Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sometimes Changes are Difficult

Goodbye Cactus Hill

I'm sorry I haven't been more active in the past several months but a major change is taking place for me and my mind has been on other things.  I am having a new house built and I will be selling the property I lovingly call Cactus Hill.  I really do love this piece of ground and it will be very hard to leave it, but it is just too big and too much work for me to maintain.  The property is now on the market, but it could take months to sell, so in the interim I'm going to take photos as a remembrance and post a few here. 

On the bright side, I will have a new house and a new, albeit smaller yard.  The new property is no far from Cactus Hill, about 55 km further south.  It was part of an old farm, which mean lots of sun for my cacti and succulents, but no existing trees, shrubs or flowers, only grass.  Cactus Hill was exactly the same when the land was purchased 22 years ago.  Now, Cactus Hill is very park-like, with many trees and shrubs and flowers.

The house and front yard of Cactus Hill.   The total property size is 1.2 hectares (3 acres) with about half of that lawn area.  The house sits on the highest elevation (the hill) and was the genesis of the name Cactus Hill.   I haven't even begun to contemplate a name for the new property.  

June is cactus flowering month at Cactus Hill so I can't post a blog without at least one cactus photo.  This is Cylindropuntia imbricata, commonly known as a Cholla.  It's one of the winter hardy cactus at Cactus Hill.  I've rooted a few cuttings of this plant and they will go with me to the new house and property. 

Cylindropuntia imbricata


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winter, Winter, Go Away

Winter, Winter, Go Away

Yes, it has been a while since I reported from Cactus Hill.  Summer and autumn have gone, and it seems as if winter will never go.  I had really hoped for a relatively mild winter.  Mother Nature obviously has no interest in my desires.  :(   Temperatures in January and February have been way below average.  Cactus Hill has routinely experienced night temperatures below 15 degrees F. (-9.5 C) with five nights dropping below 5 degrees F.  (-15 C).  I understand that many areas of North America and Europe are much colder than this but the over-wintering of much of my cactus and succulent collection is based on temperatures being average... MOST... of the time.  If you are not familiar with my over-winter system, he's a look at it. 

I have three of these over-wintering boxes, I call them frames, from the horticultural term cold frames.  The difference from a typical cold frame is I have a small electrical heater in each frame.  When temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. (10 C), the frames are covered in plastic, as seen below.

When temperatures drop below 30 degrees F. (-1 C) I add a second layer of plastic cover, and when temperatures drop below 15 degrees F. (-9.5 C) I place a blanket between the two layers of plastic.  For the past 15 years this system has worked well for me.  Plants over-winter in good condition with the strong light and cool to cold night temperatures; the heaters maintain the low temperature at 42 degrees F.  (5.5 C)  Four years ago we experienced heavy snowfalls, and the frames performed well in the snow. 

But this winter more than 10 nights have experienced low temperatures below 5 degrees F. (-15 C) and this is a danger point, because if one of the heaters fail, or we lose electrical power, the temperatures in the frames will drop below freezing in less than three hours.  During these nights I must check the temperatures in the frames every few hours in order to have time to fix a problem quickly.  Each frame has a thermometer that sends a wireless signal back to the house.  Thus, I can monitor the temperatures in the frames without going outside.  I know this is all part of the system I have decided to use to get my plants through the winter, but most winters, average winters, are easy to deal with, but this winter has just be tough.  So, winter, winter, go away, I'm more than ready for spring.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lithops - Summer Home

Plant  Stand  for  Lithops

If you want to grow your lithops in a way so that they look similar to how they grow in nature, and you don't have a greenhouse, you have a problem.  Very few windows provide enough light to grow lithops as in nature.  This was the dilemma I faced because I wanted to grow natural looking lithops and I had no greenhouse.  My answer was to grow them directly outside during the frost free part of the year, where I had adequate light, and bring them back into the house during cold part of the year.  

Lithops are well suited for this type of treatment because they require much less light in winter when they are going through their regeneration phase.  However, lithops are sensitive to too much water and being outside in the open exposed them to too much rain.  The answer was the same as I used for some of my water sensitive other succulents, a covered frame that allowed adequate sunlight but provided protection from rainfall.   

The photo above shows the lithops stand with a screen cover which reduces light about 20 percent while maintaining the best air circulation.  Behind the stand is a plastic cover than can be pulled over the top of the stand when rain is predicted.  I have found a reduction in light intensity seems to help the plants get through the middle of summer when temperatures are highest and the lithops go through a summer dormancy.  The screen covering keeps the temperature on sunny days about 3 to 5 degrees C. cooler than when the stand is covered with the plastic, which tends to trap some heat.

I have grown lithops for the past 15 years with this method and it has worked well.  An unexpected, but welcomed accident is that the number of lithops plants I can fit on the stand is approximately the same I have space for on window sills in the house during the winter. This limits my lithops collection to about 75 plants, but I have learned to live with this restriction.        


