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Category Archives: Cacti & Succulents

When to water succulents … rules of thumb are made to be broken

It seems simple enough. Put plant in ground. Water plant when it’s thirsty. Watch plant, and your smiles, grow wider and taller. Hooray for plant (and you)!

When it comes to when and how much to water, however, what would seem like an elementary exercise inevitably turns out to be more involved. But don’t fret. You got this; we know it! A good place to start is to water thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch, and not just at the surface but down by the roots. This is especially true for a plant during its active growing season (more on that below). When in doubt, procure a water meter.

As a rule of thumb, figure on watering your succulents at least once every two weeks. While that rule is rather pliable, subject to factors we’ll run down in a bit, we can’t stress enough that it’s better to underwater succulents than to overwater them. They will more easily rebound from lack of nourishment than from too much. You will learn a lot about your succulents and what they want simply by observing them and their responses to weather and watering.

  • Firm, plump leaves indicate a happy plant.
  • Squishy, mushy leaves likely mean it has received too much water. Discoloration might even be noticeable, such as black or yellowy brown spots on the leaves or stem. In those cases, something may definitely be rotten in the garden.
  • Shriveled, wrinkled leaves tell you it’s time to fill up the watering can. However, if it’s only the very bottom (oldest) leaves that are thin and shriveled, and the rest look good, then that is completely, totally normal. In the case of a dehydrated aloe, the leaves will fold, or curve, up. The rosettes of drought-stressed echeverias may be appear closed up.
  • A caveat related to dormancy, which deserves a post of its very own: Succulents, some more than others, anticipate a resting period of little to no growth, thus little water and zero plant food required from you. For example, aeoniums and dudleyas are especially known for snoozing during summer. Hence, they may appear rather tired, but that doesn’t mean you should water them like crazy to wake them up. Let them chill during dormancy, with only very occasional waterings, if at all, during cooler periods. Some succulents and cacti, on the other hand, all but insist on a dry resting period during winter. So-called winter growers/summer resters include aloes, crassulas, cotyledons, gasterias, kalanchoes, haworthias, and sedums. Summer growers/winter resters include agaves, echeverias, euphorbias, lithops, and sempervivums. Of course, it’s not as simple as “only water this group during these particular months and that group during these other particular months,” so a topic for another time.
  • Whereas succulents rotting from too much H2O may not be salvageable, parched plants should perk back up after one or two good drinks. If not always right away.

Sometimes, though, your succulent could be thirsty not because it hasn’t received any water in ages but because it’s poorly rooted or has lost its roots to rot, preventing water from getting to the leaves. If that happens to you, you’re going to need to cut the rotted section off and go about trying to re-establish new roots.

Now back to that rule of thumb, because a friend or neighbor or online acquaintance will inevitably swear by a different schedule. The frequency of watering is awash in considerations other than active growth/rest periods, such as:

  • in the ground or container
  • thick leaves vs not-so-thick leaves
  • pot size
  • pot type
  • soil mix
  • exposure
  • temperature
  • humidity
  • recent rain
  • airflow
  • slope or flat grade, or something in between
  • organic mulch or inorganic mulch, or no mulch at all
  • proximity to hardscape or inorganic elements such as boulders or water fountains.

 

Not to mention the plant varieties themselves. Like us humans, they don’t share a uniform metabolism rate. Their native habitats don’t all receive the same amount of precipitation or experience an equivalent temperature range.

Indoor plants, insulated from the withering effects of excessive direct sun, can go longer between waterings than their outdoor counterparts. All other things being equal, the same holds for plants in the ground versus those in containers. The former, their roots being underground and better insulated from heat, require less frequent waterings than plants in pots. Indoor succulents, especially those that are established, might look perfectly swell with zero water for weeks. Again, get a good look at the leaves. If they are taut to the touch, you can wait another day.

This whole watering thing may now seem to resemble something complicated rather than simple. Like springing open a can of worms, and we’d rather those worms stay under the soil. As noted earlier, becoming a skilled plant steward starts with becoming a good observer. With experience, you’ll be able to confidently incorporate all those various factors into a plant care plan with nary a bead of sweat. Or buy a water meter. If after doing so you determine that your plants have been getting too much water, adjust the period between soakings. Or if not enough, you probably need to water more thoroughly when you do water them.

