Saturday, September 10, 2016

$100 Garden

We had a great time at the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA) Inter-City Show. Exhibitors from Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Gabriel Valley showcased their potted plants. There were CSSA members from as far as Fresno (a 3.5 hour drive). They got together and chartered a bus!
These are the beauties we brought home
It took some time to investigate more about each of these plants.  I'm going to tell you about each of the 13 plants I bought, in an effort to better understand them myself.  We spent $100 at the CSSA show to bring these plants home.  I spent a bit more on larger clay pots and some cactus & succulent specific potting soil to create a home for each of them.  I'm interspersing this story with some of the blue-ribbon winning specimen from the CSSA show, which tangentially relate to the plants I bought.

The spikey green plant in the upper left corner of my box is a bromeliad (Dutericonia brevifolia), affectionaly called 'The Dude' due to its Latin name.  'The Dude' likes full sun, regular water in summer, no water in winter.

The next two members of the top row in my box from left to right are a cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) commonly called 'Moon Cactus' and a succulent (Pleisopilos nelii) 'Royal Flush.' These two are currently sitting in front of my computer screen.  The 'Moon Cactus' is actually orange due to a lack of chlorophyll (the green pigment in leaves) so it cannot tolerate direct sunlight especially in summer, also not frost-tolerant and detests humidity during winter.  'Royal Flush' needs a deeper pot to accommodate its taproot, full sun, and weekly watering in late summer to early fall, so I've got to find a place for it either at school or outdoors in the yard.

The cactus in the upper right corner is (Opuntia basilaris) 'Beaver Tail' which is blue in color and may be allergenic for some people.  It needs maximum light exposure in full sun. Below it is a succulent (Crassula perforata) called 'Giant Buttons on a String' or 'Pagoda Plant.'  This plant can be grown between windows, which is an interesting idea.  Bright light brings out red tones, adaquate water will ensure the leaves do not shrive unduly.  A relative is in the lower left corner, Crassula rupestris sometimes called 'Tom Thumb' or 'Jade Neckalace.'  Due to its compact leaves, this variety can be good in miniature gardens.  Thrives in a shallow pot for years.  Needs water year-round and full-sun to stay compact.

The middle row has a purple-hued plant at the far left, between 'The Dude' and 'Tom Thumb.' This succulent is a variety of Echeveria called 'Cubic Frost' that forms fleshy, somewhat square, recurved leaves in frosty lilac-pink with blue-green centers. It may eventually produce bell-shaped flowers in orange, which would provide nectar for pollinators.  Echeverias need bright light to prevent "stretching," grows slowly, and tolerates thorough watering so long as soil is quick draining.

The two cacti in the middle may look like they are related, but in fact they have little in common. The wavy one is called Echinocereus melanocentrus and is native to Texas.  It needs blasting sun and a wide pot, requiring more moisture than true desert cacti to grow and produce flowers.  It is a tiny cactus, most likely will not grow taller than 1 foot and wider than 4 inches.  The other cactus in the middle of the box is called Opuntia microdasys 'Bunny Ears' and is native to central Mexico.  It needs a good amount of light and is sensitive to overwatering.  It has a few other funny names including angel's-wings and polka-dot cactus.  Although slow growing, it may eventually form a dense shrub, under 2 feet in height.  
The last cactus in the box is perhaps the most fascinating. It has an unassuming spherical shape barely protruding from the ground, green, up to 2 inches in diameter. It is called Pygmeaocereus bieblii, a name which hints towards its diminutive size. In dry months, its stem retracts and dives under the ground. It is only in wet periods that these plants become visible as they absorb moisture and swell.  Its spines look more like warts or insects rather than spikes, and it is native to Peru.

The plant in the bottom right corner is a succulent (Sempervivum) sometimes referred to as 'Hen and Chicks.'  It needs full sun, although cannot tolerate heat, therefore tolerates shade.  It takes little water and could rot if watered too often.  The other two plants I have not yet discussed, unfortunately have perished.  In the course of one month, I let the plants sit indoors for 2 weeks, the moved some of them outside for 2 weeks.  I didn't water them for 2 weeks, watered them once, and then let them sit for two weeks.  Fenestraria aurantiaca 'Baby Toes' and Lithops karasmontan v. Summitatum 'Living Stones' pretty much shriveled up and I believe them to be dead now.  Maybe it was a lack of sun in the first 2 weeks.  Maybe they needed more water.  Now I know why the woman at the CSSA show was admiring her colleagues work so much.  You really appreciate the "green thumb" of another gardener after you've experienced a failure in your own garden.

One challenge I'm having now is that when I water some plants, the hose drips on others.  Some plants are intolerant of winter watering, so I have to make a water-free area for them.  Also, I put some plants in what I believed to be the sunniest part of the yard, only to come home and see that the shade-loving plants were in the sun and the sun-loving plants were in the shade.  I think the important lesson to learn is patience and forgiveness when things grow slowly and sometimes challenges arise that you've already missed the opportunity to solve.  In conclusion, that's what $100 buys you at the CSSA inter-city show.

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