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



  1. What an amazing new adventure! I'm sure the new digs (pun intended) are going to be exceptional, as well as prickly! ;-) Keep us all posted!

  2. Thanks Marla. I'll miss the Cactus Hill property but it will be a new adventure. Once again I'll be starting with a blank canvas, albeit a much smaller one. I won't be planting as many trees and shrubs, but there will still be a good sized winter hardy cactus and succulent bed.

  3. I cannot imagine moving my plants but a year ago I could not imagine moving my office but I did. I know you often move your plants. I hope it all goes well. Will there be a greenhouse?

    1. Hi Alain, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I'm afraid I've put Cactus Hill Adventures on the low priority list right now. I hope to change that and eventually tie it in with my twitter tweets. Sometimes the 140 character limit drives me crazy.

      The new house is complete but I haven't moved in yet because of some work being done on the my current house in preparation for selling it.

      No greenhouse planned yet. It depends on the financial situation after the old house is sold. There seems to be a lot of house for sale in my area so selling the old house might no go very quickly.

  4. Hello there! I just found your blog, was forwarded your way via succulent sundae ^ and I hope you dont mind but had a few quick questions about potting substrate and winter dormancy. What potting substrate mix do you currently use- is it purely organic/inorganic? I keep reading about the macro and micro nutrient benefits of organic soils but worry about rot, pathogens etc. Also I was digging through some of your older posts, do you just stop watering entirely during the winter, cover up the plants and keep them settled till spring? Do non-cacti succulent handle this well or ?
    I understand you are very busy and in the midst of a move so best of luck with that, hope to hear from you when you have a minute!

    1. Hello BleedingOrchid,

      I don't have, or ever had a fixed standard potting medium. I've been playing around with potting media for many years, but I do have, and use, a set of potting media fundamentals. I start by understanding what a potting medium must provide to the root system of a plant. It must supply available water, available essential nutrients, and it must supply air. There are many combinations of various potting mix components that will supply all three of these requirements and provide an adequate environment for root growth. The components a grower uses, their ratios, is usually determined by component availability, cost, and how they relate to the growers' cultivation style. For example, I tend to be an under-waterer. I grow a lot of plants and have a lot of other interest (hobbies) and sometimes I don't water my plants as regularly as I should. For that reason I often choose potting media components that somewhat compensate for my poor watering practices.

      There are two potting soil component groups based on what they provide to a potting medium. Group one has the ability to hold water and dissolved essential elements, or nutrients. Group two has the ability to open up the physical structure of the potting medium and promote the drainage of water and subsequent infiltration of air.

      Any potting media is a collection of solid particles and the spaces, usually known as pore spaces, between them. The pore spaces can hold either water or air. Ideally, at any given time, 50 percent of the pore spaces hold water and 50 percent hold air. Initially, when you water your potting media all the pores are filled with water. Almost immediately, gravity will pull the water out of the larger pores, usually called macro pores, down through the media and out the drainage holes in the container. The smaller pores, due to the strength of adhesion being greater than the force of gravity, will hold onto the water. If the potting media has only small pores, think clay soils, the water will not drain out adequately, there will be no pore space for air to move into, and roots will die due to lack of oxygen. Plant roots are alive and require oxygen for respiration, just like we do. With no air, there's no oxygen, and with no oxygen the smaller roots and root hairs will die.

      Thus the key to a successful potting medium is one that supplies adequate air, water, and nutrients. You could grow plants in a pot of gravel, providing you apply water and fertilizer (supplying the required nutrients) on a regular basis. You could grow plants in water (hydroponics) providing you supply the required nutrients and air.

      That's the underlying basics. I'll continue this with a description of commonly available potting media components and various common mix ratio if you like. I'll also give you the potting mix I used today to pot a dozen of my three year old lithops seedlings. Let me know if you have questions and I'll continue this in a day or two.

      My teaching philosophy is not to tell people exactly WHAT to do, but teach them WHY things are done and that there are often many ways to accomplish what is required.