Below, watch our CAN DO! Plant Parenting video on watering.

 

 

 

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Plants for Positivity: Prescribe yourself plenty of garden & nature time

Plants have a special way of elevating our moods, lifting our spirits, and providing a sense of wonder. But they possess far more utility than just a knack for making us humans feel good. Simply put, we need plants for our survival.

From food and exercise to medicine and recuperation, so much that is healthy and beneficial has a connection to the colorful, chlorophyll-containing wonders that make up the plant kingdom. In this first installment, we focus on a host of general well-being benefits.

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

Plants promote positive vibes & more tangible goodness

Plants can provide an emotional pick-me-up. Being around plants and nature makes people happier. This almost certainly feels instinctively true for plant lovers, but it’s borne out by research.

• “There is increasing awareness among researchers and health practitioners of the potential health benefits derived from gardening activities.
• “Studies have shown that gardening increases individual’s life satisfaction, vigor, psychological well-being, positive effects, sense of community, and cognitive function.
• “Reductions in stress, anger, fatigue, and depression and anxiety symptoms have also been documented.”

Source: sciencedirect.com

“Houseplants reduce stress and anxiety. According to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, active interaction with indoor plants (like touching and smelling) can reduce physiological and psychological stress. What’s more, even the potting soil can help you keep a handle on daily stress and anxiety.”

Source: Forbes.com

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

There is so much to share and bond over with other plant people — “not only the nuts and bolts of gardening but the emotional and spiritual connections we can experience with our gardens.”

Source: “10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening,” psychologytoday.com

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

Concentration and Memory

“Being around plants helps people concentrate better in the home and workplace. Studies show that tasks performed while under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Moreover, being outside in a natural environment can improve memory performance and attention span by twenty percent.”

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Healing

“Shrubs, trees, and flowers have a practical application in hospitals: The presence of plants in patient recovery rooms greatly reduces the time necessary to heal. The soothing effects of ornamental flowers and plants are so great that simply having daily views of flowers and other ornamental plants in landscaped areas outside patient recover rooms significantly speeds up recovery time. Another technique to decrease recovery time is horticulture therapy, where patients care for and nurture plants themselves. Patients who physically interact with plants experience a significantly reduced recovery time after medical procedures.”

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

Plants make people happy

“Adding flowers to your home or work environment reduces your perceived stress levels and makes you feel more relaxed, secure, and happy. Flowers can help you achieve a more optimistic outlook on your life, bringing you both pleasing visual stimulation and helping you to increase your perceived happiness.”

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

 

Plants allow you to get physical

Step it up in the garden to your heart’s content…and benefit. You might be surprised how many steps you can pile up and calories you can burn while gardening, moving from one end of your space to the next, planting, pruning, weeding, harvesting, feeding, watering. The digging, the pulling, the stretching. We feel a sweat coming on just from the thought.

Burning calories and lowering your blood pressure are just two of the benefits to the mind and body from gardening, says this Good Housekeeping article. Excerpts below:

Burn calories

“You can burn about 330 calories doing one hour of light gardening and yard work — more than walking at a moderate pace for the same amount of time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Lower your blood pressure

“Just 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity most days of the week can prevent and control high blood pressure. In fact, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends gardening or raking leaves for 30-45 minutes as examples of how to hit that recommended amount.”

The CDC says 2 1/2 hours a week of moderate-level activity, such as gardening, can also reduce the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death.

Source: “Gardening Health and Safety Tips,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Like us, you’ve probably been spending even more time of late with your plants. Who knew that weeding, pruning, picking, raking, digging, planting, and repotting were so good for one’s health? Keep it up and keep the positive, plant-filled vibes flowing.

At Altman Plants, we’re always happy to help with you with succulent plant care tips or to pick out some new living treasures.

Butterfly photo by Patti Black on Unsplash

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Winter is coming

But our treasured succulents don’t have to unduly suffer

We are fond of referring to succulents as the ultimate easy-care plants but many species can suffer serious damage or death if exposed to elements they aren’t predisposed to tolerate.

