Faith-Based Cactus Care


Some time around the turn of the millennium a friend gave me a cactus. It's been sitting happily in its pot ever since, proliferating into a cluster of green phalli until it was clearly too big for the pot. Yesterday I relented and transplanted it to a larger one. This involved a few arcane steps to make sure it would continue to thrive, steps I will describe in the following. The thing to note here is that I didn't know what I was doing. I have no cactus expertise, instead making it all up as I went along. Watch closely -- and kids, do try this at home.


Getting the cactus out of the pot wasn't hard, using a bread knife and a pair of thick leather work gloves. Most of the pot's interior was roots.


I think I heard somewhere that cactuses like sandy soil. Sounds reasonable given their desert habitats. But the only soil you can buy at the supermarket is a rich dark loam. So I went out to the sandbox and took some sand home in a saucepan. To kill off any unwanted micronasties, I heated the sand on the stove until all water had evaporated. This I learned as a child when my cousins prepared sand for the floor of their budgie cage. (They never said anything about cacti.) I'm pretty sure the phosphates and uraea deposited in the sand by thoughtful local cats were not harmed by this procedure.


Mixing hot sand into the soil, I think I killed a lot of the loamy microdaddies too. But we've got this plant nutrition stuff to mix into the watering, a black foul-smelling liquid, that supposedly contains microgoodies to replace whatever I may have fried.


Isn't that pretty? With its newfound Lebensraum and faith-based living conditions, the cactus should be looking at a Golden Age now.

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But the only soil you can buy at the supermarket is a rich dark loam.

Ah, the impoverished lifestyle of socialism. Here is the U.S. of Capitalist A., they sell special potting soil just for cacti.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 19 Jul 2007 #permalink

My dear, sweet, gorgeous boys -- in Sweden, we are so butch and manly that we buy our plant soil at the food store where the selection isn't quite up to your connoisseur tastes.

The sand for sandboxes usually isn't quite right for cacti -- doesn't drain properly which is why you want it in the first place. You need sharp sand. If you can't get potting sand then check for builder's sand (which may or may not be right depending on its source) or sandblaster's sand which should be fine. The thing is, that rounded edge sand may wind up as a concrete-type lump which doesn't let water through. Some years ago I cut potting soil with potting charcoal (the small, splintery kind, not the little chunks). It worked well and the cacti all thrived. I expect that other stuff would also work -- perlite, maybe, or small pebbles or even bone fragments (cacti love bonemeal, too) -- just anything that will drain well so that your plant's roots aren't sitting in the damp all the time. Because, if they do, horrible fungi and stuff will turn your fine plant into a mushy mess. Have you tried forcing your cactus to flower yet? That is a wonderful thing to see.

I regularly put the Christmas cactus out on the balcony over summer and into the colder end of autumn, which makes it bloom. But I don't know how to make the cactus I re-potted bloom -- please do tell!

How make your cactus bloom? Treat it bad! Well, at least for part of the year. Give it sunlight, all you can find, right in the middle of your best windowsill, outdoors on the porch when evening temps allow, and water until the fall. When is that? That's when you can't find any more sunlight for the poor plant, September, October, whatever it is for you. Stop watering it. When the soil dries out, put the cactus somewhere out of the way. A dark basement is fine. No flourescent lights if you can help it. Then, when there is some sunlight -- May? -- bring forth that poor neglected plant and water it. If the cactus is mature (and you've had yours long enough) it will flower sometime over the summer. Some species flower right away, some after the daylight begins to get shorter. Different types have different flowering habits. Mammillaria tend to have crowns of little blossoms circling their tips. Cereus have rows of blossoms down one side. Others will send single flowers from their centre or one or two at odd angles from the shaft. Colours are usually red or gold, though there are white, green, and purple flowering cacti as well. The colours have a marvellous metallic sheen not usually seen in the garden. But it is so wonderful to see these spiky survivors flowering at all! I no longer have my cactus collection -- had to give it up in a move -- and I don't remember exactly what you have there but I seem to recall a few red blossoms at odd intervals on the central shaft and sometimes other nodes. But I could be wrong, it might be a Mamm and wear a little crown.

Lots of soil bacteria reside in nature in the form of heat-resistant spores; these will typically become "induced" and grow into metabolically active, dividing bacteria when subjected to brief heating. The amount of dry heat needed to kill off spores probably greatly exceeds whatever your sand samples reached.


Oh, and nice pics. ;-)

By Pastor Bentonit, FCD (not verified) on 25 Jul 2007 #permalink