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

Question We Can't Answer

Sometimes we reply to people’s questions even though we really don’t have an answer for them. And then I post them so the whole world can see my failures. Like this one:

Q: Good Morning. My name is Jennifer & I live in Wylie, TX a suburb of Dallas. I am interested in installing a cactus garden in my front yard, but I honestly don’t know anything about cacti. I searched online to try to locate a local landscape designer, but haven’t been able to find any that specialize in cacti and succulents. Do you happen to know anyone in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area?

Thanks in advance for your assistance.

Jen

A: Jen,

Sorry but we don’t have any good landscaping contacts in the Dallas area. You might want to try the Texas chapter of the Cactus and Succulent Society.

Peter

California Questions

They Get Questions that are answerable with the application of a good dose of California Natives. The San Luis Obispo County Master Gardener tells all:

Q: I want to cut down on water usage, and I’m thinking of getting rid of my lawn. What can I plant instead of grass?

– Sally Somers, Los Osos

A: Many gardeners dislike the amount of labor and water that a lawn requires. However, they may hesitate to get rid of turf grass because they picture the alternative as a yard full of pebbles studded with cactus. While cacti and succulents can be attractive, we have many other good-looking, drought-resistant substitutes for grass on the Central Coast….

Low growing forms of yarrow, rock rose, and (native) ceanothus are also good choices. Most of these flower seasonally. An unusual possibility might be a native bunchgrass meadow studded with California wildflowers. Another alternative could be a well-mulched grove of native trees or shrubs such as manzanita.

Scale on Your Cactus

We Get Questions about pests, yes we do.

We ask people to send us photos, and they do, boy do they.

Q: cactus jungle,

here are the pictures. please note the white dots in the picture. what causes these? (lack of light or water, too much light or water?). also given the size of the smaller cacti, should any of them be transplanted to their own pots or can they all live together in the same pot as shown in picture 2 [not shown]? how much water should they be given being that they only get about 2-3 hours of direct sunlight? thanks for your help!

-jon

A: Jon,

Thanks for sending the photos, they are quite clear: your Pachycereus has scale, an insect that attaches itself to the plant and sucks the juices out. This is treatable.

1. Spray the plant with neem oil to kill them. We mix 100% neem oil, which is safe for cacti. Don’t use the 70% solutions, like “Rose Defense,” which are not safe.

2. After 2-3 days, carefully clean off the scale with a q-tip dipped in alcohol.

Finally, your plants are all fine in the same pot, but they need more sun. Not enough light is making them prone to the scale. Slowly bring them into a location that gets more direct sun, waiting a week after they’ve been treated. I recommend a minimum of 4 hours of afternoon sun, which means near a west or south facing window.

Water every 3 weeks, drenching the soil and letting the water drain away. You should lift the pot up on pot feet or bricks so it is never sitting in water in the saucer.

Good luck,

Peter

New Garden in Walnut Creek

The Ruth Bancroft Garden has a new entry garden. Ruth Bancroft answers your questions about her gardens in the Contra Costa Times:


Q: We like the look of your new garden alongside the gate on Bancroft Road, and we would like to do something similar in front of our house. Can you offer some tips?

A: Our entry garden is officially called the Lloyd Davis Entry Garden, after the late Lloyd Davis of Orinda, from whom many of the specimen plants came that were used in creating it. It features an array of cacti and succulents with a covering of gravel spread on the ground between them. This gravel is called “¾-inch Lodi” and came from Mt. Diablo Landscape Center in Concord.

You’ll have to read the rest of the article to find out her advice for replicating this garden at your home. I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending.

Centipedes

We sometimes get questions that we have never gotten before. Like this one:

Q: Hi,

I have a bunch of cacti that I keep indoors (I live in NJ.) I have a large yucca species that has developed an infestation of tiny centipedes in the soil. How do I get rid of them without killing the plant?

Any suggestions would be helpful.

Thanks,

Anne

A: Anne,

Centipedes! Really, now. We recommend a soil drench with neem oil. It’s also sold as rose defense, which will work fine as a soil drench, but don’t spray it on cacti since they need 100% neem.

Peter

What About Oklahoma?

We get questions from Oklahoma. It seems they want to grow plants outside, even in Oklahoma.