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Kalanchoe tomentosa: Give this fuzzy succulent softy a hug

While you may have seized the chance to admire a panda at a zoo, here’s a cute-as-can-be, touch-friendly “panda” of which you can get a really up-close peek … at your home. Every day.


Kalanchoe tomentosa, aka panda plant, is a succulent with long oval-shaped leaves that are densely covered in fuzzy felt. Kind of like a cat’s ears.

Panda plant may not be the flashiest succulent around, but it is certainly one of the fuzziest. And an indispensable, texture-adding accent in dish gardens to rose-shaped succulents like echeverias, graptopetalums, sempervivums and graptoverias.

Panda plant is a pretty no-fuss succulent that desires water only when its soil has thoroughly dried. When you do water, though, try not to soak its hair-laden leaves. The plant is frost-tender, so if you live in USDA Zone 9 or below, you’re going to want to protect it from frost or bring it inside for the winter, placing it on a sunny windowsill.

In the video below, our succulent whisperer Tom says the little hairs shade this dish garden champ’s foliage. 

Look for Kalanchoe tomentosa at shopaltmanplants.com: http://ow.ly/8DSx30pKPf2.

For wholesale visit cactusshop.com.

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Cutting loose: Winter growers wake up, become active in fall

Autumn has arrived at last. It feels good to be a succulent geek right about now, especially if you have a bunch of plants exiting summer dormancy. Nothing like looking forward to seeing your aeoniums, your senecios, your sempervivums, get a little wild in wintertime. Of course, for those in colder areas, that festival of life will have to be held indoors, in a space blessed with light.

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Mimicry succulents are masters of disguise

The mimicry plants known as mesembs are the thespians of the succulent world, mind-blowingly adaptable actors often accustomed to harsh, sun-blasted habitats that receive only a few inches of rain a year. They grow in coarse sand with just their translucent tops showing, enabling sunlight to reach the interior of each plant. The rest is underground, minimizing exposure to extreme elements.

Pleiospilos nelii (split rock)

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Let hanging succulents hang free on your patio, in your kitchen & living room

Cascading succulents should be on anyone’s list for living home & patio decor.

Gardeners often focus on planting things in the ground or in pots that rest well below eye level, yet there is a wide (tall?) world of verdant, pendant possibility that lives above us in the form of hanging plants.

Particular varieties thrive from lofty perches, succulent plants such as string of bananas and Sedum ‘Burrito’. It’s enough to make one hungry! Hanging succulents also excel as “spiller” plants in dish gardens. It’s hard for us to imagine potting more than two or three planter arrangements without using at least one spiller. They do especially well in bright kitchens, sun rooms, and other living spaces, making them some of the best succulents to treat as houseplants.

Many of these cascading gems are green. Green is an emotionally invigorating hue said to embody the rebirth and renewal of spring. That’s a lot to put on a color’s shoulders, but we garden enthusiasts of emerald hearts can’t help but feel an abiding affection for a color so intrinsically linked to a love of nature. Hence, we know that adding greenery at home can have a rejuvenating effect. Imagine coming home absolutely un-fabulously frazzled from work or emerging from your home office space, only to lay your eyes on lush, succulent, leafy greenery. Ahh. We feel refreshed already.

Sedum ‘Burrito’

With cascading, dreadlock-like stems that can reach 3 feet and plump, densely packed foliage, this ‘Burrito’ has powdery-green/blue-green leaves that turn brighter with sunlight. Mmm — part of that description has us thinking about a different kind of burrito. (Appetite is strong with this one.) The precise origins of Sedum ‘Burrito’ are a mystery…ooh, intrigue!…as it is said to have never been documented in the wild. But, boy, it sure is adored in human habitats.

Treat the Sedum version well and you just might get pink-red blossoms on the ends of those “locks.”

