Q:I saw a hanging basket plant called orchid cactus that is supposed to have fancy flowers. Before I give it a try, I’d like to know how it is grown.
A:Unlike the desert cacti we see most often, the orchid cactus, Epiphyllum, is a jungle plant. In their jungle environment, they usually grow as epiphytes, with their roots exposed to the air and rain. It’s not possible to grow them that way here, but they will grow quite well in hanging baskets filled with a rich, fast-draining soil mix.
I have a small cactus, only about an inch and a half tall. I left it on my radiator while I went home for spring break, and it curved in a right angle towards the window. Thinking it wanted light, i put it on the sill above the radiator, where it proceeded to turn a pale, bleached color. I would like to keep this plant living the best I can, and am wondering now if it should be watered more/less, and how much light I should be giving it.
It sounds like your cactus got a sunburn. It depends on how severe it was as to whether or not it will come out of it. Can you send us a picture?
As for watering, in general we recommend watering every 2 to 3 weeks, drenching the pot and letting it drain away. Cactus like lots of light, so a west or south facing window is best. Always keep it a few inches away from the glass because heat can build up at the surface. Also, as you’ve discovered, moving a cactus, or any plant, from low light directly to full sun can cause a sunburn.
I am told this is a “Burbank Spineless” variety developed especially to feed cattle. But it has a serrated edge and a particularly interesting veining pattern in relief on the pads that I have never seen on any Opuntia. It does bloom yellow.
Thanks for your time,
It looks to me that is most likely not one of the Luther Burbank clones, but is Opuntia undulata. A variable species from Mexico (probably Aguascalientes). In habitat it is said to get 10 feet tall. Here in Berkeley, it rarely gets over four feet tall, but I have only been growing it for about three years so maybe someday it will pile up that high…
Great plant, the young pads are great nopals and the fruit is tasty too.
Just curious…can you tell me what happened to these two plants?
Too much rain water? or is it something else
Looking over your photos, my best guess is a combination of rain followed by the several real cold snaps we had, cause frost/freeze damage and that opened them up to infection. The Cleistocactus (the tall fuzzy one with multiple arms) looks like the damaged arm should be trimmed off with a knife and the cut part at ground level splashed with hydrogen-peroxide, so the infection stops with just that arm. Clean your knife and recut the top part above the infection so you have clean green tissue with no signs of orange and black, splash it with the peroxide, let it heal and dry for a week or two inside and replant and it may root (Cleistocactus are slow or tricky to root but in never hurts to try). I would also suggest pulling out the mammilaria and tossing it, so it does not spread the fungus infection to the other plants.
Generally those cacti are hardy here but if they are wet and then we get real frosty they can be damaged.
Interesting addition to this morning’s post about a hylocereus in habitat, we now get a little bit of hylocereus used as a root stock for a grafted cactus.
hello. im elya and i need ur help!! i have a hibotan cactus. its a cactus left by my late best friend. so it really means a lot to me. i hope u can help me.
well,firstly,i have no idea whatsoever on how to take care a cactus. in fact,i just know that its called hibotan cactus today when i searched the net. u see im a university student and im very busy. so i really dont schedule when i water it. and at first i just leave it in my room. and i am a very very careless person. i knocked it down for 3 times already i think. the rest are done by the wind. and when its knocked down,usually it will fall out of the pot. with the soil still attached to the cactus. i know i know,im very careless.. but yeah. i still love it so so much though. hmm.. anyway,in 3,4 days now,the cactus’ head is going black!!!! i think i over water it i guess!!! here’s the picture of it. i hope it can still be saved. oh yes,my university is kinda in a rural area and i dont even know if theres a gardening store nearby. i hope its still saveable……
hope to hear you soon.
p/s: please reply to my email. and u can post it in the blog if you like. thank you. hope in hearing you soon.
What you have is a grafted and irradiated cactus on top of a hylocereus base. The colorful grafted top portion is dead and probably just came to the end of its mutated lifespan. It was a nice touch of color while it lasted.
However, the hylocereus base can survive and grow into an amazing plant. I recommend you cut off the dead portion, spray the cut end with hydrogen peroxide to help it heal, and repot the rooted base in fresh, fast draining cactus soil. Keep dry, and don’t water for a couple weeks.
Attached are several pictures of my indoor cacti that have been going downhill for the last couple of months. Basically it appears that some of them are rotting from the inside and others seem to have some kind of spider on them and there is a sticky substance on them.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
The cactus is dead, or almost. The succulents are infested with mealy bugs, and etiolated due to insufficient sunlight. Given the level of infestation, the plants need to be unpotted, treated, cuttings taken and repotted into fresh soil.
With what needs to be done, I recommend you bring it by the nursery so we can take a look and see what’s salvagable, and we can also do the treatments and repotting for you if you like.
I am a plumeria grower and a friend sent me some unknown cuttings last season that have grown very well in my rock garden at home. I have attempted to id this plant with a few friends at different botanical gardens with no luck. They suggested asking a few professional growers in Cal. if it could be id by those with more local knowledge. Any help would be appreciated, I have given several cuttings to friends in my area now so many of us are at a loss! I have attached a picture. My friend has told me in late spring in Cal it forms a stalk with a bloom head of multiple purple flowers. Any help would be greatly appreciated so I can give this plant a name.
It looks like you have a very happy Calandrinia grandiflora. It should send up amazing purple, poppy like blooms all summer long. I find they bloom best if ignored and under watered. They are native to Chile and Peru. Though they must come from lowlands, since they do get knocked back with a heavy frost here in Berkeley. I think they could handle more cold if they were drier, but our winters are usually wet.
