How To Prune a Euphorbia

First we get the question, trimmed for space.

Q: Hi there,
Just wondering if you could give me some pruning advice…. Euphorbia candelabra on her terrace… overlooking the River Thames… too big for the space….

Is it possible to prune it back? One of the cactus experts at the Hampton Court Flower Show here told me it would die if I did so… it will have irritating sap…

Any info you could give would be much appreciated. I don’t come across many outdoor cactus here in London, usually just red geranium and buxus balls and so could do with a bit of your much more expert guidance.

Look forward to hearing back from you

Best Regards
Elle

Then we get the compact answer:

Elle,

Yes, you can prune the Euphorbia, if it is done right it will not kill the plant, but it will cause them to scar and then branch over the next few years. You should prune now during warm weather so it has a chance to heal before your wet and cold winter. It should be easy to cut with a pruning saw or a serrated knife. The sap on Euphorbia candelabra is very toxic so make sure you wear safety glasses or use a full face shield, chemical resistant gloves and long sleeves. You do not want the sap in your eyes, as it can cause blindness! To stop the “bleeding” use 3% Hydrogen-peroxide from a druggist, put in to a spray bottle and spray the cut heavily as soon as you are done cutting. It will make the sap stop flowing fairly fast, but watch for splatter while you spray (a real good reason to wear a face shield).

Good luck (and we would love an emailed photo of a before and after to put up on Cactus Blog).

Hap

I was Thinking of Doing a Video

…about the question people ask us, “Why is my cactus/succulent (turning yellow) (losing leaves) (turning brown) (dying)?”

But then I decided that I didn’t want to answer that question.

If I were to answer it, I’d have to ask questions back to the questioner. For instance, I might ask, “Do you know what the species is?” or “When was the last time you repotted it?” and of course, “How often do you water?” and finally, “Can you bring the plant in or send a digital photo?”

Often people try to describe the plant, “Oh it’s green and it’s got long thingys on it, but it’s not too spikey…” or “It’s got round leaves” so I’ll point to a plant and they’ll say, “No that’s not it, it’s taller than that” or “More round”.

That’s enough whining for today. Go back to enjoying your Saturday afternoon. Go on…. You don’t have to go outside, but you can’t stay here…

Yes We Do Get Questions

Q: I’m trying to find a succulent that my paternal grandmother had. It’s been referred to in the family as hens and chicks, mother of thousands, string of pearls, and tears something-or-other. She lived in Bakersfield, CA.

It has long leaves, and produces ‘babies’ on the edges, which fall off at the gentlest touch, and root easily.

Can you help?

Thanks,

Ellyn

A: What you are looking for is what we call the Mother of Millions, or I suppose, if you have less ambition, Mother of Thousands. Definitely not Hen and Chicks or String of Pearls which are completely different.

The latin name is Kalanchoe daigremontiana. We do carry this plant at the nursery.
Peter

Pachypodium Problems

It’s not good to have Pachypodium problems, I always say.

Hi Hap! What’s going on with my Lamerai’s?

Matt

Matt,

It looks like you have at least two insect problems: Scale, the brown and tan bumps here and there on the leaves, as well as spider-mites. The leaf burn and curl is a combination of not liking the brand of Neem Oil you used on the tender new leaves and the bugs draining too much sap. The good news is it should grow out of it, but if the first application of Neem did not kill all the bugs (watch for little crawlers) I would suggest using a lower dilution of your Neem oil and respraying in a week, so it does not burn the new crop of leaves. If that does not work we can discuss more drastic measures….

Take care,
Hap

Damage on a San Pedro Cactus

Hello,

I was wondering if I could get an opinion from one of the experts about a disease(s) my cactus seems to have acquired. I spoke with someone on the phone the other day, and he suggested I e-mail some photos. Here’s the gist:

I purchased a beautiful 4′ cactus at Cactus Jungle about 10 mo ago. About 1 mo ago I noticed it had developed what appeared to be a nasty case of scale. I applied a potassium-based organic miticide to the surface 3 or 4 times over the course of a month, and the scale seemed to mostly disappear, but at about the same time, I noticed two additional types of lesions on the cactus:

1.) Raised, blister-like lesions, filled with a black tarry liquid, began to break out up and down the shaft of the cactus (see photo #1 below). The began to multiply and coalesce into lesions several inches in length. Some appear to be drying up and turning gray now, but others are still popping up.