 

Senecio rowleyanus (string of pearls)

Senecio rowleyanus has pendant stems to 3 feet or more with unusual round leaves that give the impression of beads, peas, or pearls. String of pearls is a superb subject for a hanging basket and can be in the house in a bright, airy room or outside on a protected patio. Consider hanging several to create a sense of verdant greenery. Unless you’re on the coast, keep this one out of direct sun (and even there, keep exposure to only morning sun). But also watch that its soil doesn’t get soggy. If so, you’ll have rotten pearls on your hands. Or hair (if it’s hanging from above). Bone dry for long isn’t good either, however.

When its round leaves are backlit by bright light, the translucent narrow little “windows” (there for aiding in photosynthesis) light up like little lasers. The same goes for the next two “string of” plants.

 

Senecio radicans (string of bananas)

The stems of Senecio radicans have banana-shaped emerald-green leaves with fascinating translucent windows that aid in photosynthesis too. Those windows are to photosynthesis what the flux capacitor is to time travel. We’re pretty sure Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown would agree with us. The flowers are like tiny white pom-poms and are fragrant (cinnamon-y or clove-like). Quickly forms plush hanging baskets. Hang a bunch to create a sense of lush (succulent) greenery. Consider pairing the plant in separate pots or even together with other trailing succulents. Thrives in a bright room or with morning sun on a patio.

 

Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’

Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’ (rainbow elephant bush) grows more laterally compared to the prior three, but it’s still an excellent choice for hanging baskets. Its creamy yellow/green leaves play off the trailing green senecios quite nicely. It’s known in part as rainbow elephant bush because elephants munch on it, and other forms of the species, in habitat, even aiding in propagation when they trample on and break the mahogany red stems. Like with hanging baskets, it’s a must-have as a dish garden spiller or filler, and it’s one of the classiest succulent plants we’ve come across. Hang it by a sunny window or slider where the incoming light will provide a nice glow effect on the foliage.

 

Senecio peregrinus (string of dolphins)

We’re going back to the Senecio genus to talk a bit about a variety that’s taken the succulent world by storm the past few years…or by pod. And that is the plant known as string of dolphins or dolphin necklace. Believe it or not (and you should!), the leaves resemble dolphins. Stem after stem of playful dolphins, the undisputed greatest living marine mammal…well, they’re dolphinately up there. (We’ll be here all week.) Give this one bright, indirect light and don’t let it dry out too much. Use a container that is just a bit larger than the plant, as dolphin plants thrive in slightly crowded conditions…like lovely little pods of dolphins.

 

Crassula rubra marginata ‘Variegata’ (calico kitten)

So far we’ve focused on green hanging succulents, but here’s one that expresses beautiful pinks, roses, and purples, especially when given plenty of bright (but not punishing) light. The green, lemony cream and pink leaves of calico kitten blush a beautiful rose-lilac in drought or cold. This multicolored creeper is a go-to accent for hanging baskets and dish gardens, serving as an eye-catching contrast to rose-shaped succulents such as echeverias as well as upright growers. Lovely in a hanging basket or for spilling over the sides of a rock wall or along a dry creek bed. Tuck into the nooks and crannies of a waterwise garden where frost is not a concern.

 

Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’ (keepsake hearts or string of hearts)

Staying on the “not just green” tip, the cream, green & pink-margined Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’ is an incredibly beloved form. Easy to be when your leaves are shaped like hearts, right? If you can find one, you can grow it indoors near a window. The stems sport a purply hue. Another interesting facet is the production of tubers under the ground and at the base.

Other wonderful trailing succulents include Cotyledon pendens, Sedum morganianum (possibly a parent of Sedum ‘Burrito’), Senecio ‘String of Raindrops’ (believed to be a string of pearls hybrid), Senecio herreianus (string of beads, among other names), Dischidia nummularia (string of nickels), and Othonna capensis (little pickles).

View the collection of hanging succulents at shopaltmanplants.com here. For wholesale, visit cactusshop.com.

 

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A multitude of ways to decorate with mini succulents

We plant obsessives may not have as much room to garden as our parents and grandparents did. The millennials among us, especially, are said to be sticking to tighter quarters these days — condos, apartments, small houses very close to their neighbors’ small houses. If that is more or less on the money, it’s no wonder that mini succulents seem to be all the rage. They fit in so many spaces, in all manner of planters, from funky novelty ones (so many that it’s hard to pick an example…children’s cowboy boots! Toy cars! Soda cans!) to classic planter bowls filled with a dozen or more.