Q: Hi,

I live in Central oklahoma … (zone 7) I would love to have a succulent bed, the only thing I have are hen and chicks and they do great here… Can you recommend some items that I could order, that would be good for this area? My bed is about 3 foot wide and 18 feet long.. I want something really awesome looking, with low maintenance… Can you help?

Beautiful website.. best I have seen….

Annette

A: I would recommend Lewisia, which are zone 3, and have amazing blooms. We do have many different species of the Sempervivum (hen and chick) that would work. This summer we should have in Delosperma congestum which is hardy. Most of the sedums (all that we carry) are hardy. For Euphorbias, the spurges, like E. characias, and others, should all do fine. Kniphofias and maybe even Bulbines should work. For cactus, you could try Echinocereus viridiflorus, Opuntia fragilis, Opuntia basilaris.

That’s all I can think of right now.

Hap

We Get Questions

Mike from Korea has asked me about what “cultivated variety” or c.v. means tacked onto the end of a species name.

Q: I don’t exaclty understand what the “cultivated varitety” means.

Regards

Mike

A: Mike-

There are 2 basic ways hybrids are made:

1. Cross pollinate 2 known plants, and create what is known as a “hybrid,” i.e. graptoveria is a hybrid between a graptopetalum and an echeveria.

2. Select a naturally occuring variation. This is then called a “cultivated variety”.

For instance, there are many hundreds of hybrid echeveria species, some of which are “c.v.” or “cultivated varieties.”

If we don’t know what it is, we use the terms hybrid or c.v. interchangeably, since they are both just guesses. In general whichever way it was created, it is a hybrid.

Peter

Dead Cactus Questions

Q: Hello

I am trying to find out what is the problem with my 6 foot cactus. Started to turn black on the top 4 days ago and is growing down. I had another cactus in the same pot, but died like 2 years ago and started to die the same way. I live in New York and is beeing very cold the last 2 weeks. I also watered the cactus on april 19 and because I was out of the country I watered an extra half of cup. I usually watered every 2 months with no problem. I hope the pictures can talk by themself.

Please give any advise because I don’t want to cut it if is no necesary.

Thank you so much.

Carmiña

A: Carmina,

Sorry to be the one to bring you the bad news, but the tip of the cactus needs to be cut off. It is rotting from the top. Cut well below the infected part, look at the tissue and make sure there’s no sign of infection (brown/yellow/orange) and then spray the tip with household peroxide every day for 3-4 days. In a month or 2 after it’s healed I recommend repotting in fresh well-draining cactus soil. Do not reuse the pot without sterilizing.

We usually water cacti every 3-4 weeks, drenching the soil and letting it drain completely away, never letting it sit in water. It is OK to let it go up to 2 months without watering on occasion.

Good Luck,

Peter

Can you ID a Cactus?

Q: Please identify this cactus plant. I purchased it at a drugstore without a “name tag” but did have two fake flowers attached’ Thank You, John J.

A: John,

Your cactus is a Cereus hildmannianus monstrose, or commonly called ‘Fairy Castle’. It is a dwarf mutation of Cereus hildmannianus (which grows to tree size) and is native to southeastern Brazil and northern Argentina. Your plant will stay small and have many branches. The largest Cereus hildmannianus monstrose I have ever seen was only six feet tall, though I have seen the non-mutant species about thirty feet tall.

Good luck with your plant,

Hap

Oy, that’s tall.

We Get Questions

Q: Dear Cactus Blog,

First off I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed your Cactus Blog ever since I stumbled across it a little over a year ago! I’m hoping you can help me with some cacti I recently purchased from one of the local home centers. The clerk explained to me that a large percentage of their cacti and succulents were on clearance because a former employee had insisted on watering them along with the regular plants, and as a result the plants were ailing. Always one to appraise the bargain plants, I couldn’t resist bringing home a pot with two 4′ cacti -despite the unsettling spots on them. I figured I’d likely never have a chance to get this size of cacti at this price, and if they didn’t make I wouldn’t be out too much. But please help me keep these gorgeous plants!

I’ve attached pictures of the cacti and the troublesome spots. The spot on one (cactiB.jpg) of them seems drier and more firm and hasn’t changed in the two weeks I’ve had it. However, the spot on the other seems dark, a bit soft, and has grown -today I even noticed what looks like white mold.