2.) Flat, dry brown speckled patches that don’t scrape off, some reaching up to several square inches, have formed near the bottom of the cactus, but appear stable (see photos below).

I was wondering if you might know what either of these two types of lesions are. Do you think they relate to the original scale problem, or might they be related to the treatment I used, or perhaps just stress? What would you suggest as treatment?

Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated
Many thanks

Sincerely,
Andrew

Andrew,

It looks, from the photos, like the plant has a chemical burn. It is also possible, if you scrubbed the dead scale off that the plant’s skin was damaged. Either way, it appears to be cosmetic damage, for the most part, and the plant will probably come out of it fine, with some scarring. If there are still any soft spots on the plant, then gently clean these areas with household peroxide.

Good Luck,
Hap

Euphorbia Problems

Hi,

I love Cactus Jungle (!) and it looks like I’ll be needing to make a trip soon to replace my indoor Euphorbia Ingens. The plant was gifted to me by a friend many years ago when it outgrew his little apartment. It was about 5′ tall at that time and it is now at least 6-1/2′ tall with several branches. It used to produce a multitude of little green leaves and grew a few new “arms” and then about five months ago I swapped it’s location with my Euphorbia hermentiana, so the hermentiana could have the best light for a while (although all the light is pretty good). I was about to swap them around again when I noticed the Euphorbia Ingens was dying. It started getting soft and rubbery at the tips of each branch including the top of the main trunk. Now about 2″ of each branch is very soft and yellow and I’ve noticed a brown creeping area on the largest branch. This is happening pretty fast. I think one of my [bleeping] cats decided to use the trunk as a scratch post as I’ve noticed some old healed pinprick patterns on the base side facing the wall. I don’t know what caused the dying — lack of proper sunlight, cat damage, virus, other. Should I try cutting the plant in half (the bottom half below the branches does not appear to be sick) or simply have a funeral for the entire plant? My camera is on the blink so unfortunately I can’t send a picture!

By the way, the Euphorbia hermentiana is growing insanely large even with pruning new branches and I’ll bring a picture to the store to see if you guys think I should have it repotted. I can’t repot it myself without risking life-threatening injury…and I don’t want to damage this lovely plant.

Thank you,
Regina

Regina,

If all the branch tips are showing signs of soft rot, it sounds like a virus. You could try cutting off all the infected parts, cleaning the cuts with Hydrogen-peroxide and hope it will stop the infection… but if it is a virus it is likely throughout the plant. Please be careful and remember the sap is toxic and you do not want it on your skin or worse in your eyes! Wear chemical resistant gloves and eye protection if you start cutting.

Please bring by photos and we will be happy to give better advice.

Take care and good luck,
Hap

Can You Identify This?

Yes we can!

We have many different kinds of cactus where we live, some growing wild and some either given to us or we purchased. My wife was very excited yesterday when she went our to water our many plants and trees. She noticed one of the cactus plants had a beautiful flower. We have had the cactus for approximately eight years and have never seen it flower. My wife asked me to take a picture of the flower and use it as my desktop background on my PC. I have searched the internet trying to identify the type of cactus it is and get some information on the specific plant and had no luck. I have attached the photo to this email. Could you please identify the cactus and tell me where I can obtain information about the plant? I am glad I took the picture yesterday because when I checked it this morning the flower had really drooped and is not pretty at all. We live in Chaparral, NM, just outside of El Paso, TX.

Thank you. Roy

Roy,

Your plant is a very nice Echinopsis subdenudata, it use to be called Lobivia subdenudata but all the Lobivia got “Lumped” with Echinopsis…. It is native to Bolivia. We have a little more information on our website here.