While there doesn’t seem to be any published standard for what constitutes a “mini succulent,” we generally go with plants from growers in 2″ or smaller pots. Your own cuttings and babies (offsets/pups) can count as well, unless we’re talking about, say, a foot-long “sprig” from a 10′ landscape cactus.

Check out our video about inspirational DIY ideas with 2″ succulents, including adorable burlap wraps and car planters.

 

We turned to mini succulents to create our Flight of Succulents — six 1.75″ succulent plants in a planter reminiscent of paddle-shaped samplers that are popular at, um, craft beverage establishments.

 

 

 

“Next door” is a 2″ succulent in burlap wrap. Other ways to have a ball with juicy little buddies: turning toy animal figurines into novelty planters and creating fairy gardens. True, you can create a fairy garden with larger succulents, but with miniature ones, you can more easily create detailed, dense living dioramas for tight spaces like windowsills.

Watch our DIY videos for the toy planter and fairy garden gnome pool party, respectively, below.

 

 

 

 

A holiday succulent wreath would count as a mini-succulent project too. Here’s one that a succulent-loving creative designed for our 2018 holiday contest.

Check out our 2″ Assorted Succulent Packs at shopaltmanplants.com.

For wholesale, visit cactusshop.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet a business that’s been part of our story for 40 years

At Altman Plants, we happily trace our history back more than 40 years ago to the backyard of two cactus & succulent geeks (you can probably guess their last name), but we know well that this incredible journey has not been one embarked on alone. There’s no 40-some years of collecting, growing, and selling unique, weird, and not-so-weird plants without there being plenty of others right there with us. Customers and fellow plant fanatics, from nationwide retailers at the tip of everyone’s tongue to Main Street plant shops that help form the backbone of their communities.

Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses is full of fat, juicy succulent plants.

We’d like to introduce you to a business that helped make the Altman Plants dream a reality. It wasn’t enough that two enthusiastic collectors had amassed a group of plants so great that their backyard was bursting at the proverbial seams. People had to come along in some way and say, “Hey, I’d love to buy those fat, funky plants from you.”

Meet Billy Welter, Owner/Grower of Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses. His family-owned business has been serving the community in and around Winnetka, Illinois, for four generations, since 1924. Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses is one of the characters in this plant-driven story.

Billy’s dad, Bill Welter Sr., discovered Altman Plants in the ’70s.

“I believe he found out about the nursery from a trade magazine ad or word of mouth. After receiving some of the plants, in one of his early vacation trips, he stopped in to see the nursery,” Bill said. “My parents were very impressed by the young person that they talked with at the nursery. My mom told me that he knew every botanical name of every plant that he showed my mom & dad! Sounds like an Altman!”

Ha; we reckon so.

It makes sense that a plant business hip to succulents in the ’70s would have as owners people with a fondness for the lovable weirdoes — mimicry succulents, aka mesembs.

“I think one of his favorite succulents….and mine are the living stones, or what I call living rocks: the Lithops and Pleiospilos,” Billy said of he and his father. “The Lithops come in so many different patterns and colors. Both are just cool! We even grew some from seed.”

It wasn’t just about the odd. Quality was paramount.

Aloe ramosissima, one of Billy Welter’s favorite specimens, he says. Purchased from Altman Plants in a 3″ pot. AKA Aloe dichotoma subs. ramosissima and, more recently, Aloidendron ramosissimum.

“My grandfather’s father, Frank, started with having the best quality of whatever he had in the greenhouses and he started to carry many unusual plants as well.”

This carried on to his son Victor, my grandfather, to my mom, Grace — Victor’s daughter — and now to my brother and me, Grace’s two sons. Bill Welter Sr. and Grace Hlavacek Welter were the third generation.”

There will be a quiz at the end of this post.

“Our customers from days old to the present have known or have heard that we carry the best quality and still try to carry many unusual plants and hard goods. It’s just something that is in our family genetics as well as ‘drilled’ into us when we were young!”

” ‘Don’t ever skimp on quality,’ we were told. And we haven’t, as we always hear, ‘You guys have the best plants.’

