The interest in cactaceae, plants considered strange and coming mainly from the American continent, developed in Europe towards the middle of the seventeenth century.
In general we can say that they are fleshy vegetables that have adapted to survive in areas characterized by rather dry soils or extreme climates or with a high concentration of salt.
This adaptation is represented by the ability to store water in the leaves in the thorns and in the roots. The leaves, to prevent water loss through evaporation, are often covered with wax or hair.
The habitats of origin are very varied: they range from sea level up to several thousand meters of altitude. They are able to quickly absorb the rain water, but some can survive even thanks to the morning dew.
For this type of plant the accumulation of water, its storage and the consequent physical transformations are a matter of life and death.
If the cultivation of these plants is undertaken, they will soon be caught and quickly become big fans. A great advantage is that they do not require a lot of space and relatively little care, which however must be constant.
Succulents can belong to different botanical families; among the main ones we remember the Cactaceae, the Agavaceae, the Aloaceae, the Crassulaceae. They are plants that in nature typically develop on pre-desert soils, characterized by periods of extreme drought to which periods of intense rain are contrasted, and with a temperature range of several degrees between day and night. Others live in the tropical forests of Africa or Asia, in this case they prefer more humid and less bright environments.
For some categories of succulent plants, such as Cactaceae, the leaves are replaced by thorns: in this way the area of exposure to the sun is minimized, reducing the risk of drying out. Hairy areolas develop around the stem of the plant, and the flowers grow attached to the stem. The roots are able to penetrate the ground for meters, looking for water sources. Flowering generally occurs in the spring-summer period, but it may take a few years for the plant to grow before it produces flowers.
Succulents can live well in an apartment, and in areas with a mild climate in Southern Italy they can be kept outdoors; thanks to their extreme adaptability, a modest maintenance is sufficient to obtain good results. It is important that the plant has plenty of light and that the temperature never drops below 5-7 °; the waterings must be rather scarce; It is preferable to use a porous and draining soil, and it is important to avoid water stagnation that would lead to the decay of the roots.
The Cactaceae family, probably the best known, actually contains almost 3,000 different species: some of them are small, even a few centimeters in diameter, and have a globose, collected appearance; others have an upright, columnar habit. Among the species currently known, the tallest cactus is the Pachycereus Pringlei, with a maximum height of about 20 meters and a weight that can reach 25 tons.
Echinocactus Also known as the Pillow of Mother-in-law, its Greek name means Cactus Riccio, as it has a cylindrical shape entirely covered with thorns, which run along the lateral ribs of the plant. Its dimensions can reach a diameter of 90 cm. This plant is able to withstand rather well the cold, bearing even slightly below freezing temperatures; for this reason it is not uncommon to find echinocactus exposed on the balconies even in winter, in the plains of Northern Italy.
Opuntia is one of the most famous succulents, as it produces a widespread edible fruit, the Prickly Pear. It is native to Central America. It does not have a real stem but a supporting apparatus consisting of cladodes, more commonly called "pale", with a flattened ovoid shape, which we could compare to the branches of the plant; they are covered with a waxy layer that prevents transpiration, so that the plant can keep its water supply intact. The flowers are yellow or yellow-orange, very showy.
It is said that the Aztecs, in order to identify the place where to build their settlements, had to spot an eagle perched on a cactus. The legend says that this sign was sighted on a small island in a lake, where in 1325 the capital of the kingdom Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) was built: the cactus in question was precisely the Opuntia, whose fruit is still depicted on the flag of the Mexican Republic.
It is a plant native to the desert of Central America; the particularity of these plants consists in the fact that, in general, they give rise to a single flowering in the course of their life, following which they bear fruit and then die. They have very large, fleshy lanceolate leaves with spiny margins; they can be entirely green, or with a central ivory-white streak (Agave Striata), or even with two yellow lateral streaks (Agave Marginata).
This plant, native to Africa, is generally raised outdoors also because it can reach significant dimensions. However, the plant fears temperatures below 5 ° C, therefore in cold areas it must be sheltered during the winter. The leaves are arranged in a rosette, but some varieties have a central stem; in spring-summer it gives rise to a flowering supported by a long central stem: the flowers are usually red-orange or yellow, collected in a sloping, tubular inflorescence.