Hap

We Sometimes Get Bamboo Questions Too

Cactus Jungle: Greetings,
I am very worried about 12 bamboo plants (Psuedosasa japonica) I bought from you a little less than a year ago, which I have planted outdoors in large redwood planters in an alley behind my house in Noe Valley, SF. The alley is fairly narrow E-W running – the plants get direct sun during the mid-day hours because the hill I’m on slants towards the south. I water them once every week or two, and this spring have given them one dose of fish emulsion. While there are new shoots coming up at the base of the plants, a noticeable portion of the leaves are beginning to yellow or brown – worrisome during the fair springtime weather. Additionally, there is an apdhid infestation on the plants – they exude an oily residue covering the leaves. Do you have any experience with this problem?

I have invested both time and money into these plants and am not thrilled to see them fail in less than a year. Please see the attached jpegs: I would be most grateful if you have any advice or information which would help me care for the plants. As far as I can tell the species is appropriate for the climate, but let me know.
Many thanks,
Benjamin

Benjamin,

The yellowing leaves is from stress, from the aphids (sucking like
vampires on the leaves) and the fact we have had a very dry spring and
the plants are thirsty. Aphids are usually not a problem if the plant is
getting enough water and nutrients, all though they are often an issue
while recently planted plants are getting established. As your plants
mature they will become less prone to aphid problems.

You should spray the aphids off with a blast of water from the hose.
There are easily washed off and be a soft insect are usually fatally
injured by a good jet of water. You can also use insecticidal soap or
Neem Oil, but only use them after our “hot spell” that has just started,
is over. Hot weather and insecticides are a bad combination for your
plants! Spray in the evening, not during the day or morning as the soap
and or Neem Oil can cause leaf burn in the hot sun. I would recommend
using a hose end sprayer and really coating the leaves to kill off the
remaining aphids and eggs glued on to the leaves.

In a raised wood planter like yours, the bamboo is going to need a bit
more water than if it was in the ground (where its roots could pull in
moisture from all around). The wood breaths and so the soil inside dries
out faster. Water well, at least once a week, dry soil can be hard to
re-wet, so a slow soaking with a trickle of water is usually best, a
soaker hose ran down the length of your planter, twining between the
plants is an easy way to water your bamboo. Give it more water if it is
warm and windy, as this dries the bamboo out faster through
transpiration in the leaves. After a year in the ground you should be
able to water less, since the plants will have better established root
systems to pull in available water, but remember that raised beds always
take more irrigation.

They should “Out Grow” the aphids and stress pretty quickly as long as
our projected drought holds off long enough for them to get established.
Psuedosasa japonica is a great drought tolerant bamboo but like all
young things needs a bit of care to grow up strong enough to face the
big, bad world… I think your will take off with a bit more water and
knocking down the aphid infestation.

Good Luck,

Hap

Please Help! What type of Cactus is this and how do I take care of it?

Q: Hello,

I bought a Cactus for my wife about two years ago from a local home depot. For the life of me I dont know what kind it is and I dont know how to take care of it. Attached is a picture of the plant. My wife and I would be very happy if you could help us out and tell us what this thing is and how to take care of it.

-Chris

Chris,

Your cactus is most likely an Opuntia subulata monstrosa.

It looks like it needs more light, so try moving it closer to a west or
south facing window. It also looks like your potting soil is too rich,
with way too much organic material in it. Re-pot in a quality cactus
soil that does not have any “forest” product in it. If you can’t find
that locally mix two-thirds pumice or Perlite with one-third standard
potting soil. Do not add sand (it stays too wet). Water about every two
weeks during the summer, once a month in the winter. With better light
and soil your cactus should take off and grow into a cool lumpy mound
that looks like a “star-trek-ian Xmas tree” in a few years. O. subulata
is a very fast growing species and the monstrose mutation of it is too.

Good luck,
Hap

We Get Questions

Q: Hi there,
I have a Pachypodium lamerei (I am pretty sure based on the pics from your site) from you guys that I have had for about one or two years. It fell over!!! It looks like the base of it was too skinny for it’s thicker top. What can I do? I love it, the leaves look healthy and it never looked sad to me, so it was a surprise when it just fell over. I don’t over water it, if anything I under water it. Any suggestions?

