Finally, planting cactus!

This past Saturday morning I was really excited to get outside and do some work in the garden. I wasn't able to get out there as early as I had hoped to, and when I did it was more difficult to get started than I expected.

Oh, it's not that my enthusiasm was waning. No, my problem was choosing the right project to start with on what I expected to be a long day in the heat.


For instance, did I want to start with some weeding, a task that is long overdue in some beds?

Look at all of the pokeweed seedlings!

Or did I want to finally fix this floppy bamboo?

Or maybe this one, where the new culms keep getting weighed down by the heavy rains:

There's plenty of planting left to do too, with a few new beds just waiting for plants -- the cactus beds:

The new bed extension next to the driveway (which I'm pretty sure I never told you about) needs some plants too:

In the end I decided that planting the cactus beds would be the first task of the day. I'm tired of having all of those pots on the deck, and of seeing these bare mounds of soil. To be honest, I've been dreading this task a bit too, as I know tweezers will be required at some point.

Beds waiting to be planted with cactus. Nice that I didn't move
the hose before taking a photo, and left loose bricks around. Beautiful!

Just carrying all of the pots from the deck and the driveway over to this side of the yard took a bit of effort and time (8 trips I believe), but it was a nice warmup. Here are all of the morning's subjects:

There are several Opuntia varieties, a few unknown cactus grown from seed, some Agaves, a Yucca, and a Cholla. Where to begin?

I decided to start with this guy, Opuntia aurea ‘Coombe’s Winter Glow’:

It didn't really want to grow upright in the pot, falling over after it got top-heavy with new growth and staying that way. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be this lazy, but it's a bit late to change it. See the missing chunk of pot? That cracked off a month ago when I was picking the pot up to move it. If you've never had a pot break in your hand and fall (even just a few inches) to the ground, you should try it. It's quite a rush, especially when carrying a cactus!

I should point out that the plant tags although wonderful when new were no longer helpful:

Anything exposed to the sun had faded to invisibility. As you can see "Winter Glow" is visible because it was below the soil line, but everything else was gone. Good thing I have a blog to use as a record of what each of these plants is, right?  (My favorite plant tags are vinyl window shade blinds labeled with pencil. They never fade.)

So back to this first plant:

It took a while to get into the ground, and I decided that it would be planted on the back of the mound so it could lay down yet still be somewhat upright. After that one, the rest were "easy".

Oh, I didn't take photos of each of these as I fought with them to get them out of the pots. It was tough enough with the leather gloves on, with glochids sneaking through some of the seams... not to mention the occasional elbow or arm brush against a plant. Oh, and it was late morning now in the full sun, and reaching 90 humid degrees. Stopping to pick up the camera isn't always an option.

It's worth mentioning my trick in getting the plants out of the pots. One bad thing about clay pots is that roots can really grab onto the porous surface, making it difficult to get the plants out. My technique was to:
  • Grab the plant with my left hand near its base, or just let the pads go between my fingers when possible
  • Turn the plant upside down, so my fingers or part of my hand are still touching the edge of the pot. These pots were small enough that this was possible
  • Take a blunt stick and push it into the drainage hole. Most of these pots had a wire screen over the drainage hole, so there was something to push against without driving the stick straight into the soil. My left hand put pressure on the pot from the other side. The idea is to help push the whole root/soil mass free of the pot.
  • If it didn't pop out, I'd shake the whole thing downward a few times while pushing. Sometimes that momentum helps to free things up.
If that didn't get the plant out, I would break the pot if it were small, damaged, or nothing special -- these are cheap clay pots.

I did break some pots.

For bigger pots or something I just didn't want to break, I'd take a bare hacksaw blade and run it around the inside of the pot to loosen the roots:

Then I'd turn the pot over and repeat the steps above. This usually worked, although it would also result in extra soil falling out when I turned the plant over.

Since I thought the bed would be boring with just Opuntia in it, I interspersed my five remaining cactus seedlings:

Well, they're not really seedlings anymore, are they?

This Opuntia macrocentra started having a little trouble with rot, and the pads above the "anchor" pad helped by putting out their own roots:

Pretty cool!

I'll show that bed all planted up in a minute, but after the cactus -- which went in two of the four beds -- I put my Yucca 'nana' and my Cylindropuntia leptocaulis ("Christmas Cholla") in the next bed:

I have high hopes for this tiny Yucca 'nana'. It's already starting
to spread! I want to have a big colony of this here someday.

My three remaining Agave (out of the six or seven that I originally had?) went into the fourth bed:

They look ridiculously small on this big mound of soil, but hopefully in a few years it won't look so sparse.

So here's the cactus bed (as usual, click to enlarge photos):

Sorry about the glaring sun, but I couldn't help it. I went back and got another photo in the morning:

This "first job of the day" turned out to be the only job of the day. After finishing this I went inside to cool off, shower, and eat -- I had been out there for about 2.5 hours straight -- and decided to rest for a little while before heading back outside.

My unintended dozing was interrupted by the sound of pouring rain, as the 20% chance of showers somehow turned into over an inch of water -- glad I didn't water those new plants in!

I'll take a closer look at these plants after they've settled in. I wonder if I'll get any additional growth now that they've got plenty of root space?

Note: not too bad on the glochids, but I was doing some tweezing out of my arm later in the day.


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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (June 25, 2013 at 11:06 AM)  

Yeah!!! I've been waiting for you to plant your cacti--see, your readers do keep track.

Imagine how stunning this bed will look when your opuntias are covered with flowers! But you still need a few Yucca rostrata to make your bed complete.

I agree with you on plant tags. Magic markers don't last even a year, pencil is the best in my experience as well.

Curbstone Valley Farm  – (June 25, 2013 at 7:36 PM)  

Ha! Your garden to-do lists read like mine. Endless! I am curious, when you broke the pot with the cactus in it, did you try to catch it, bare-handed? ;) I agree that maintaining a blog has been many a savior for the faded plant tag. I literally could not remember something I'd planted in the herb bed, and found the answer in one of my posts, thankfully. Your new cactus bed looks really good, I'll be interested to see how it grows!

danger garden  – (June 26, 2013 at 12:09 AM)  

Nice job! And those opuntia are going to go crazy...can't wait to see a photo next year.

Salty Pumpkin Studio  – (June 26, 2013 at 12:11 AM)  

Good work
Do you grow the Opuntia for the fruit or cook them?

Lisa  – (June 26, 2013 at 6:48 AM)  

Gosh - I re-potted one prickly pear (wearing gloves, mind you) and spent 20 minutes with the tweezers! So good job! Your cactus bed looks great!

Hoover Boo  – (June 26, 2013 at 2:35 PM)  

You had excellent root systems on those cacti, good growing! You also reminded me why I have almost zero cacti--the spines are just too lethal.

The Gardening Blog  – (June 27, 2013 at 4:39 AM)  

Hey - looks interesting. A cactus patch is more striking than one or two spread around the garden. This is going to be cool to watch grow!

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