“I never get tired of hearing that!”

Billy was predisposed to digging plants, but it wasn’t just a family business-based interest for him.

“I have always liked nature, so working with plants, even though it was in the family, kind of came naturally. I learned a lot from my dad and a grower that was here, but what I didn’t know I taught myself. I still teach myself today. If I don’t know something, I look it up to educate myself, either on a plant, the growth habits, or a pest issue.”

A Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’ from Billy Welter’s collection that is quite a few years old, from Altman Plants.

While Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses has always carried some cacti and succulents, the last few years have gone bonkers. Don’t we know it!

“The last few years have just exploded with succulents and orchids…our two biggest repeat sellers. We have even incorporated Echeveria and orchids together. Being the orchids are in moss, they only require watering every couple of weeks. That works OK for the Echeveria too. It is a unique look.”

As much as Billy enjoys parting with cool plants, there are some that don’t quite make it out to the customer area.

“We have had a few requests of customers wanting to purchase the larger plants that are past an ’employee only’ chain. Those are my ‘personal’ collection of plants that I select when the plants come in and I get to pick my favorites! Sometimes I will ‘let go’ of one of my favorites to a good customer.”

Fortunate customer! From our conversation, it sounds like Billy is just where he wants to be.

“The thing I like best about being in this business is that the plants tell me if I am doing a good job or not. There’s no question…no yelling…no conversation needed. The plant either looks great, or it doesn’t. That’s my best reward!”

Next time you’re in Winnetka, 20 miles north in Chicago, pay a visit to Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses, 746 Green Bay Road. You might wanna take a peek past the “employee only” chain. No promises of great rewards, though. That’s up to Billy.

Billy Welter’s favorite echeveria received from Altman Plants: what looks like Echeveria cante. One of his top 3 Altman-grown succulents, he says. This is mother plant. The five chicks are planted separately.

Crassula arborescens (silver dollar jade) in 14″ pot, obtained 20+ years ago from Altman Plants.

 

 

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Raise Your Garden blog: You NEED a cactus ~ Seven Reasons Why

Original story published by Raise Your Garden

May 28, 2019

Cacti are like all the unique people you know.

Many are tall and thin. Others are short and fat. Some are even bald. And if provoked, all can sting with those prickly spines!

The spunky shapes, sizes and spines lure me into the cacti world.

Many thanks to Altman Plants for providing the cacti and succulents for this post. Altman Plants are dreamy.

​Now you want to know about the googly eyes. Okay, that’s all my mom. Who else is gonna find you goggly eyes with eyelashes?

But I digress. Pardon all my silliness.

So saddle up your horses, let’s go all wild west today and slash into some cacti facts!

Just a little bit about Altman Plants before we get started….

I appreciate how Altman Plants sends you a plant even nicer than the one shown in the “stock” images used on their website. Altman Plants do not disappoint.

And they won’t be dead in a week either because they are weak plants!

​So to answer your question; yes…they will survive!

​Altman Plants sent me a variety of succulents and cacti for my reclaimed driftwood planters last year and those plants are still thriving.

Especially the two cacti! And we’ve had a very harsh winter.

The size of the 3.5 inch pots is pretty sweet, too. You are getting a good sized plant  considering just how slow cacti tend to grow!

Located in Vista, California, Altman Plants were shipped straight across the country to Buffalo, NY. Talk about a long journey.

On the day of delivery we were slammed with a massive snow storm. White-out driving conditions. Zero visibility. Frigid temps.

​And the plants arrived in pristine condition. Way to go Altman Plants!

And kudos to that poor UPS guy who nearly blew away delivering the package. In retrospect, I wish I sent him on his way with a cup of hot cocoa. He earned it!

1.) All cactus are succulents & succulents are hot now

All cacti are succulents. But not all spiny succulents are cacti. Feel free to check the veracity of this statement but it is true. 

So you can’t use the term cacti and succulent interchangeably. 

Succulents are plants that store water and nutrients in their leaves, stems and even roots. Sixty different plant families boast ties to this succulent group including aloe, haworthia, sedum, sempervivum and cacti. 

