It is that time of year. Many of those residing in the Southwest will see magnificent stalks starting to form in the middle of their agave plants. From that stalk will come gorgeous flowers and eventually seed pods. The agave plant has been storing sugars for years to make enough energy for the final flowering show. The stored sugars in agave are the raw fuel of tequila and certainly a topic for another blog post unto itself………….
Agave are monocarpic which means they die after flowering. Succulents in the yucca family do not die after flowering and flowering can be every 1-3 years depending on weather conditions.
Fortunately many species of agave “pup” and form a colony of clones around the mother plant. These clones continue to grow and will eventually bloom themselves. There are also agaves that do not “pup” at all. Enjoy the show everyone!
That’s just an absurd premise one might say. A 150 year old saguaro getting a sunburn? A rugged barrel cactus getting a sun burn? Your latest home depot cactus you just planted getting a sun burn? Your dish garden sitting in your window getting a sunburn? Yes! All of these circumstances are possible.
Let’s think about the sentinel of the Sonoran desert. The mighty saguaro. Starting from seed, growing tall and mighty against the relentless Southern Arizona sun. From an installation perspective, the saguaros we harvest have to be directionally marked prior to being dug up for resale. We must keep the North-South orientation correct because if the orientation is not true upon planting we will get a sun burned saguaro. The reason is that the South and West sides of the plant receive much more direct sun than the East and North sides of the plant. The Southern side gets the most sun while the Northern side of the plant receives the least amount of sun. The Southern and Western sides of the saguaro have become hardened off to our relentless Southern Arizona sun while the East and North sides are much “softer”. The same rules apply for barrel cacti, columnar cacti and even if you rotate your dish garden sitting in your window.
The cacti and succulents you can buy at a typical big box store can burn for another reason. They were grown “soft”. This simply means that the plants were grown under shade cloth and are not accustomed to the full sun. There are a few ways to deal with a “soft” cactus. The first is to buy your cacti from us because our plants are hard grown in the Southern Arizona sun! The second is to plant a “soft” succulent or cactus in the Fall and let the plant gradually become accustomed to the increased strength and duration of the sunlight. If you must plant a softly grown cactus in the summer be prepared to put 30% shade cloth over it until the Fall to prevent burning.
What does a cactus sunburn look like? The nice green flesh of the cactus will turn lite green. Then yellow and then white in its’ most severe form. Sunburn is not a terminal condition but you will be left with significant scarring in the affected area for many years.
How much do I water my cactus or succulent in a pot inside my home or office? This is one of the most frequent questions we receive from our customers. The answer is so simple. The answer is, it depends.
Many of our customers are cacti container gardeners out of necessity. There are few areas of the country where you can grow cacti in the ground with out freezing them or drowning them. The watering instructions included below are for folks who have cacti in containers in their home or office.
My general rule for indoor potted cacti is to give them a thorough soak every 4-6 weeks. You do want to see a bit of drainage out of the bottom of the pot. Cacti can use a bit more water than most people realize but the key is to LET THE SOIL DRY OUT thoroughly before you water again. Consistently moist soil will rot your cacti and succulents quickly. The best instrument to gauge soil moisture is a moisture meter which can be purchased inexpensively through Amazon. A wooden dowel plunged down to the bottom of the pot works as well. If the dowel comes up dry the soil is dry. Do not water unless your instrument is telling you the soil is completely dry.
You may find that during very cold weather outside that you need to water your cacti more inside. The heat is cranking in your home drying out the air and drying out the soil in your containers faster. As the weather gets warmer, in most areas of the country, the air will become more humid. You may be watering less frequently as a result. If you are uncertain about watering your cacti indoors always hedge to letting the container dry out more rather than watering more. Many more cacti and succulents are killed with over watering than under watering.
So the bottom line when asked about watering cacti and succulents in containers is that it depends!