container with fresh coir and carbon.
2.The top layer is now predominately coir. This concerns me as I know the carbon protected things by providing a non-nutrional covering. If I don’t do the step above, should I even bother with the carbon now that I have seedlings and haven’t had mold since I allowed for fresh-air-exchange (via holes in the clear plastic lid).
I sat and held these seedlings on the drive from Berkeley to Utah. They really mean a lot to me. However, I know the over-correction is common in this sort of situation and generally has bad implications. So, I appeal to you and your love for Cacti. What would YOU do? The genus is Lophophora if that matters at all (not the notorious species, but another).
I was wondering if the plant you have in your (store) was Brighamia insignis or the cultivar Brighamia insignis ‘Kirsten’.
Thanks again catalinkel
Our Brighamia insignis are seed grown, so are the true species, not a named cultivar – which I think is sort of odd thing to do when all of them in cultivation come from only 14 remaining wild plants…) However the two named cultivars I am aware of are all tissue culture clones and not grown from seed.
I live in “Zone 13” in Southern California and also recently purchased a “Golden Candelabra”. It’s approx. 3′ high and is beginning to show a light brown discoloration. My “Sunset Western Garden Book” provides no info on this plant. How do I best care for it where I live? Indoors, outdoors? Direct light/indirect light? Is terra-cotta really best or will any type of pot do? Do I fertilize it, if so how often?
Thanks for any info you can provide. Rosalinda
Rosalinda, Assuming you have the Euphorbia “Ammak” you can grow this plant indoor or outdoor in Southern Cal. You can even plant it in the ground. It can take direct sun to light shade, however never move a plant out into direct light without hardening it off first or it can get a burn. Also, if you regularly get over 100 degrees in the summer, the plant would prefer some afternoon shade.
Terra cotta is best, because it breathes, and a fast-draining cactus and succulent mix is especially important. We recommend very little fertilizer for cactus and succulents, because slow growth makes for stronger plants, but any plant in a pot needs some added nutrients. We sell our own “cactus meal” mix of slow-release natural nutrients, and you can apply just once a year for slow healthy growth. For slightly faster growth, we recommend liquid kelp once a month through the growing season.
As for the light brown discoloration, if you’d like to send me an image I can take a look at it for you, but it’s hard to diagnose plants otherwise. Peter
Today we have a very polite correspondent sending in a question:
Dear Client support,
I was wondering if potted echeveria cuttings in zone 6, that were taken late in the season, could continue to be watered and provided fertilizer without extended hours of supplemental lighting during the winter. Though I realize shorter daylengths might normally initiate dormancy, I wasn’t sure if overwintered cuttings with under-developed root systems were capable of surviving the water and nutrient deprivation required.
My thanks for your time and efforts in the matter.
Echeveria do go dormant in the winter so unless you are providing extra full spectrum light to keep them actively growing, it is best to cut back on food and water and let them sleep through winter. Even with little or no roots they will do better with limited water for the winter. If you want to push them you can put them under full spectrum lights for 16-18 hours a day until they are better established and then wean them off the light and let them go dormant. However you really don’t need to, as long as they are getting some light and a bit of water every month they should do fine.
When I gardened in Alaska all my Echeveria were pulled from the garden in the fall, somewhat brutally tossed in to wire baskets, mostly bare root and “stored for winter” in a south facing window. They were misted occasionally, but never watered. In early spring I would pot them up, let them settle in to dry soil for a week or two and then give them their first real drink in months. They soon perked up and took off and were ready to go back outside as soon as the snow melted. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend growing them that way anymore it does show how hardy they are and how they can survive long periods of dormancy and drought.
Well, I never knew that. You learn something new occasionally. Next time you’re up in Alaska you can wow the natives with this new knowledge.
I came by on Saturday to ask about my sick cactus. Here are some pictures I took for you to better diagnose the problem. I’m very attached to the cactus so what ever I can do to cure it please let me know.
I only water the cactus once every three months and the last watering beginning of October I fed it a little of the cactus food. I first discovered the discoloration about 3 weeks ago.
Please feel free to email me or call me xxx-xxxx, if you have any questions or need more pictures.
Thank you for your help, Shahriar
If your plant was by a window I would have said it had a bad sunburn from being turned so the shaded side was suddenly facing the full sun glare and UV…. But since it looks like it is back in the room, it looks like your Euphorbia has caught a virus or fungus. It may have been brought on by water stress, we usually recommend watering plants like yours once a month during the summer months and every six to eight weeks during the winter. Although other than the infection you plant looks like it was doing fine with your water schedule, but being stressed may have made it more susceptible to an infection.
If it is a fungus, it may be treatable with a Neem Oil spray (Neem Oil is a natural, but usually effective treatment for both fungus and insect problems, that will not make your house toxic). I recommend spraying the plant with a 1% Neem Oil Solution to the point of run-off and even watering it in to the potting soil. Retreating two or three times once every ten days. If Neem doesn’t stop the fungus you could use a more aggressive chemical fungicide, but since we only use organic products I can’t recommend a product.
If it is a viral infection unfortunately all you can do is water and fertilize it with Kelp, which is sort of like a multi-vitamin for plants and hope the plant can fight it off. Plant viralcides are not for houseplants as you do not want chemical warfare in your living room.
