Succulents have unique, interesting shapes with stunning flowers and are easy to grow as long as they are not over watered. (File photo by The Associated Press)

Succulents have unique, interesting shapes with stunning flowers and are easy to grow as long as they are not over watered. (File photo by The Associated Press)

Gardening: Cacti are low maintenance plants with long dormancy period

According to the Cambridge dictionary succulents are: plants that have thick leaves and stem and can store water. Cactus, which are succulents grow in the desert but have spines as opposed to fleshy leaves.

Succulents and/or cacti that are available for sale have been either started from seed or cuttings. Seed enables growers to mass produce plants as well as grow new varieties without purchasing cuttings or mother plants. It takes six to eight months from the time the seed is sowed until the average succulent is large enough to be sold.

Plants can be started through leaf or section cuttings. They mature faster than plants started from seed. With a leaf cutting, a leaf is removed and placed in a warm, sunny, well ventilated area. The cutting should not lay flat as it is important that an airspace is left under the leaf allowing air to circulate. The leaf will callus over and in two to three months a small plant, and or roots will develop on the upper side of the leaf. Place the small plantlet or rooted cutting on moist soil, allowing the roots to develop.

When taking larger, section or stem cuttings remove the section and allow the cut to callus over or heal before it is placed in soil. It takes between three to four weeks for a cutting to root.

Succulents are grown as they have unique, interesting shapes, stunning flowers and are easy to grow as long as they are not over watered.

Cacti and succulents will thrive in typical potting soil or cacti soil. A cactus growing medium is typically a coarser mix which drains faster than typical tropical soil. If overwatering is a problem use a cactus mix.

The container must have drainage holes. Heavy clay pots are ideal for larger plants as they counterbalance the weight of the plant.

Insects rarely feed on succulents. They will occasionally get mealy bugs and a few varieties are prone to aphids but problems are minimal.

Cacti are low maintenance plants that have a long dormancy period during the cool months. Water once in September once in November. Ignore them in December and water once again in January. As the days get longer in March, dormancy will break and the plants will need to be watered and fertilized. Days become longer in April and May as does plant growth. Increase the water and fertilize the plants every other week. In June and July the plants will be growing fast and should be watered and fertilized weekly. Continue watering weekly in August but hold the fertilizer. Repeat.

Use a fertilizer recommended for cacti and succulents or one with higher amounts of phosphorous and potassium.

Succulents can be divided into two groups; one that thrive in the sun, and ones that don’t. For the most part succulents with leaves, like all houseplants require less moisture and fertilizer in the fall and winter months but are not truly dormant. Continue to water them when their soil is dry and enjoy their different colours and shapes.

Linda Tomlinson has gardened in Central Alberta for over 30 years. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com.