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

Cactus Wren Questions

The Arizona Republic answers an age-old question.

Q: How do birds manage to stand on saguaros without any problem?

A: A little bird, such as a cactus wren, doesn’t weigh enough to exert enough pressure on the spine to pierce the skin.

That is so true.

Cyclops

I wonder why they call it cyclops? Anyway, we get questions. I suppose I should refer you to my youtube video about Aeonium bottom leaves, which answers so many questions in less than a minute.

On to the question.

Hi,

I bought an Aeonium “cyclops” from you last September. It’s about 20 inches tall with 11 branches. It’s indoors, but gets plenty of light. I’d say that up until about a month ago, it was thriving. But in the last month I’d say about half of it’s foliage has dried up and fallen off. At this pace it’s going to be bare in a few weeks. I don’t notice anything different, except on one of the branches on the backside of the foliage has some droppings that visual appear to be like a home repair caulk. Is this normal or do you have any suggestions?

Thanks,
Michael

Michael,
Can you send us photos, especially of the backside?
You may have a pest, but then the Aeonium is a winter-grower and will go dormant in summer, often losing half its leaves off the bottom.

Peter

And Michael does send along photos, after the break… Read More…

We Get Bog Plant Questions

Can a Venus flytrap thrive outdoors all year in the foggy west side of Daly City? There are days where there is plenty of sun, but the temps. are usually around 50’s-60s. Do I need a terrarium?

Michael

Michael,
Venus Flytraps are hardy in much colder climates than ours. They do require plenty of sun, and must be planted in a bog environment with slightly acidic soil.

But just to be clear, hardy outside means it will die back to the ground every winter, and spring up new every spring, fresh and green and ready to eat bugs.
Peter

Editors Note: Daly City is just south of San Francisco.

They Get Bad Kitty Questions

 …in Cleveland.

Q. My cat knocked my Christmas cactus out of the window. How can I save it?

A. All is not lost when a “bad kitty” takes down a good houseplant. If the main stem or trunk is in good shape, the plant can be repotted and pampered to replace what was lost….

Yay!

Washington Cactus

In Olympia, they ask the following question,

Did you know one of the newest gardening trends is growing exotic indoor plants, like orchids, ferns and succulents?

Well? Did you? I wonder which succulents they consider exotic.

Aerial Roots

Hello,

I have a lovely little potted succelent (an echeveria, I believe) that I purchased from you some time ago and it has started to behave oddly. The best way I could describe it is to say it has started “rooting”. Or rather one limb has been sending out root-like shoots for a month or so. At first I thought it would stop when it failed to find land or water to “root into” but it has persisted. I’ve attached photos in order to clarify my poor attempts at describing this. You’ll notice it is only one segment of the plant that is doing this, the other is acting quite normally.

echeverria_roots

My question: Is the plant begging to be repotted? And if so, should I separate the rooting segment from the main one and transplant it? Or should I just leave it be?

Thanks very much!
Ally

Ally,

Your plant is sending out a huge number of aerial roots! Odd, perhaps that side of the plant is more humid than the other?. just kidding. Basically you can do any of the options you asked about. If you repot it will get bigger faster, or cut off the root crazed part, let it sit a few days and then pot up in a new pot in dry-ish cactus-succulent soil and don’t water for a week or two. If the roots bother you in a freakish alien sort of way… you can also just cut them off. It won’t hurt the plant.

Take care,

Hap

According to Google News

Q: I have a lovely cactus that my boyfriend gave me. It is a tall, columnlike cactus that at times has a crown of flowers. It was doing very well in my old …

The Forum of Fargo-Moorehead has a question. I presume they have a completed question and an answer to go with it, but I can’t find out since I’m not a subscriber. All I get is this first sentence. Harsh. But then, that’s ND for you.

I think blogging is taking its toll on my sanity. For years when I couldn’t get a full article, I would just ignore it. But now here I am quoting the first sentence and letting the whole thing hang. Maybe I’m getting lazy, or senile, or petulant. I like petulant.

Prickly Problems

Hi Cactus Jungle

Could you tell me why this cactus is turning somewhat white…
Last year, I bought some kelp because it was turning yellow
and that did the trick, but now it seems to have a new color.

img_4317

what to do?

thanks
Brian

Brian,

Did this Opuntia get turned around or moved recently? It looks like sunburn-bleaching… plants, like us have to develop a “suntan” to protect themselves from UV and if the north side is turned to the south or it is moved from inside to outside in to sun it can get a sunburn just like we can on our first spring trip to the beach.