The clerk explained that the plants hadn’t been watered since the water-happy employee had left, and I haven’t watered it at all either -I even raked some of the soil away from the bottoms of the stems. It is currently in our back porch, a sheltered area, but roughly same temperature as the outdoors. It currently only receives filtered southern light (the only other room with southern exposure is also unheated).

Any recommendations you could make would be greatly appreciated!

Many thanks in advance,

Michelle

P.S. It was labeled as Trzo. Euphorbia Amak Variegata “Golden Candelabra Plant”, is that correct? What does “Trzo.” stand for?

A: Michelle,

Since I don’t know where you are, I can’t tell you if they should be indoors or out, but we don’t let our Euphorbia “ammak”s get below freezing.

As for the damage, I’m afraid to say it is rot. The rot that is at the base of the plant that’s molding is bad. You need to cut the plant off above the rot, throw out the base, and let the top part heal. Spray with household peroxide, let dry for 2 weeks, and then place in fresh clean dry soil.

The rot up higher can be trimmed out and cleaned with peroxide and kept dry until it heals.

Please note that euphorbia sap is caustic. Please wear rubber gloves and safety goggles. If you get it on you, don’t touch your face, and wash it off immediately.

Long term the plant will be happier in a terra cotta pot with high quality cactus soil.

Finally, the “Trzo” designation is the name of the pot style (i.e. “terrazzo”).

Peter

Fertilize Your Cactus in Spring

Q: Peter,

Mom asked (as we live right down the road in Santa Cruz) when, roughly, we can assume the various cacti are out of their winter dormancy. I know this varies according to the individual species but as we have over 40 different ones, we’re just looking for some general guidelines here. Normally we stop feeding in Oct and start again in May. Are we doing this right?

Thanks again,

Sondra

A: Sondra,

It is a good rule of thumb to wait until May to fertilize cacti, and stopping in October (Stop in September in colder climates). Succulents, on the other hand, may be winter-growers and would be on a different schedule.

At the nursery, we like to start fertilizing as early as possible, and so it varies each year. This year it looks like we’re now coming out of winter, with only occasional rain still to come, so we’ll start feeding some of the winter-stressed cacti in mid-March with kelp meal, adding our own cactus meal fertilizer in mid April.

Neem seed meal is another good spring fertilizer helping to protect against root fungus while feeding the plant for increased green growth and bud set.

Peter

Bonus: Here’s my very short instructional video about cactus and winter stress.

Can you Identify an Agave?

Q: Do you what kind of Agave this is ?<br />
<br />
Thanks, <br />
Tim<br /><br /><img width="432" hspace="5" border="2" src="/blog/uploads/misc/agave.jpg" /><br /><br />Our answer is after the break…<br /><br /><br /><a href="https://cactusjungle.com/archives/blog/archives/1728-guid.html#extended">Continue reading "Can you Identify an Agave?"</a>

They Get Questions

<a href="https://cactusjungle.com/archives/blog/exit.php?url_id=1889&amp;entry_id=1720" title="http://www.contracostatimes.com/homeandgarden/ci_8304476?nclick_check=1" onmouseover="window.status=’http://www.contracostatimes.com/homeandgarden/ci_8304476?nclick_check=1′;return true;" onmouseout="window.status=”;return true;">Ruth Bancroft</a> answers questions about cactus soil.<br /><br /><div style="margin-left: 40px;"><span style="font-style: italic;">Q: I planted a cactus using a standard bagged potting mix, and placed it on the porch in a sunny spot. Now it looks like it is rotting and I am afraid I have lost it. Could the soil mix have caused this?<br />
<br />
A: Because cacti and other succulent plants require good drainage, it is best not to use a standard potting mix. Instead, use a mix with extra-good drainage. There are commercial cactus mixes available, but you can easily create one yourself by adding materials to promote drainage into ordinary potting soil. Sand, pumice, perlite or crushed rock such as decomposed granite can all be used for this purpose (do not, however, use sand from the beach, since saltiness may cause problems). At the garden, we use a custom blend that is about half sand and pumice, and the other half soil.</span><br /></div><br />They use a very different mix than we do. We don’t use sand at all. And we don’t start with a standard potting mix either since they all have either forest products or peat, and cactus and succulents prefer a more neutral blend while we prefer a more environmentally friendly blend. We start with coir fiber, some rice hulls. We add lots of pumice and lava rock (not perlite, which is a more energy intensive additive.) And nutrients, don’t forget the nutrients.<br /><br />

