Cultivation

Please note: We grow our plants and produce our seed without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. We are not “certified organic” due to a general dislike of excessive paperwork and perhaps some degree of mistrust of the regulatory process. What do we use to feed our plants? Foremost compost teas and EM microbial brews, kelp meal/extract, granitic rock dust, worm castings, mycorrhizal inoculents, and depending on the plant and its needs: alfalfa and neem meal, seabird and bat guano, and for some of our garden plants composted horse manure from a local source that uses only organic feed. We eschew such popular “organics” as blood, bone, and feather meal which are unsavory byproducts of industrial slaughterhouses, cotton and soybean meal which are byproducts of industrial agriculture often laden with pesticide residues, and fish emulsion/meal which are harvested from our oceans already depleted fisheries, an now possible sources of radiation! For organic gardening supplies see Peaceful Valley Farm Supply ( www.groworganic.com )

When your plants arrive:

When you receive your plants, unwrap from the packaging carefully and plant in the appropriate size pot in a moist, but not soggy, soil mix. They should be placed in a semi-shady spot for a day or two to help them acclimate to their new home. For most succulents watering should be less frequent at first until the plants have re-established their root system, at which time regular culture can commence. For leafy plants- water thoroughly after planting with kelp extract (for transplant shock).

Seeds

Unless noted otherwise, seed packets contain 15-50+ seeds. The seed count for tiny seed is usually in the hundreds. Seeds are guaranteed to arrive correctly labeled and in good condition. However, we offer no warranty when it comes to germination. Some of the seeds we offer are difficult and require specific conditions to germinate. Some may take several years to break dormancy and sprout. The responsibility is in your hands to provide these correct conditions. The majority of the cactus seed is freshly harvested from our stock plants and should have excellent germination. Treating seed with gibberellic acid or EM is found to increase germination in some species and is worth experimenting with.

Please keep track of the collection numbers some seeds and plants come with, this allows them to be traced to their geographical location in habitat. Well documented collections help in conserving genetic diversity, especially of rare and endangered species.

For online seed germination reference see Handbook of Seed Technology:http://www.bioversityinternational.org/index.php?id=19&user_bioversitypublications_pi1[showUid]=2162

Cold treatment (stratification) for seed

Some seeds need a period of moist and cold to germinate. The simplest method to cold stratify is to sow the seeds in pots outdoors in Autumn or Winter, the seeds will then sprout with the Spring or Summer warmth. Alternately, place the seeds in moistened sterile sand or coir in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 30-90+ days, then sow and gradually warm to sprout.

Plant seeds. Plant lots of seeds. Plant them without fear. Plant them with love.

 USDA Hardiness Zones

We have begun using the USDA Hardiness Zones in our plant descriptions for ease in delineating climate and minimum temperatures required. This should only be taken as a flexible guideline. There are many factors that determine a plant’s cold tolerance such as humidity, duration of cold, siting, plant maturity, etc. Many succulents can survive in colder zones if kept completely dry. Know your microclimate and consider each plant’s origin. Try growing a few plants that push the limits of your climate zone!

USDA Hardiness Zones and Average Annual Minimum Temperature Range

Z1= Below -50 F (Below -45.6 C)
Z2a = -50 to -45 F (-42.8 to -45.5 C)
Z2b = -45 to -40 F (-40.0 to -42.7 C)
Z3a = -40 to -35 F (-37.3 to -39.9 C)
Z3b = -35 to -30 F (-34.5 to -37.2 C)
Z4a = -30 to -25 F (-31.7 to -34.4 C)
Z4b = -25 to -20 F (-28.9 to -31.6 C)
Z5a = -20 to -15 F (-26.2 to -28.8 C)
Z5b = -15 to -10 F (-23.4 to -26.1 C)
Z6a = -10 to -5 F (-20.6 to -23.3 C)
Z6b = -5 to 0 F (-17.8 to -20.5 C)
Z7a = 0 to 5 F (-15.0 to -17.7 C)
Z7b = 5 to 10 F (-12.3 to -14.9 C)
Z8a = 10 to 15 F (-9.5 to -12.2 C)
Z8b = 15 to 20 F (-6.7 to -9.4 C)
Z9a = 20 to 25 F (-3.9 to -6.6 C)
Z9b = 25 to 30 F (-1.2 to -3.8 C)
Z10a = 30 to 35 F (1.6 to -1.1 C)
Z10b = 35 to 40 F (4.4 to 1.7 C)
Z11 = above 40 F (above 4.5 C)

For more zone info see – www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html

General Succulent Culture (Including Cacti)