I really appreciate it,
Heather

Heather,

Could you email us a photo of the plant and a close up of the base where it fell over? If not please bring it by the nursery so we can take a look it. Pachypodiums will sometimes loose their roots to an infection over the winter, if that is the case, it will need treatment and help regrowing roots. It could also just need to be re-potted in a larger pot with fresh soil.

Take care,
Hap

Resolution: They brought the plant in, and it wasn’t too skinny, and the roots hadn’t rotted. The base had rotted from an infection, and the plant was dead. We were sorry we couldn’t help save it. It appeared they had really underwatered it. We recommend watering every 2 weeks.

Tiny Spines, Hours of Fun

Today’s question comes from concerned parents. Well, not so concerned that they didn’t ask the question before the son had taken care of the problem.

Q: My son recently dug out a cactus while landscaping. The lady told him the neighbors called it “the cactus from hell”. When he was done he had tiny needles, the size of a hair, all over his body and around his head and neck, even though he never touched the cactus, except with a shovel. It took him hours to get all of the needles out, and had to throw away his shoes, they were covered in them. This happened in Indiana. What kind of cactus is it? Thank you.
Jim and Joy

A: Jim and/or Joy,
Opuntia microdasys is most likely. The spines will go aerosol when you
whack it with a shovel. It is also known as the Cow-Blinder cactus, and
we spray it with soapy water before we handle it.
Peter

Monstrose Alert

We Get Questions always prefers to have pictures to go a long with the questions, and here we have a nice portrait of a cactus.

I have had a cactus for approximately fourteen years. I was living in Chicago when I bought him and currently reside in Fremont (northern) CA. I love “Borus” and have only recently discovered that he is a Cereus Montrose. I have always kept him in a clay pot until 1 1/2 years ago when I transplanted him to a plastic pot because of his size. He is now 4″1″ tall from the base of the pot. He is currently in a pot which is 22 1/2″ diameter and 21″ tall. Unfortunately I keep him outside. In the winter I have put him in the garage during rain and at night when the weather is cold.

I would like to know if I should transplant him. His pot is cracked and his top roots are as wide as the pot on one side and 1/2″ from the side on the other. I do not know how deep his roots are since I can”t lift the pot. I have been looking for a clay pot but can’t find one any larger than the one he is in.

I did find a ceramic pot which is somewhat bowl shaped, 22″ in diameter on top, but 26″ three inches down. I know he should be transplanted into a pot two inches larger, but would five inches hurt? I found the internet to be too expensive for pots and could not find the right size.

Attached, are some photos of him. He has never flowered. I didn’t know he would flower. I thought I was caring for him properly. but now know I was wrong. I did recently water him with Cactus Juice fertilizer a few weeks ago and have noticed the top branches which were getting soft, have hardened up a bit. His yellow tinted color has also faded a bit.

Please look at the attached pictures and advise me on what to do to make him a healthier and happier cactus. He has been with me for so long, I would be heartbroken if anything should happen to him. I don’t know if your answer will be on the internet or you will send me an email? I’m new at this. Thank you in advance.
Sincerely,
Janice

Janice,

Your Cereus monstrose would be happy with a much larger pot, though clay would be best, plastic just holds too much water in the winter. A five inch jump is not too much for a plant that size. You could also plant
him in the ground in Fremont (where he would soon become a tree) as long as you amended the soil so he had good drainage. Cereus like yours are hardy enough to be happy planted outside in the Bay Area. My own Cereus monstrose in planted in a raised planter in my Berkeley backyard and handled 25 degrees without damage.

Yours looks like he could use a bit of fertilizer and minerals and that should green up the yellowing. We use slow release organic nutrients with great results, cactus are slow growers so they like slow food as well. If you use a chemical fertilizer only use it a low strength and not very often. Make sure to use a fast draining soil without a lot of organic material.