From Philadelphia, home of the Phillies, comes a question about a San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) in an office setting.
Enclosed please find photos we discussed on yesterday. Please let me know what you suggest I do?
The plant is not getting enough direct sun. I see it is a bright room, but how many hours of sun is actually reaching the plant? The reason it’s leaning is it is looking for sun. Also, the new growth will not be forming a strong woody core to help hold the plant upright. A weaker plant is more likely to lean.
I recommend putting it right in front of a sunny window. To straighten the plant now, basically you adjust the rootball in the pot to get the plant standing upright, and then we use bamboo stakes to tie it off for a month or two. You can also use tree stakes.
What to do when a barrel cactus topples over? Let’s ask the Arizona Republic, shall we?
Q: We have a very tall barrel cactus (fishhook?) that is about 4 feet tall and 18 inches in diameter. It also has 3 large “bulbs” on the top, each of which is about 10 inches in diameter. Unfortunately, it recently toppled over, and it looks like the cause was old age . . . . Can we save some of the beautiful piece of flora?
– Paul Cechovic, Cherry Hill, N.J.
A: Yes, you can save pieces of your barrel cactus. Those bulbs are stems that grow from the mother plant. They naturally fall from the plant, root themselves and start a new plant.
They are known as offsets or pups. Cut off the pups and let them air dry for a week in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight. The cuts need to heal, or callus, before replanting.
Transplant into a pot containing a well-draining soil made for cactuses. You can mix your own by using equal parts potting soil, pumice and sand or decomposed granite. Water and allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again.
From Athens, Georgia they get questions about growing cactus from cuttings.
I have some cactus growing in my yard and I would like to propagate it so I can have it in other parts of my yard. When would be the best time to do this and how?
– Lauren M., Watkinsville
I am guessing that you have some sort of prickly pear cactus in your yard. The best time to propagate this cactus would be in the spring when the plant is actively growing. Your cactus is probably going semi dormant with cold weather approaching. In the spring, use a sharp knife and cut off whole individual pads at the node (where the pads meet). Place these cuttings in a dry, shady area for one to two days to allow the cut to heal or scab over. Once, the cut has healed, place the cut end in shallow soil or sand for rooting. Make sure the soil does not stay too wet or the cactus will rot. It could take several weeks to a couple months to establish a healthy root system. Once the pad has rooted, dig it up and move to the desired sunny area in your yard and enjoy.
Hi there, I just called about my plant, I have attached some images of the moldy looking stuff so you can further diagnose, Thanks Serena
It looks like your Opuntia sublata has a very bad case of Mealy Bugs! Under all that white “mold” should be nasty sap sucking vampire bugs, they coat themselves with wax to keep predators from eating them…
I recommend you spray the white masses off with a good strong jet of water from the hose (support the cactus branches with a stick while you do, so they don’t break). Then spray the plant with a good coating of 1% Neem Oil solution to kill off the eggs and any you miss with the jet of water. You may also need to drench the soil with the Neem, as they will also live in the soil and feed on the roots as well.
Hi again. Thanks for all of your work on the web, you tube and the blog. I appreciate it.
I am moving to Utah and need to decide whether to take my tiny little seedlings with me. You might remember but I bought the small green tray and used coir and crushed carbon as one of your employees suggested. I also took your previous advice and bought your linseed oil and have given the tiny little green rice-sized cacti a few mists with it (1:1 with distilled water). However, I do have some questions:
1. First (a few questions), I hadn’t sprayed the seedlings in many weeks. A couple of days ago I noticed that two seedlings (is this the correct name?) were covered in a white mold of some type. I misted them again with linseed oil and today they look good. My question is – do I need to worry about this? How often should I mist with linseed oil, and can I overmist? I still haven’t put any holes in the container for fresh air – is the mold related to humidity possibly? They’ve been in the container, in a bubble window for 2 months. No direct sun, no watering, etc.
2. Second, as I mentioned before these are very special cacti to me and in some way I want them to grow to maturity for their own sake (sounds goofy I know, but..) – so I am contemplating giving them to a trusted friend to take care of. I’m concerned that such delicate seedlings couldn’t make it through a Utah winter (indoors obviously). I would be willing to use a reptile warming mat or anything if you thought that they would do as well in Utah as they would here. What would you do in this situation? Like I said, I am willing to invest some money to make cacti work in Utah, even if it means buying a serious light source for the winter months.
Thanks so much, Adam
That was a long question. Let’s post the answer after the break… Read More…
I have accumulated over a hundred succulent cuttings and plants over the last several months (not hard to do, as I’m sure you can appreciate) and most of them live outside. Will it pose a problem to leave them out and exposed over the winter? It would be difficult for me to cover them.
Without knowning which species you have, it is hard to give good advice. But a good rule of thumb is if they are “hardy” succulents (that can live outside year round…) it is fine to leave “baby cuts” outside, as long as they are in fast draining soil and never sit in water. If you have cuttings and starts of tropical/frost sensitive plants, they will need winter protection since the Bay Area is generally too cold and wet for many tropical or “dry winter” species to live through our rainy winters.