Saturday, December 08, 2007
It is not often that I get a call to post about cactus. It really is a niche market of horticulture. A person either REALLY likes cactus or they do not. There is no ambivalence concerning this plant. It is either an evil plant foisted upon unsuspecting ranchers and farmers or it is a gleaming jewel shining in the sun. I tend to think it is a gift of God. Cabeza de Vaca certainly was glad for the tunas he had to eat on his long journey across Texas. I have concerns with the cactus other than its beautiful flowers and other remarkable features, but they seldom enter the conversation. This is a sample of the cactus I have gathered over the years. I really do need a better close-up lens. I detest the lack of focus at close range.
I wonder what to write when I put fingers to keyboard when it comes to cactus. They have become such an integral part of me that things I do not even consider anymore are still questions that are being pursued by others. How to fix a characteristic in a species, how to manipulate the genes and the limitations of the plant concerning the harshness of winter are what I am preoccupied with at the moment. It is immaterial to me if I ever pursue a Masters of Science with the cactus as a focal point. I will continue to study it as a part of my interests.
There are so many kinds of cactus. It would be very easy for me to gather as many species as I could grasp. I have avoided this as much as possible. I have tried to limit myself to ones that will withstand the rigors of the weather outside without any assistance from me. If I ever move to a more tropical climate, one even more so than the southern clime I know inhabit, I will be hard pressed to continue this limitation. I will most likely continue to grow roses, herbs and other plants, but the cactus will have a place in my gardens.
Some people maintain that they should not be watered at all during the winter months. I say that is silliness. If I have a cactus in a sunny window that keeps it active then why would I not water it? If the greenhouse is hotter than blue blazes in January I am likely to water the plants, cactus included. The bottom line? If it is still heavy or damp with water, then do not water it. Wow! that is so hard to grasp! This is probably heresy to some cactophiles, but I do not like seeing a plant dry up and wither.
I doubt this will be of any benefit to other gardeners. Damn near everything I have said is the basic logic of plants in general. Make it use its water, but if it is dry water it. It sounds so simple, but it never ceases to amaze me how many plants die from too much water or not enough. No wonder that the cactus sites I have visited almost to a man recommend that they not be watered in the winter. I can't help but think that there are scores of cactus that have withered away in their tiny containers cut off from the rain and denied the sprinkle from a water can. It should not be that way. I have rescued a few of these poor victims of misinformation. A new container, a little H20 and food do wonders for a starving and thirsty plant.
Even down here hard by the coast I still water the cactus. Even this month I will water them. Even a week after a rain of 4.5 inches or ~12cm. All the roots they have are in a pot no bigger than a coffee cup. Where is it supposed to retain the moisture? Where will the roots grow other than to continue their encircling of the container and become even more rootbound?