You may need to trim off the top really damaged pad and let the lower part heal. It should “bark” over time.

Good luck,
Hap

thanks…I guess it had already had gotten “tough” from last
summer’s “all day in the sun” experience…guess not..

We Get Questions

…that we can’t answer, so they supply their own answers!

Dear madam, sir,

Thank you for your wonderful website. I especially visited it while trying to identify a newly aquired plant. I think it is a type of euphorbia (it has milky sap) but I am not sure. This specimen is approximately 70 cm tall and 6cm thick. It has a mintgreen color and the blooming stalks are fuchsia colored. Unfortunately the flowers have whithered but they seem to have been pinkish. I have visited a lot of sites but haven’t been able to identify it. Could you help me with this problem?

dsc01470

Thanks in advance for your help,
Jan

Jan,
I am sad to have to admit I haven’t been able to identify your Euphorbia. It is an amazing looking plant and there is nothing like it in my books. At least with such large bloom stems… so you may have to check your local science library and see if they have a complete set of Euporbiacea Journals and slog through to see if you can find it. Of course it could be a cool hybrid and then it will be even harder to identify.
Good Luck,
Hap

And then the unthinkable happened. Jan found the answer without us!

Hap,

Thanks for your kind reply. I have used your suggestion and contacted the head of the national herbarium in Leiden. He knew the plant to be a monadenium spectabile (aka euphorbia spectabile).

Thanks again,
Jan

Spectabile, indeed.

How Do I Get a Cactus to Flower?

Hello,

Oregonian here with a growing cactus collection in a greenhouse. Some of my cacti flower regularly, mostly Mammillaria. I’ve always wondered when a cactus appears to be producing a flower, is there anything I should be doing to promote the flower’s growth? Take it outside, more light, less light, feed it, water it, don’t touch it, don’t move it…. you get the idea. I don’t get too many flowers, and I try to acknowledge their dormancy period during the winter to help the spring/summer flowering, but still have mixed results. Fortunately I have what appears to be an Echinopsis flower coming and I don’t want to screw it up?

Matt

Matt,
There are 2 different issues here:

1. How to get more flowers. We use fish bone meal as a bloom food in late March or early April (now is not too late.) Using a regular cactus fertilizer is also a good idea in the spring.

2. Once the bud is already there, nothing needs to be done to promote its growth. However, there are things you can avoid doing to prevent it from aborting. It’s best not to replant any plant that has started blooming, as the shock can cause the blooms to abort. It’s also best not to change it’s environment too radically, like bringing it from inside to full sun outside. To keep blooms longer, avoid high heat.

Hope that helps
Peter

And as a bonus, enjoy a blooming cactus:

rebutia_perplexa_bloom

Rebutia perplexa

Notice all those flower buds all over the tiny cactus? That’s another secret to getting cactus blooms: Pick a cactus that produces lots of flowers, like a rebutia.

How Do You Repot a Euphorbia?

Have you got any tips for potting a (large) E.Trigona? I just can’t get my head round how to do it.

How can you tell that a plant is underpotted? What should I look for?
Thanks,
Mike

Mike,
We generally like to see as much plant mass above the soil line as potential root mass below.

Repotting euphorbias is difficult. They have a caustic white sap (latex) that is very dangerous, and with all those branches banging against each other when you repot, the likelihood of getting it on you is high. So what we do is wear a lot of protective clothing, including goggles and gloves, and pack between the branches with bunched up newspaper to keep the branches from scarring each other.

Then you use a tool to separate the roots from the sides of the pot. Lay the whole thing flat on a tarp on the ground. With 2 to 3 people, gently ease the plant out of the pot. Generally you don’t want to disturb the roots too much for succulents, but if it is completely pot bound, then a small amount of root massage to redirect the root tips is recommended.

Place the plant into the new larger pot (we recommend terra cotta) with fresh fast-draining cactus soil so that the top of the soil line stays in the same place. Fill around with more soil, and you’re done. Don’t water for 2 weeks to let the roots heal, and the plant should begin to thrive again.

Good luck,
Peter

This was a follow-up to a previous question about an underpotted plant.