I’m writing with a care question about my potted Echinocereus grandiflora I bought at Cactus Jungle about a year or 18 months ago:
It has developed scaly, brownish yellow areas near the base and midsection of the main plant and on a few of the larger offshoots. Any idea what this affliction is? Can it be reversed??
Please help! I don’t want this guy to die.
I live in SF and currently water the plant thoroughly once-twice a month in spring/summer and maybe two times total from september-march. I put it outside in the summer when its hot but otherwise it sits in my sunniest window area (only 6-7 hours of non-quite-direct sun though). Should any of that change?
Also want to say that I have been extremely happy with this plant, and all the others I’ve purchased at CJ, as well as all the in-person advice at the store in Berkeley. Thanks!
Look forward to hearing from you,
It is a fungal infection. You should treat with a fungicide as soon as possible. We would treat it with the product MildewCure followed by Neem Oil few days later. Re-treating after seven days. Hopefully that will stop the infection. The plant will carry scars, however once it is healed the pups will eventually grow large enough to hide the worst of it.
And just to add: When bringing a plant outdoors after the winter, even if it’s been in a sunny window, you need to harden the plant off or it will sunburn. That means taking a week or two bringing it out into progressively more sun until it’s been accustomed to the UV.
Please take a look at my Euphorbia trigona and give me an advise.
I am concern with spots, overall unhealthy look, slow growth and size of a current planter.
Your Euphorbia is under-potted, and is showing signs of what look to me like both frost damage and possibly some sunburn. Overall the plant looks pretty good, but repotting to a bigger terra cotta pot and out of the plastic around the end of March, but not before, should help. Also, we recommend having it indoor in the winter, and out of full sun.
Let us know if you have any other questions
As we were just discussing on the phone, I have an Echeveria hybrid that I purchased from your fine company back in June. As you can see from the photos, since then it has grown quite tall and I am wondering what I can do for it. Also, the second photo shows the top of the trunk that split yesterday. What have I done wrong and what can I do for the split trunk?
Thank you very much for your time.
As we discussed, it does appear that your echeveria is not getting enough sunlight. The split developing at the top is because it is top heavy, and because the stem is not strong enough. What I recommend is waiting til late March, if possible (if the head is about to break off then don’t wait) and then cutting the rosette off with about 6″ off stem, clearing off the bottom leaves as necessary. Spray the cut end with household peroxide to help it heal and keep out of the sun for 1 week to let it dry. Then plant about 4″ deep into fresh dry soil, and wait another week before starting to water. Make sure the plant is in a warm sunny window and it should begin to root pretty quickly. Given the thickness of the echeveria stems, we often use a rooting hormone to help the plant root faster, but it’s not necessary.
You can then cut the rest of the stem down to about 3″ above the soil, removing all dead leaves, and the rooted stem will probably grow new rosettes. Spray the cut end with the household peroxide also, and keep out of direct sun until the tip heals a bit.
In general, we recommend these echeverias have 4 hours of direct sun per day, so a south or west facing window is ideal.
This could be my third e-mail to you guys regarding strange cactus disease/bug/fungus (all of which were generously answered). Hopefully this isn’t becoming annoying. I do appreciate your time and check in to your blog frequently. Here’s the latest.
Two photos of a Myrtillocactus pup. This is the first trouble I’ve had with it. Seems to have some kind of big orange spot? Its not a “scar” like other spots that occur. Any suggestions, I’d hate to lose this one.
The second cactus I can’t ID. I do know it may have burnt a bit this summer (you can sort of tell from one photo to the other). It appears like this one maybe toast (the black spots appear to be brown-rot like, but I cant say for sure). I worry the winter is too far away before I can re-pot. Even so the problems appear to be high on the cactus.
Both cactus are in a greenhouse in Oregon, which we keep dry (and usually bug free believe it or not!?!!?). It doesn’t get cooler than 50 and we open it up during sunny days. This winter I have been limiting water to approximately monthly, or as they needed. I don’t think overwatering is an issue but who knows.
Any input is appreciated.
Happy to help when we can.
The Myrtillocactus looks like it has Rust, which is a fungus. We treat with neem oil. You can alternate with a teaspoon of baking soda and a quart of warm water, sprayed on.
The other cactus, probably an Echinopsis, may have the same disease, or another fungus, just further along. You can try to treat the same way, but the prognosis is not as good.
Please note: Where you are using smooth pebbles as a mulch, that is going to keep the plants wetter in the winter. We prefer a rough stone, like lava which dries out faster.
I have a beatiful euphoria cactus that my daughter bought for me last mothers day[may of 2008]- it grew beatifully during the summer but now the leaves have turned brown and fallen over. I’m devistated! Can it be brought back to life? I thank you for your response!
If it is a Euphorbia, then the plant is deciduous, and probably has just lost its leaves for the winter. However, if you’d like to send me a digital photo I can take a look.
The follow-up here was that the plant wasn’t just losing leaves, but entire branches were collapsing, however Norma wasn’t able to send photos, so the best we could do was offer this advice:
Unfortunately I can’t really diagnose any further without seeing pictures.
In general, you can cut the dead top portions off and let the lower portions heal. Be sure to get all the dead and rotting parts. Spray with household peroxide to help the wounds heal.
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.
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,
You have a very nice Agave leopoldii. Congratulations.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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,
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?
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.
[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.
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.
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!
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.
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.