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When they can’t drive of course! Actually cactus and succulent plants have been flying in popularity for a few years now. The first I heard of this trend was from where most all flower trends originate, Europe. New style trends often fizzle before reaching us here is the “rust belt” but it seems the cacti/succulent rage may have the stamina to make an appearance.
I first observed large displays of cactus in bright glazed pottery flying off the shelves of a Dutch garden centers 3 years ago. The Netherlands has always been a hub of horticultural evolution in growing methods, structures and retail offerings Young customers liked the stark, cool effect they had in home decorating while everyone appreciates their easy care.
The next time cacti jumped out at me (not literally) were from the catalogs that I use as a retail grower. Under “new product” category there was a selection of succulent plants two years ago. “Capture this new emerging market” was the caption. New plants… I think not! How soon we forget the 1970’s when houseplants were so popular. Cactus and succulents were all the rage then so what makes them new today. Well, the selection now is far wider than it was 40 years ago and frankly who really wants to remember the 1970’s anyway.
So what do we need to know about these not-so-new plants? First off, all cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are native to the Americas and have adapted to hot and dry growing conditions. Most cacti have a very short growing period and a much longer dormancy period. Succulents have very few, if any, leaves and have also adapted to arid environments.
During the low-light winter months, cacti and succulents should be watered only enough to prevent shrinking and withering. When you do water, as with all houseplants, water thoroughly. Water should flow through the drain holes, and the excess should be discarded after a few minutes. As the amount of light increases in the spring, so does the plant's need for water. The soil, however, should always be allowed to dry out completely. The older and larger a plant is the more water it can store and the longer you wait before watering again. On average, skip a week for every inch of pot as a good watering guideline.
Cactus like to be pot bound but sometimes they become too large and can get top heavy. (Too much water and fertilizer can cause excessive, rampant growth.) If your cactus requires repotting utilize a shallow pot or fill the bottom of the pot with gravel. Cactus roots will not grow deep and the extra soil will only serve to rot the delicate roots. Don't water newly planted cactus. After repotting leave plant dry and wait at least a week, this gives the succulent roots time to heal before being exposed to water.
Succulents and cacti are not limited to in home use. There are some hardy cacti and many succulent plants that do very well here in the great white north. Many Opuntia, or prickly pear cactus, not only grow here but several are Ohio natives. There are many popular perennial succulent plants like sedum “Angelina” which has been nominated for perennial plant of the year by the National Perennial Plant Association. (Stand by for the results in January) Angelina is a very drought tolerant ground cover with bright golden yellow needles in spring and summer. Angelina is an evergreen succulent with a deep orange winter hue that adds beauty to any landscape. Consider planting Angelina under those shallow rooted trees where you can’t get anything else to survive.
Many of these hardy succulent plants are finding their way into the newest building trend and “green roof” structures. These rooftops are fitted with a growing grid capable of sustaining these ultra tough plants. The result is improved building insulation, less reflected heat into the atmosphere, oxygen production, carbon dioxide absorption and less use of petroleum products. Google “Ford plant living roof” for the success story of a 10 acre roof planting in Dearborn Michigam.
So now you can better see the many reasons for flying cactus these days. From the garden bed to windowsill and even up on the roof there is no reason why we shouldn’t be as cool as our European neighbors and embrace cactus.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!