Good Luck,
Hap

How to Take Care of a Euphorbia

Well, it may be a little too late for that, what with the pictures.

Hi, I called a few weeks ago about my cactus, attached are photos. I just moved from Richmond to Martinez and my cactus started turning a beautiful deep red color on one side but now it has a disturbing orange stripe down the center. Is it ok? Thank you in advance for your help.
Mona

Mona,

Your Euphorbia looks like it has both sunburn/sun-stress and a fungal infection. The red is sun and the orange/brown/black is a sign of a fungus infection. I suggest spraying it with Neem Oil at 1 or 2%
solution. This will hopefully stop the infection. Spray to the point of run off, in the evening, not morning or afternoon as the oil can add to the sunburn. Respray after a week.

Good Luck,
Hap

They Get Questions

More Newspaper Questions for you to digest, if you don’t mind. This comes from the Jefferson Post Argus World News and Telegraph Report Advertiser Supplement.

As if.

Actually I think it’s the Santa Rosa (CA) Press-Democrat.

Tiffany asks, are there any cacti that don’t have those dangerous sharp spines? I have small children and like the idea of growing cactus, but naturally, I am concerned about their sharp spines and subsequent injuries.

Yes, there are cacti that don’t have sharp spines.

Well, that was easy. On to the next question, I always say.

The Tale of the Cactus Wren and the Saguaro

Well, it’s not really a tale. More of a newspaper story. Really, even, it’s the Arizona Republic answering your questions. Let’s go to the tape:

I have a saguaro that has holes being made by a cactus wren. I know that is what cactus wrens do, but is there any way I can stop it or at least repair the holes after they leave?

This question is brought to me in one form or another about once a year, and it always sort of irks me a bit.

First of all, the wrens didn’t make the hole in the cactus. That was the work of a woodpecker or flicker. The wrens just move in after the original owners leave.

Cactus wrens actually prefer cholla cactus.

Second, unless the cactus is diseased or otherwise really stressed, the holes aren’t going to hurt the cactus. The plant heals itself from the inside by sealing off the hole with a polymer called lignin.

Third, you should be happy to have the cactus wrens around. And all the other birds, lizards, small rodents and everything else that might be attracted to your saguaro. Do you have any idea how many people would like to have something like that in their yards?

Just relax and enjoy your cactus.

That is a fantastic answer, so I hope Clay Thompson doesn’t mind that I quoted it in its entirety.

A Call for Help

Hi Peter, Here are the pictures of the cactus I called you about on Monday, I will call you later this afternoon.

Thank you
Peggy

Peggy,
Your cactus is a Cereus, and it has a virus. Because it is so severe, it
does not look like your plant is savable. We recommend tossing it.
Quick, before the virus spreads. Do not put another cactus in that
location. Dispose of the pot. Hopefully it hasn’t already spread.
Sorry I don’t have better news,
Peter

Follow Up: Peggy hired us to come and remove the plant. In person, it was no better. Unfortunately the cactus was not savable. We were hired to remove the plant, and the pieces went straight to the dump. Oy, that was a virus.

Barrel Transplanting

We get follow-up questions about transplanting.

Dear Hap,

Thank you so much… This is encouraging to hear. Is there a better time to move them than others – spring, fall, would now be OK?

Now is good. You do not want to wait until it is too hot and the plants are in “conservation mode” or winter where the ground is cool and wet as that can lead to rot problems.

I understand I need to be careful on where I re-plant them to try and match the same sun exposure and conditions.? They are currently in a morning shade-corner in the back yard and I want to move them to the front where they will get?a?LOT more sun…?

As long as they are use to full afternoon sun you do not need to worry
about more light, afternoon sun is the strongest and hottest so if they
are getting that now they will be fine.

Should I keep them covered for a while?

If they are not getting full afternoon sun now and you move them then
putting some 50% shade fabric over them for a few weeks and then weaning them off shade will help keep them from getting sunburned. And yes make sure you mark the plants with which way is south and keep them orientated the same way when you replant.