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When You Have no Greenhouse

The Summer Plant Stand

It's true, I have no greenhouse.  However, I have a yard, and several parts of that yard receive ample amounts of sunlight.   During the frost free part of the year I have access to as much sunlight as any greenhouse would provide.  Unfortunately, there is no roof on my yard and plants placed directly in the yard are subject to all the rain that falls.  While this is natural for most plants, it can be excessive, sometimes deadly, for some types of potted succulents.  The answer to this problem was a plant stand with a transparent roof.  

I am no carpenter and the stand is no woodworking piece of art, but it works.  I reserve the stand for those succulents where the amount of water they receive must be under control. The stand is relatively small because all the plants on the stand must find other quarters for the winter and those quarters are limited.  

I have used the stand for more than 15 years and it has worked well.  I usually water the plants on the stand once every 5 to 8 days depending on the plant.  The one group of plants that are not on the stand is the lithops.  They have their own stand which you can see just to the right of the plant stand.  I'll discuss the lithops stand in the next blog entry.    

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fat Plants are In Vogue

Pachycauls, Caudiciforms, aka Fat Plants

There's no doubt, the most popular succulent/xerophtye plant group at present are the Fat Plants.  I've been to several cacti and succulent plant shows over the past several years and the prevailing favorites on the show benches, with judges and public alike, are the plants with swollen stems and roots.  Their popularity began rolling in 1987 when Gordon Rowley wrote his book, Caudiciform & Pachycaul Succulents.  Today, they are THE plants to acquire, grow, and show.  Alas, I have not joined the masses, as I only have two Fat Plants.   However, to become one of the "in crowd" I hereby celebrate and show off one of my two.

Adenium obesum

This plant was a year old seedling sent to me from another C&S grower in a trade for some winter hardy cacti in 2010.  It was listed as Adenium arabicum, but as I understand it, that species has larger, pubescent leaves, and the leaves on my plant are glossy and smooth, no trace of hair or fuzz.  Irregardless of the correct name, it is a nice example of a fat plant, and one of only two I own; so I like it.

My fat adenium has been outside all summer where it receives seven hours of sun daily and whatever rain we receive.  When rainfall is inadequate I water it.  I bring it inside in the winter and it becomes a house plant.  I never force it to go dormant but it does lose some leaves in the winter, however I believe this is more due to adjustment to light levels rather than it asking for a period of dormancy.   I do like the swollen stem and the multiple branches.  It's very picturesque and a nice addition to my collection of succulents.  Will I add more fat plants?  I doubt it.  My space limitations continue to dampen the addition of any new plants, and when space matters you tend to look down on plants that are.......well.... fat.        

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Strange New Plants - Learning as you go.

Astrophytum caput-medusae

In late June of this year I discussed planting 10 seeds of the strange cactus, Astrophytum caput-medusae.  This cactus has a very reduced stem, you really can't see it, a thick, swollen root, and long, thin, snake-like tubercles arising from the stem.  My June 23, 2014 blog entry give more background on this strange cactus and chronicles the six seedlings that resulted from a March 2013 sowing.   The seedlings grew well and the June 23, 2014 blog entry shows one of the seedlings with a flower.  At that point the next step was the removal of the six seedlings from their birth pot and transplanting into a larger, or individual pots. However, because this is a relatively newly discovered cactus (2001), there is very little information on cultivation.  Thus, growing Astrophytum caput-medusae will be a Learning As You Go adventure.

Here are the six seedlings showing their thick, enlarged roots and ready for planting.  


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Oldest, Old Friend

Copiapoa cinerea - My oldest plant from seed.

In late summer of 1979 I purchased a pack of 20 seeds of Copiapoa cinerea from Mesa Gardens in New Mexico, USA.  I planted those seeds in November 1979.  I really don't remember how many of the 20 germinated, but I do know what happened to one that did; it became one of my favorite plants.  I gave it the best locations, most sun, and always remembered to water it, something I didn't do for some other plants.  I repotted it regularly, although that wasn't that often because it grew very slowly.  Beginning in the mid 1980's I entered it in every plant show our C&S society held, but it never won an award because it was still quite small.  

After it passed the 10 year old point it flowered every year.  The flowers are small and bright yellow but I didn't grow Copiapoa cinerea for its flowers, I grew it for the attractive body color and just to have a specimen of this wonderful cactus from the Atacama desert of Chile.  In habitat Copiapoa cinerea develops an almost chalk white body color.  I'm not able to provide enough sun for the white body color, but my plant has developed a very pleasing bluish-grey color and I'm satisfied.   Year after year it grew a little, flowered, and remained my favorite cactus plant.  

In 1998 it was 19 years old and began to develop its first offset, another stem growing off the main stem.  I had seen the photos of old Copiapoas in habitat with hundred of offsets, magnificent great clumps that had to be approaching a 100 years old.   It was exciting to watch it begin to develop the form that Copiapoa cinerea plants are suppose to develop.  It now has 10 offsets.  This November 2014 my old Copiapoa cinerea will celebrate its 35th year.  I'm very proud of my oldest plant.  Copiapoa cinerea is not the easiest cactus to grow, especially when you don't have a greenhouse.   I hope you also have a favorite plant.  It's alright to have a favorite, just don't tell the other plants. ^__^