Aloe has always been known for its therapeutic properties: the Egyptians called it "plant of immortality", and apparently it was placed near the entrance of the pyramids to accompany the Pharaohs on their way to the Kingdom of the Dead. The Assyrians used it for digestive and depurative properties, while the Mayans extracted the juice for the treatment of headaches. Even today, the plant is used in pharmacies for its analgesic, restorative and purifying properties, as well as in cosmetology due to its moisturizing, disinfectant and soothing properties.
This plant, of medium size and with leaves arranged in a rosette around a central nucleus, is one of the most widespread on balconies and terraces even of those with little green thumb, as it is easy to grow. Depending on the species, the foliage can be smooth, more or less fleshy, or covered with a down, with color ranging from deep green to bluish-gray; in general it does not have sharp spines, in some specimens the termination of the leaves is rather pungent.
Even the reproduction of this succulent occurs with extreme ease, it may be sufficient simply to lightly stick it into the soil, preferably peat and sand, the basal part of a leaf detached from the mother plant, and keep it moist; within a short time, roots will originate from the base of the leaf, and the seedling can continue to live even without being transplanted - although transplantation is still advisable as a matter of space.
In the Blossfeldian variety, it is one of the fat plants more decorative for coloring, as it repeatedly produces numerous small flowers in shades of red, pink, yellow or orange. The plant reaches an average height of 30 cm, it is rather resistant to pest attacks, on the other hand it needs a rather high temperature, it is good to never go below 12-15 °.
It is a very decorative plant thanks to its colorful and showy trumpet-shaped flowers, which are born at the end of what we could call the branches of the plant, green and flat protuberances that originate from the trunk. The plant does not actually have leaves, and unlike the other cactaceae it does not even have spines. It needs a lot of humidity, and for flowering it is important to spend the winter at a temperature of 7-10 ° and without artificial light.
The fat plants they can be placed in individual vases or become part of a composition. If you live in particularly mild areas you can instead think of putting them directly in the garden.
Succulents are plants that love the sun and heat. This means that the best exposure is to the south, but those to the southeast and southwest can also be fine.
During the rest period they must be moved to a cool place, but still very bright. At the end of the frosts, depending on the geographical area from February to April, it is necessary to transfer them outside, but not immediately in full sun. Leave them for about ten days in a very bright area in the morning, but shaded in the afternoon. This step is very important because sudden changes in temperature and exposure could cause leaf burns.
Giving a general recipe for all succulents is very difficult because, as we have said, they come from very different habitats and consequently the ideal substrate could be completely different.
The basis of the cultivation of these plants however surely lies in giving them an always optimal drainage. In fact, it cannot stand having its roots in a wet or even wet environment. The most immediate consequence will be the appearance of rot on the root system or at the base of the stems. At that point most of the time any intervention turns out to be vain.
On the bottom of the pot, or on the ground, it will therefore be necessary to prepare a deep draining layer made of fine gravel, small shards or clay beads.
On the market there are usually molds specially designed for cacti and you can easily use them.
If, however, we want to make ourselves the substrate ourselves to have an ideal mixture we will have to compose it in this way:
1/3 of universal soil, 1/3 of fine sand, 1/3 of garden soil or peat
The sand will give the mixture the porosity necessary for the life of the succulents, but we must avoid soils that are too heavy or composed of a peat that retains too much water.
Once the pot is made, its surface will be covered with fine gravel or small pebbles. In addition to the decorative aspect they have the advantage of preventing the water from moving the light soil. They also isolate the leaves from the surface of the soil allowing them to collect heat and store it, while the roots remain cool.
Succulents do not need bulky pots to grow well. Indeed, too much soil could be a cause of water accumulation and humidity at the level of the roots.
First of all, containers that are too deep should be avoided. We always check that there are one or more drain holes in the bottom.