Do you suggest I keep them out of the ground for a few days to let the roots dry??

Only if your soil is wet, which in your area shouldn’t be true…

And does the soil I plant them in have to be dry as well or can it be moist?

It should be kept dry for at least a week or two after transplanting. Some moisture is fine but do not actually water them.

Sorry for all of the questions, but I’d really hate to loose these native cactus.
Steve

In Which We Get Questions About Cacti in Palm Springs

Hi,

I’m not sure where to look or who to ask, but I have about 8 Compass Barrel cactus in my back yard?that I need to move due to construction. The largest is about 3 feet high.

I live in Palm Springs and I have seen these growing in the local hills / moutains. I REALLY need some advise on how to move them or better yet a way to find an?arborists that I could hire to move them for me.

I would hate to loose them because I did not do it properly so I’m reaching out to see if anyone can help with advise or a reference.

Thank you very much in advance…
Steve

Steve,

Alas, my plant contacts in Palm Springs have all moved away, so I do not have anyone to recommend to move them for you. But the good news is barrels are fairly easy to dig and move, as long as you take the time to wrap them with carpet scraps (nap in towards the spines) and then wrap again in canvas tarps before you dig, so the spines don’t cause serious injuries in you and the plants and you have something safe to hold and carry with. The big trick with transplanting cactus, is to let the roots heal in dry conditions and not to water for a few weeks after injuring the roots. You do not need to get all that many roots as the plat will grow new ones, cacti regularly let their roots dry and die out to conserve water during dry hot weather and then grow new ones as soon as there is a bit of moisture. The other thing to keep in mind is big barrel cactus can weight hundreds of pounds, after all they are mainly water so make sure to bend those knees when lifting.

Good Luck,

Hap

Florida Cactus Questions

The Orlando Sentinel answers your questions about cactus.

Question: My Christmas cactus is about 4 years old and blooms nicely, but it’s getting too big for its pot. When can it be transplanted?

Answer: Anytime between now and midsummer would be a good time to give your Christmas, or holiday, cactus a new container.

Such a succinct answer. And very clear too. Of course, if you click the link you’ll find the rest of the less succinct answer. I like to stop at the first sentence, myself.

Unhealthy

We Get Questions from people about their Euphorbias.

Hi there:
I am kicking myself that I was so blind to have probably missed this entire blighted side on this cactus before I bought it, just a few weeks ago. What is growing on it? Mold? Rot? Plaque? (I’ll break out a toothbrush! :-)) What can I do about it? I’ve attached a sad picture.

Thanks for any words of wisdom-
Amy

Amy,

You “cactus” is actually a Euphorbia, a cool succulent from Africa. It
actually looks more like sunburn, so I don’t think your blight is an
infection. My guess is your plant was greenhouse grown, under shady
conditions and when you brought it home the “north” side got turned
towards hot sun and the plant burned, just like we do on our first spring
trip to the beach…. The burn will eventually scar over and turn to
bark and the plant will keep growing, but it will always have a scar.

Take care,
Hap

The Second of Two Questions

2) Attached is also a photo of a prickly pear we purchased from Cactus Jungle. We are unfamiliar with these plants and are wondering if the new growths shown in the photo are new pads and if so, how will we know when we are getting fruit instead of pads. As well, is there a cycle for when new fruits typically emerge?

Many thanks!
Beth M

Beth,

Number 2) Your Opuntia does look like it is growing a nice crop of pads.
Young flower-sprouts look very similar but look more like spear-points
when they first sprout. Your plant should bloom over the late spring and
summer, but you can encourage flowers by giving it some “Bloom”
fertilizer (a fertilizer with a high middle number like “4-16-3”. We use
Fish Bone Meal as a nice slow release Bloom Fertilizer or for faster
results the liquid “SaferGro”.

Take care,
Hap

The First of Two Questions

Hello,

We have two questions below:

1) Attached is a photo of a plant you put in one of my existing pots. It is blooming beautifully and seems quite happy. However, it does appear that it will soon outgrow the pot. How shall I go about re-potting this plant?

