Deb Babcock: Cacti, succulents require minimal care

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

The appeal of cacti and succulents often lies in the unusual, and otherworldly, shapes of these plants. That and the fact that in Steamboat Springs homes, they thrive in low humidity environments.

Succulent plants, which include cacti, are those that are able to store moisture in the fleshy tissue of their stems, roots and leaves, or have developed some characteristics that help them reduce water loss in a harsh environment.

The natural environments of these plants range from the snow-covered slopes of the high mountains to the arid deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and the Colorado plains, to the humid jungles of the Amazon.

Originally, cacti only grew in the Americas while other succulents were native to many regions including Europe, Asia and Africa. Today, however, we can find cacti and succulents most everywhere as explorers and world travelers have transported these plants out of their native environments so all can enjoy them.

In your home, cacti require the sunniest exposure you can provide - probably a south- or west-facing window.

Learn a little about your plant so that you understand its needs with regard to soil and watering. Succulents that grow in an environment such as a rain forest will need soil with much more organic material than those plants native to the desert and plains.

As for watering, use less in the winter, and during the spring through fall growing season, water sparingly. Remember, these plants are adapted to low moisture environments. Cacti only need fertilization a few times a year at half strength; slightly more for other succulents.

Cutting or dividing a succulent is a quick way to share your plant and increase your stock of plants. The best time to do this is in the spring when the plant starts active growth. Cut or break off a leaf or stem, let it air dry until a callus has formed over the wound, and then place it in slightly moist cactus potting mix and set in partial shade until some sprouts appear.

If they are properly cared for, pest problems should be minimal to nonexistent. Those that could appear may include scale, mealybugs, whiteflies or spider mites. Use cotton swabs dipped in alcohol to wipe off the first two bugs. For whiteflies and spider mites, try an insecticide or miticide. Because the leaves of many succulents tend to repel water, use a solution to drench the roots, weekly for three to four weeks. Always follow label directions.

Before she moved from the area, Master Gardener Camille Fisher compiled a list of common succulents that grow well in Routt County homes. These include the jade plant (Crassula arborescens), snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), medicine plant (Aloe barbadensis), century plant (Agave americana), and the flowering Kalanchoes (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana).

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), and Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) are common cacti found in our homes. Another cactus, the Cereus, also known as Midnight blooming cactus, grows well inside our homes.

If you need a houseplant that's interesting to look at but needs minimal care, consider succulents.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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