    2. Hi Bob,

      Thank you so much for the very long and detailed explanation of substrate properties and plant needs! I will definitely be bookmarking this post to turn back to whenever I have some unanswered questions regarding the air/water relationship. Over the last few weeks I've spent considerable amount of time looking online for more information on what "potting substrate is best", to avoid investing in plants and then having a massive die off. So far, I've and encountered so so many different and conflicting posts. For someone new to the game, it can definitely be inundating and confusing, as you dont want to invest significantly into something that will be of little to no use later. What it comes down to is how well can you replicate the growing environment and needs of a specific plant.

      I definitely understand the logic behind not telling people what to do, unless its a core principle or tested and true knowledge. No two people grow plants the exact same way, and saying that X way is the only way to grow certain plants isn't going to teach anything. Plus unless they're growing plants in the exact same environment and conditions as you, there is no guaranteeing how well/poorly the plants will do.

      I would appreciate insight on potting medium components you have found success with and growing environment conditions. Thus far I've gone out and purchased turface, pumice, and granite chips. These purchases might seem premature, but after scouring online it seems these are substrates growers used exclusively or in conjunction with other items. Im probably going to stay away from mesembs and winter growers just because I dont feel that I full understand them or can confidently provide for their needs. I am presently interested in crassulas, haworthias, avonias/anacampseros, rebutias, sulcorebutias, lobivias, and other smaller summer growing cacti.

      Anyhow before I ramble too long, please get back to me when you have a minute, would greatly appreciate hearing more about your growing conditions and potting medium trials/experiments and such.

      Many thanks
      S :)

    3. Hello S :)

      I just completed repotting a number of Lithops, Astrophytum cactus and Euphorbia obesa seedlings, all in the 2-3 year old range. My potting mix was one part (by volume) sandy loam topsoil, one part calcined clay (Turface) and one part pumice. This is a very well drained mix but has some water and nutrient holding capacity in the topsoil. I am fortunate in that the topsoil is from my own property. Mineral topsoil is not often found for sale, and when it is, it is primarily silt based or decomposed peats, neither of which is a good potting soil component for succulents.

      Turface (calcined clay), pumice, and granite chips or grit are all excellent potting mix components. But all, even the Turface, are primarily aeration and drainage fostering materials. You can grow excellent succulents in any or all of these if you provide water and nutrients on a timely basis. However, under hot, sunny conditions they will dry out rapidly and in small containers require almost daily watering. Many growers, and almost all commercial growers, add some type of water/nutrient holding component such as sphagnum peat, compost, coir, or topsoil.

      This is where the blending of components depends on the growers conditions, amount of plants and available time and labor, primarily in terms of watering. I add the topsoil component to slow the drying of the mix somewhat and provide a reservoir for nutrients. I know of a number of growers that use only pumice, or Turface, and grow quality succulents.

      Most commercial growers use a relatively high percentage of sphagnum peat, usually as part of a commercially prepared growing medium. Sphagnum peat holds water and nutrients and yet maintains good aeration. However, the aeration quality decreases with time, but since commercial growers don't usually keep plants longer than a year (six months is more likely) this aeration decrease is not a problem. In addition, sphagnum peat moss is hydrophobic, once dry it resist re-wetting. Commercial growers deal with this problem but not allowing their potting mixes to completely dry out and to use a wetting agent when watering.

      Your choices of plant material to start with sounds fine. There are easy mesembs. There are difficult mesembs. And, there are impossible mesembs! :) I don't think you have to stay away from all mesembs, but learning about them before growing is always a good idea. You will lose a few plants, we all do. I really like haworthias and believe they make an excellent genus to collect. My favorite cactus genus at present is Astrophytum. While there are only a handful of species there are many varieties and forms. Have fun, you seem to have a sound approach and will undoubtedly grow some wonderful plants. Please keep me, and the succulent growing community informed of your activities. Do you have a blog? Do you use Twitter, Facebook, etc.?

      I hope this info helps and please feel free to contact me whenever you have a question or comment. My email address is: stewart723@gmail.com

      You might have already mentioned this, but where in the WORLD (what continent or island) do you live? I live in the State of Maryland, on the eastern coast of the U.S.

      Please forgive any and all typos. I type fast and don't edit well :)