2) [2nd question edited for later blogging]

Many thanks!
Beth M

Beth,

1) The Calandrinia is fine in that pot for several years. It will get
bigger, and bloom more boisterously as it does. If it gets too
rambunctious prune it back a bit. Just cut the stems where you want it
to re-sprout. You can save the cut pieces and plant them in dry soil and
they should root and start growing in a month or two. If you want to
repot to something larger, rather than pruning, run a garden knife
around the edge of the pot to loosen the root ball. Then ease the soil
and roots out and move carefully to a larger pot and add soil in around
the existing root ball. Calandrinia have very fragile roots so handle
with care, but even if most of the roots break off it will reroot,
though it will set in back a few months.

Hap

We Get Yucca Questions

Q: We planted this cactus over 10 years ago, and the other day were surprised to see a stalk growing out of it. Do you know what types of cactus this is? And is it likely to ever do this again? We live in San Carlos. I would be interested in getting another one.

Many thanks!
Colleen

A: Colleen,

Your “cactus” is actually a Yucca, most likely Yucca whipplei (a wonderful California native) or perhaps Yucca rostrata. They look very similar and there is not enough detail in you photos for me to be sure… however my guess is yours is Yucca whipplei. If it is, this bloom will be it’s last, as the rosette that blooms dies after it is done blooming and hopefully setting seed (like it’s relatives Agave’s).

It will sometimes “pup” around the base and those will grow in to replace the “mother” rosette, but not always. If it is Yucca rostrata, it will not die, but will grow several new rosettes and eventually become a multibranched tree yucca and will bloom again when it has enough energy stored up to do so. Either way yours is a great looking plant and congratulations in getting it to bloom! It should bloom over the next few months and will look spectacular!

Take care,
Hap

They Get Questions About Aphids

From the Contra Costa Times, we get more of Ruth Bancroft’s answers, plus a picture too.

Sempervivum hybrid (Becky Rice/Ruth Bancroft Garden)

Q: I have a patch of little hen-and-chicks in my garden (this is what I have always called them, though they came labeled as Sempervivum) with an appealing purple color. Some of the heads do not look right, and seem to have a sticky substance on them. What could cause this?

A: Sempervivums, with their clustering habit and neat little rosettes, are popular garden plants. Coming from the mountain ranges of Europe, they are very cold-hardy, but they are also prone to attack by aphids, as you have discovered.

These small sucking insects secrete a sweet sticky substance that often attracts ants. However, aphids are not hard to combat, without the need for toxic chemicals. Simply keep a spray-bottle of Safer Soap handy to spritz the affected plants.

Note that another group of rosette-forming succulents from Mexico, the Echeverias, share the common name “hens-and-chicks.”

Dying Barrel Questions

The subject line of this question was “My Barrel Cactus” so that’s how we knew what the question was about. There was no photo, so we had to make some assumptions. Photos are always good. Anyway, on to the question.

Hi,

I have cactus that that has been dying from the base up and turning and orangish yellow. I am wondering if there is anything i can do to save it. Someone told me that you can cut the cactus off above the dying part and then replant it. Can you do this? What do you have to do in order for the cactus to survive if you do this?

Thank you,
Mike

A: Mike,

It is possible to save a cacti by cutting off the top un-infected part and then re-rooting. On barrel cactus it is very hard to pull off since they are so big around so it is hard for them to heal. To make the attempt cut above the infection, take a look at the exposed soft tissue and make sure there is no sign of infected tissue (orange, red, brown or black spots), if there is clean your knife in bleach and try cutting higher up. Once all there is is clean green tissue coat with household hydrogen-peroxide to disinfect and to speed up the “callusing”. Let the cut heal in dry warmth until it is scabbed over by what looks like a well scabbed skinned knee after a bike crash…. Then place the plant in dry cactus soil to grow new roots. Do not water until there are signs of roots, six to twelve weeks. You can mist the barrel a little at night (when it’s stoma are open) to give it some water. Keep it warm and in bright light but not in full sun.