Cacti are fleshy plants that store water making them a succulent. But they usually do not have branches or true leaves.

Cactuses ability to retain water helps them survive periods of drought. The spongy tissues of their thick, fleshy stems can hold water during the rainy season. 

It forces the water down into the roots.

So cactus spines are actually modified “leaves” and it is the stalk that performs photosynthesis.
 
But for a succulent to be considered a cactus, the plant must have areoles. 

2.) Speaking of those areoles…

Areoles are small, round, cushion-like mounds of plant flesh where spines, hair, leaves, flowers, and more grow from the cactus. Areoles are only present on cacti, not all succulents.

To the human eye, areoles look like a tiny patch of cotton. The areoles are arranged in clusters separated by areas of spineless skin.  Each areole usually bears multiple spines.

Sometimes these spine clusters are arranged in rows along raised ridges, as in barrel cacti and saguaro.

A few succulents get mistaken for cacti because they have thorns or spines, but these traits do not automatically qualify a succulent as a cactus.

All cacti have areoles. No other plant besides cacti have areoles. So checking a plant to see whether the plant has areoles is the only real way to distinguish a cactus from other succulents.

The ‘Christmas Sleigh’ aloe succulent in the below left bottom photo shows great spines but no areoles. Their spines grow directly out of the plant tissue, therefore aloe is not a cactus.

To the bottom right is a ‘Hens and Chicks’ succulent plant. Again, if you squint, you can see those fun spikes at the tip of the “leaves”. No areole though. So not a cactus either.

The back plant is an echeveria ‘Neon Breakers’ succulent. Tough to see those spiny spikes but I assure you they exist! But no areoles, so again, not a cactus.

So it’s the areoles that are the defining feature. Without areoles, the succulent can’t be a cactus.

The size of the spines on the areoles vary from species to species but can be as long as 15 cm. Yikes! Don’t touch.

Spines help protect the plant from the sun while reducing evaporation. They also provide a multitude of surfaces where dew can condense at night, supplying extra water.

Spines can even condense moisture in the air so that it drips onto the ground, providing the plant with water.

Some cactus spines are light in color which help them reflect the most sunlight all the while keeping the plant cool in the desert.

Spines also protect the plant from birds and other predators who only go after the cactus for water! ​

3.) How do you make cactus plural or it is plural already?

Cacti is the Latin plural of cactus. Cactuses is the English plural. But most dictionaries give the green light to both spellings so neither is right or wrong.

Latin is given lots of leeway on biological nomenclature. So Latin plurals are not considered out of place in botany and other scientific fields.

But are you ready for this one? Like other names of plants, sometimes cactusis can be considered the plural.

Fungus is like cactus and becomes fungi when made plural. Funguses sounds silly but is also grammatically correct.

But then again no one says octopi instead of octopuses. And you never hear viri instead of viruses. So why is it cacti instead of cactuses?

It’s a matter of preference. And right now the trend is to make it cacti, that’s why! So cacti has edged out cactuses as the plural.

 

4.) All cacti bloom and the blossom is breathtaking!

When I was researching this article, I thought to myself….could this possibly be true? That all cacti bloom?

Then I had to accept that just because not all my cacti have bloomed doesn’t mean they won’t bloom or can’t bloom.

​In fact, when I got my order from Altman Plants, the Mammillaria elegans (above photo) was in bloom.

​Blooms do fade quickly, but when another magenta flower emerges on this globular cactus with dense white spines and white wool, your heart will flutter.

I get a new bloom or two nearly every day!

Just below shows off the satiny creamy yellow flowers on a Mammillaria gracilis fragilis, or more aptly named “Thimble cactus.”

Tiny globular bodies are densely covered with white radial spines resembling…you guessed it, a thimble. Very sharp too!

Blooming Fast Fact!

Flowers originate from the areoles of the cactus. Usually funnel-shaped with a flaring mouth, most blooms have a large but indefinite number of stamens- often more than 50! 
 

When I acquired a ‘Rose Quartz’ “Peanut Cactus” (shown in the below photo) I had no idea it would bloom for me. So when five blooms appeared one day as shown in the below photo, I nearly fainted with joy.