We Get Cactus Questions

Hi Hap and Peter
Attached are a couple pictures of the cactus. I was wondering if you could help me figure out what the problem is? I don’t know what kind they are. They get plenty of light. They are outdoors (obviously). They are wilted and a reddish-orange color.

jodi016

Thanks
Jodi

Jodi,
They look like they are just in “winter mode”, some hardy prickly pear dump all their water, go limp and weird colors to concentrate their sugars, so they can survive freezing during the winter. They should perk up as spring progresses and they wake up for spring growth.
Hap

(Editor’s Note: I’ll bet you didn’t see that answer coming.)

We Get Questions

I was a big dingus and left my super cool cactus buddy in the rain. 🙁 He looks sort of light green now with some yellow places. Did I kill it or can this be fixed? He’s inside right now, draining.

Bean

Bean,

Let him dry out, keep him warm and watch the yellow patches. Yellow is s sign of stress as well as a the start of an infection. Don’t water for 3 or 4 weeks. You might want to treat with Neem Oil in a 1% solution after it has dried out. Either use “ready to use’ or mix about a tsp of neem in a quart of warm water with a few drops of hand soap or glyserine to help emmusify, shake well and then spray all the plant and let the runnoff soak in to the soil. Keep away from the sun for a day or two. Neem is effective, natural and in the “chemical warfare class” so it is something you can use without needing a spacesuit to apply.

Good luck,
Hap

Michigan Kalanchoe Watering Question Blog Post

I have a Kalanchoe, but haven’t quite got the hang of watering it yet.  Do I drench it like if it were actually raining, or do I give it just a small amount?  Sorry if this shows up twice, I was having a poor connection.
 
Thanks.
 
Rachel
Michigan

Rachel,

We like to drench our succulents every 2 weeks, and let the water completely drain away, making sure the plant never sits in water. This requires a fast draining soil, and a pot with a drain hole.

It is also possible to dribble water more often, but it is more difficult to get good results.

Peter

Canada

The Victoria Times-Colonist reprimands a reader’s cactus.

Dear Helen: Early last month, a friend who is something of a cactus expert was not pleased to see a Christmas cactus in full bloom in my kitchen. She said these plants ought to be in a rest period from late January through most of March and not in flowering mode during that time.

A: Bad, bad plant. And naughty you for allowing such behaviour….

Black Echeverias

Hi there,

I bought 3 black knight echeveria’s a while ago. Being a complete novice, I had no clue when the mealy bugs began to feed on them. Despite my efforts late in the infection to combat the mealy bugs, the plants’ leaves all fell off and I purchased 3 new repotted echeverias in September. They’ve been doing well, until a few weeks ago. One of the echeveria’s is looking quite small compared to the other two. I came back from a vacation today and noticed about 3 leaves from the larger two were wilting and came off quite easily. I meticulously studied the plants for a sign of infection. NO LUCK! All I noticed was that they have a few little black holes on the bottom of a few leaves and that they look wilted. Can you suggest what to do?

It’s cold in Vancouver, BC (in fact it snowed about 1 week ago) so they’ve been inside all winter. I’ve kept them in a room that gets at least 3-5 hours of sunlight, WHEN IT’S SUNNY. The room is colder and they are right next to a glass door. I water them maybe 1/4 c. every 2-3 weeks. Except, when I noticed it looked like they were wilting I watered them a little more. The soil doesn’t feel wet, rather, slightly damp. The water is able to drain if they are too wet.

I’m at wits end and need some advice. Thanks. I’ve attached some photos.

dscf0174 dscf0179

Cheers,
Jolene

Jolene,

My first guess is the smooth polished pebbles are staying wet under the leaves and causing fungal infections. As a rule of thumb we do not use smooth rock as a mulch or decorative top-dressing since the surface tension of water loves to cling to smooth round pebbles and stay wet forever. This gives a place for mold spores to “hatch” and start eating the leaves. Try to find black lava rock or a nice crushed black gravel which is rough and faster drying to use under the rosettes. You can keep the polished black rock on the exposed surface, but don’t let the leaves touch it. It should help keep them from staying too wet. Also during the winter water them well, but only about once a month. They should dry out completely between watering’s. It is OK if they look a little thirsty during the winter since they are basically asleep.

You can treat the plants with 1% Neem Oil solution to help fight off any infection they currently have. Just don’t spray and have in bright sun right away, treat, put somewhere shady for a day or two and then move back to the sun.

Good luck,
Hap

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