Good luck,
Hap

[ed: good luck indeed.]

Sick Agave

Sometimes we get questions about sick agaves and they’ve sent along a picture too.

hello Hap,

i met you at your store a few weeks ago…i have a sick agave that i was hoping you could diagnose. per your suggestion, i have attached some pictures. as you will see, the leaves seem to be splitting. we have really poor, clay soil here in San Rafael. We just amended the soil today and moved it to a new spot in our yard.

Any advice you have on what else needs to be done would be very much appreciated.

Thanks so much.

-Sally

Agave

Sally,

It looks like your agave took some winter wet/frost/freeze damage. Moving and improving drainage will help a lot. They can usually handle the cold if they have dry feet(roots) and leaves. You can clean the infected areas with household Hydrogen-peroxide which should help them fight off the fungi. The Damaged leaves will always look bad but given time it should grow enough new leaves that you can cut off the older damaged one.

Good Luck,
Hap

We Get Tillandsia Questions

Q: Hi Peter,

Wondering if running the tillandsia under water till it’s all wet is enough, or does it need soaking? I’m doing this twice a week, and it’s cohabiting with a cymbidium under the eaves on my deck.

It’s like having a pet – I can bring it in for a bath, talk to it, walk it around & put it back or put it anywhere else! What fun.

I’ll get some liquid kelp too.

Phyllis

A: Phyllis,

The key to growing tillandsias is what you say when you talk to them. I prefer to read to them from Vonnegut.

Running it under water twice a week is enough – it doesn’t need to soak but once a month with the kelp.

You can even mist it 3 times per week, or leave it in a bathroom where it gets light misting every day.

It’s all good.

Peter

We Get Questions About Winter

Q: Dear Client Support, [ed: Woohoo! someone finally addresses a letter to us using our real name!]

I was wondering if there was a preferred air/soil temperature range for overwintered plant varieties such as Echeveria and Graptopetalum. I wasn’t sure if temperatures should be in the vicinity of 35 to 50 degrees for dormant plants, while Aeoniums, Haworthii, ect. should be temporarily provided warmer temperatures (above 60 degrees) during their growing phases in the fall and early Spring.

I also wanted to know if plants in dormancy should only be watered when either their leaves or root systems exhibit a certain degree of dehydration.

My thanks for your time and efforts in the matter.
Sincerely,
Joe

A: Joe,

Echeveria and Graptopetalum need to be kept above freezing and the colder it is, the drier they should be kept. Between 35 & 50 degrees they should be watered only once every 4-6 weeks, though again if it is very cold keep them dry. They need to concentrate the sugars in their leaves to keep from getting cold damage. Winter growing succulents do need more water in the winter since they come form locations that get most or all of their rain in the winter months. Our winter growers are outdoors year round and usually get down to the upper 20’s over night now and then. If it is expected to get that low we usually cover with frost blankets, though some have dealt with 25 degrees just fine.

Hap

Rotting Cactus

Q: Hi. I called your store last weekend and had some questions about a cereus cactus I have that appears to have scales but also seems to be “dying” from the top down. I was told to email some photos of my plant, so I’m sending them now. I would really appreciate your looking at them and advising me of what I can do to salvage my cactus. If you have any problems accessing the pictures, please let me know.

Thank you very, very much for your time and assistance.

Sincerely,

Jenny

A: Jenny,

It looks like your plant has both scale insects and an infection, viral or fungal (most likely brought on by the bugs…). You should spray with Neem Oil to kill the scale. You can then clean off the dead ones with a small paint brush dipped in rubbing Alcohol. For the infection, I hate to say it but you need to cut off the top a couple of inches below the “icky” part and then look at the cut part to make sure there is no black or orange spots in the soft tissue, if there are you need to clean the knife with alcohol and re-cut lower down until you only have clean green tissue showing. Then pour household Hydrogen-Peroxide over the cut to sterilize. Do this again for the next few days to make sure the infection is dead.

It will scar up and then branch around the cut and in a few years it won’t be that noticeable.

Good Luck,

Hap

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