In general, terracotta or natural material vases are preferred. These in fact allow (unlike plastic) perspiration and consequently there will be less danger of stagnation.
Unless we live in areas characterized by rather warm winters, it is good to place the succulents and cacti in the garden, keeping them in pots so that, with the arrival of the cold season, it is easier to extract them without disturbing the root system and place them away from frost.
We insert the vase in the ground being careful to keep the collar off the ground. Also in this case covering the surrounding area with gravel or stones can be very useful and can make the setting more pleasant.
Many think that the succulent plants do not need irrigation. This is a wrong concept. Some better endure prolonged dryness, others cannot do without periodic interventions.
However, it is certainly true that they rarely die due to lack of fluids. On the contrary, they are very often hit by rot for too frequent interventions.
The irrigations must therefore take place with a certain regularity, but they must be very light. If we see that the leaves bend and that the plant in general assumes a prostrate bearing we can be sure that it needs water. However, let the earth in the container dry completely between two irrigations.
We always avoid using saucers, which are extremely harmful for this type of plants.
During the rest period (ie from autumn to early spring), the water will have to be limited even more. In general, no action is taken more than once a month.
As we have said, all these vegetables come from dry regions and with dry soils, but this does not mean that they are devoid of nutritional elements; therefore, even when they are grown in pots, they need a constant supply of micro and macronutrients.
Usually it is intervened during the vegetative period (from April to September) administering monthly a specific fertilizer for cacti.
A period of dormancy is absolutely essential because there is a good development of the plant and, above all, because it can be seen to flourish.
The ideal place must be fresh and dry. In this period the greatest danger is represented by an environment that combines cold and humidity. This can cause frost in the root system.
Most succulents fail to spend the winter outside, except in extremely southern regions of our country. In general, we say that, to avoid risk, you should keep them in environments where temperatures do not fall below 12 ° C.
|PESTS FAT PLANTS|
|Red spider mite||They occur in case of too sunny exposures and excessive dryness of the air.||Increase humidity through nebulisations and distribute a specific acaricide|
|Cochineal||Very common, especially in plants kept indoors||Use systemic insecticides and possibly mineral oil|
|Slugs and snails||Frequent on young plants and during spring and autumn|| Traps with beer|
They should be repotted every three years. This practice is useful for changing the soil, but also for stimulating and favoring vegetative growth and therefore is implemented as a rule at the beginning of spring.
The growth of these plants is usually quite slow, so the new container should not have a diameter much larger than the previous one. Generally two or four cm (at most!) Will be sufficient. Always remember the risk of rotting related to containers that are too large.
To handle the plants, which often have sharp spines, it is advisable to wear gloves for roses or temporarily cover their hair with cardboard or foam.
Once the specimen is removed, we will gently remove as much earth as possible from near the roots. We recompose the jar and press lightly around the base to lightly compact the substrate and make it more stable. We pay close attention to the area of the collar that absolutely must never be buried.
At the end of the procedure it is necessary to wait a few days before watering for the first time to leave time for the roots to adapt to the new environment.
To make the succulents grow uniformly it is good to intervene from time to time by giving them a quarter turn. In fact, the parts most exposed to the sun develop the most and this in the long run would compromise the posture.
Furthermore, the succulent plants fear dust. This, accumulating, can prevent them from breathing and above all can significantly reduce the amount of available light.
They should therefore be cleaned regularly using a small brush or brush with very soft bristles.
|PROBLEMS CAUSED BY CULTURAL ERRORS|
|fusarium||Cryptogams at the level of the roots, too much humidity||Clean up and use specific curative products|
|Gray collar mold||Too much moisture and poor drainage||Clean up the collar, change the substrate, administer specific fungicides|
|Internal rots||Poor drainage and too many irrigations||Clean the substrate, disinfect|
|Yellow spots, burns||Too much light after winter rest||Move the plant to a more sheltered area|
The flowering of these vegetables represents a magical moment for those who take care of them daily. We remind you that most of the times it happens in spring and that, for it to happen, it is essential that there was a period of vegetative rest first, therefore with lower temperatures and scarce irrigation.
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