Poked by an Agave

Q: I’ve read your previous postings which indicate that cactus thorns are not poisonous. However, my mother had a run-in with our Agave Americana last year, getting poked in the arm. The vein swelled up and within a few days the swelling had gone down. She still has problems with pain. The same cactus got my finger today; 5 hours later it is stiff and sore and pain is radiating up my arm. I used peroxide immediately and an antibiotic ointment but it doesn’t seem to be working. Is there anything you can recommend? <br />
Thank you,<br />
Sondra<br /><br />A: Sondra,<br />
Agave are not cactus, and there is an important difference. But first, let me insist that I am not a doctor, and any lingering pain should be seen by a doctor.<br />
<br />
OK, so Agaves, unlike most cactus, do have a nasty sap in them, that many people will have a reaction to. Whenever you are handling them, transplanting them or pruning leaves, we recommend long sleeves, gloves and eye protection.<br />
<br />
But I think the real problem with them is that the leaf tips – i.e. the spines – are huge and thick and very sharp. They can go in pretty deep and cause real wounds, nerve damage, etc. I know I can have lingering pain from getting poked that’s probably caused by the time it takes for the nerve to heal. (I once had a pinched nerve and it’s the same type of pain).<br />
<br />
Whenever we get punctured by a cactus or agave or other sharp plant, we make sure to remove any spines left behind, wash thoroughly, use a local disinfectant and then we like to apply a topical pain reliever. It is a wound so we watch for signs of infection.<br />
<br />
But if the pain does persist, we also have been known to go see a doctor.<br />
<br />
Hope this helps, and you and your mother get to feeling better.<br />
Peter<br /><br />

We Get Follow-ups

Follow-up to <a href="https://cactusjungle.com/archives/blog/exit.php?url_id=1874&amp;entry_id=1704" title="https://cactusjungle.com/blog/archives/1702-We-Get-Questions.html" onmouseover="window.status=’https://cactusjungle.com/blog/archives/1702-We-Get-Questions.html’;return true;" onmouseout="window.status=”;return true;">yesterday’s question</a> about barrel cactus, and how to tell if they’re alive.<br /><br />Q: It seems firm, here’s two pixs. Thank you so much for your help! I lost my Mom, her plants are my daily visit with her.<br />
<br />
Susan<br /><br /><img width="396" hspace="5" height="432" border="2" src="/blog/uploads/misc/barrelcactus002.jpg" /><br /><br />A: Susan,<br />
The plant is still alive. It is in desperate need of getting repotted into a larger pot with fresh cactus soil. There are also some spots of rot on the plant (the soft brown spots) and you should spray them with a fungicide, like Neem oil.<br />
<br />
Good Luck,<br />
Peter<br /><br /><br />
<br /><a href="https://cactusjungle.com/archives/blog/archives/1704-guid.html#extended">Continue reading "We Get Follow-ups"</a>

We Get Cactus Fungus Questions

Q: Hello,

I spoke with someone from your store on the phone this afternoon about a problem with one of my cacti. They suggested that I email a closeup of the affected cactus. This yellowish covering is now over much of the surface area of the plant. I’d appreciate any suggestions for treating the problem. Thanks,

Mark

A: Mark,

It does indeed look like a fungal infection of “Rust”. Your plant should be treated with a fungicide as soon as possible. Under normal situations I would recommend spraying the plant with a 1-2% Neem Oil solution, an effective, natural fungicide that has limited toxicity to humans and pets and I think you should start with it. Spray liberally with Neem to the point of run off and keep your plant out of direct light for a few days. Reapply after a week. It may take several treatments to kill off the fungus. There will be scaring of the plant tissue, but the orange should fade. Neem Oil is available in 100% that you mix yourself or a ready to use diluted spray, either one will work.

Unfortunately it may be that your plant is so infected with rust, that you may need to resort to something nastier to save your plant. But the systemic fungicides should only be used at last resort and handled with extreme caution, they are designed to cross the cell barrier and do not

care if it is a plant’s cell or your skin cell. If you go that route use chemical resistant gloves and follow the directions completely. Systemics are dangerous and like I said only to be used at last resort.

Good luck,

Hap

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