Magnificent, bright red blooms with feminine petals will steal the show. 

​Overall the blooms are short-lived, but when they appear you feel like you won the lottery. And if you think I’m referring to the lottery that I never play you would be correct.

But it is the colors of the flowers that will boggle your mind the most. Bright reds, yellows and pinks burst in size. Many are humongous in comparison to the size of the plant making the display that more eye-popping!

It’s possible for some cactus flowers to bloom for a few days, but in my experience most come and go within a 24 hour period passing their prime.

Other cacti bloom only at night and these nocturnal special get pollinated by bats (eek)  and other nocturnal insects and animals.

5.) The real deal on water & cacti

The natural water reservoir is the most famous feature of the cactus plant. I read that a cactus devotes over 90% of its inside body parts to handling, circulating and building up supplies of water. Whoa.

As a kid, I  still have all these memories of cacti in cartoons getting slashed open and the hero being miraculously saved by drinking the water within.

And while it’s true this fluid has saved several lives of a few individuals in dire, desert regions, it’s a thick substance; not clear.

Just like those old wild west movies, the hero gains access to the liquid by scratching the cactus or creating a hole with a handy ax. The water gushes out! Nope. Not reality.

But due to the way cacti carry out photosynthesis,  the water in a cactus is generally not potable. Moisture within the pulp of a cactus is acidic and many cacti contain toxic alkaloids.

So if you find yourself stranded in the desert without water, drinking the cactus water may save your life but it could also make you sick and cause additional dehydration, and that alone will kill you.

​Stick with your coconut water!

“Old Man of the Andes” hysterical Fast Fact

Groom woolly hairs on your “Old Man of the Andes” cactus like you would your own! Providing that you have wooly hair to groom.

​When hair becomes matted, carefully “shampoo” it in weak, soapy water (not detergent) solution and rinse thoroughly, combing out any excess soap.

Maybe while shampooing you could provide your senior citizen cactus  the latest AARP edition for a little distraction? Just saying…. 

6.) Cacti are literally showing their spunky, spiny selves everywhere!

Clothing, cupcakes, cards and on all the covers of magazines….we are being bombarded with cacti. And why not?

It’s the year of the cactus. Time for the spine to shine.

While feverishly checking out at the grocery store this week, the cupcakes featured on a magazine cover distracted me and contributed to my tying up the line.

Not to mention the succulent/cacti Valentine’s Day card my mom sent me. Not throwing that one away!

​My son’s clothes. Yep. They have cacti on them! Wild little man.

​Cacti salt and pepper shakers? Tell me you have a set!

And surely you have seen all the cacti bedding? As long as the sheets don’t come with thorns attached, I’m all in!

You want to ride this trend while it’s hot, hot, hot.

​And please don’t tell me that you’ve never sampled cactus candy? Okay, how about cactus jelly? 

7.) Long live the cactus!

If treated right, cactus can live anywhere from decades to well over 300 years. So you better have a name in mind in your will! Who gets you cacti plants?

​To encourage more blooms, you need to foster periods of blossom and rest in your cactus.

In its growing phase, the cactus wants direct sunlight, high temps, high humidity, and proper watering for growth to occur.

​When in dormancy, keep cacti in a place with lower temperature and humidity and water no more than once a week. Likely less!

Your basement is actually a good spot in winter providing you have one and it doesn’t get too cold (50-55 degrees.)

Tallest cactus? 66 feet. Shortest cactus? One centimeter.

You want the truth? I don’t care how black you think your thumb is: anyone can grow a cactus as long as you don’t overwater it.

Depending on where you live, they can be grown indoors or out. I grow mine indoors and let them bask in the summer sun when May hits all through September on my patio.

The “Peruvian Old Lady” is a unique and interesting cactus. Aptly named, this cactus appears to be covered in gray hair, but underneath it all are some very stiff thorns!

Since I’m growing my “Peruvian Old Lady” cactus indoors, I can only expect it to grow about 10 inches in a ten year period. But if grown in the wild, some can grow 7 feet tall.

The nocturnal, white flowers are rare and stretch about two inches wide.  Berry-like fruits are produced with edible dull black seeds inside. Who’s hungry? 

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