Although many cacti and other succulents are exposed to full sun and often extended periods of drought in habitat, these conditions are not necessarily ideal growing conditions. Chances are that the conditions in which you will be growing them are quite different from the ones they evolved in. What follows is a general recommendation of cultural needs and comes from a number of years of closely observing and communing with plants grown in windowsills, porches, outdoor beds and greenhouses, as well as in their native habitats. This information should help you to establish your plants. It is then up to you to observe and alter cultural conditions as you see necessary to your growing environment. Many succulents are evolutionary extremes and are quite eager to keep evolving in new habitats. The majority of succulent plants are very easy to grow. They do best in a porous, well drained potting media. We recommend at least 30-40% agricultural pumice stone mixed with any good, well composted potting soil. Some potting soils may need larger particles sifted out. We have found pumice stone to be less compacting than sand when added to a commercial potting mix. It creates more air pockets in the soil which encourages healthy root growth and lessens the chance of rot. For those of you who live in desert areas, you may try growing your plants in native soil. A good potting mixture is 1/3 desert loam, 1/3 pumice, and 1/3 coarse sand. We know a number of lucky folks who use this mix, their plants thrive and have virtually no pest or rot problems. The presence of mycorrhizae and other beneficial organisms in the soil probably adds to the vigor and health of plants grown with this mix. Initially, it is best to plant your succulents in pots that are no more than 1″ greater diameter than the plants. They seem to develop healthy root systems faster in smaller pots and once established, you can increase the pot size as you like. Good ventilation is always appreciated, succulents do not do well in stale environments. Several hours a day of bright light is called for. Avoid intense all day sun, this can easily cook potted plants. Many of our plants are grown in greenhouses with 30-50% shadecloth and receive strong filtered light most of the day. Watering should be thorough and regular during warm weather. Make sure to completely drench the soil when watering, and let it approach dryness before watering again (this is usually every 3-5 days during Summer). Most succulents benefit from low nitrogen feeding during the growing season. We recommend and use only organic fertilizers, compost tea works wonders. We have found plants grown by organic methods to be much healthier and pest resistant. When cool weather comes during Fall, it is time to stop fertilizing and cut back severely on watering. This will induce dormancy in most plants, which is needed for flowering and robust growth of many species in the Spring. Depending on the plant, during Winter water infrequently, maybe once every month or two, just enough to keep the plant’s roots from dessicating. Though many plants are cold hardy, to be on the safe side keep succulents above 40° F. Most succulents are fairly pest-free, but occasionally experience outbreaks of scale, mealybugs, fungus gnats, etc. Again, we recommend and use only organic pest control methods. Life is too precious to be thoughtlessly handling and spraying the carcinogenic poisons that stock most nursery store shelves. They don’t just poison the bugs! If there is only a small pest problem it can usually be dealt with by hand, spraying pests off with a strong jet of water is surprisingly effective. Large infestations may call for biological control (predatory organisms) and as a last resort, and only if deemed completely necessary, organic pesticides. Insecticidal soap, neem-based products, etc. can be utilized safely if the package instructions are followed. Euphorbiacae and Aizoaceae may experience severe tissue burn from insecticidal soap and some Trichocereus cacti experience tissue damage from pyrethrins when applied and left on the plant during cool weather. Once you experience a heavy infestation of a particular pest, total eradication is nearly impossible and a waste of time. It is best to keep them in check by the necessary means and learn to live with small populations. Regular applications of EM (Effective Microorganisms, see resources ) and/or organic compost tea improves soil and plant health, while keeping disease and insects pests to a minimum, reducing the need for other pest control. Succulents are a little more prone to rot than most plants. If root or stem rot occurs, cut off the rotted tissue with a sharp sterilized blade and place the plant in a warm well-ventilated area to dry for several weeks. After a strong callous has formed, replant and water cautiously until the plant has re-rooted.

Cultivating Cacti from Seed

Many species of cacti are nearly extinct because of environmental destruction and over collection. This has led to the passing of the international CITES conservation laws, prohibiting the wild collection of most cactus species. Growing from seed is the only way now to obtain many of the rarer species, and doing so is one of the most practical means of safeguarding wild populations. Seed sowing also promotes genetic diversity which will give rise to desirable new character traits such as hardiness and rate of growth. Sowing seed now will create a living investment for future generations to inherit.

How to grow: Cacti are fun and easy from seed, but patience is required. For growing media we recommend a well composted soil mixed with 30-50% pumice stone. You may need to sterilize the mix. 20 minutes in the oven at 18° F should destroy any pathogens. Fill pots 3/4 full with the sterilized mix. Take a small amount and sift through 1/8″ mesh screen (a tea strainer works well). This fine mix will top your pots and be the medium your seeds rest on. Sprinkle cactus seed evenly over the soil surface. Larger seeds need to be tamped down by hand. Moisten thoroughly with a hand sprayer or place pots in a tray of water and wait until the soil surface moistens through capillary action. Secure plastic wrap over the pot with a rubber band to create a mini greenhouse environment. Most seeds will germinate best at 75-85° F. We have found placing the pots on heating mats with full spectrum fluorescent lights suspended 8″-10″ above them works exceptionally well for germination. Seeds sprout into little green blobs in as little as 3-4 days, though many take 2-4 weeks. If no germination takes place within this time, let the soil dry out completely for a few weeks, then moisten and try again. Some seed need this treatment. Remove plastic wrap a few weeks after germination and sprinkle a thin layer of pea gravel around the seedlings to help retain even soil moisture. It is critical that the soil remain moist but not soggy for the first 6 months or more. Water weekly with a hand sprayer or by placing pots in a tray of water. After the first few months, seedlings develop their species characteristics relatively quickly. They can stay crowded together in their pot for a year or two, after which they should be carefully transplanted into larger pots or individually into small pots. Eventually you can slowly expose them to outside conditions and regular cactus culture.

Grafting Guide

Grafting of a slower growing species onto a faster growing stock increases plant growth significantly. It is a viable means of quickly producing mature specimens for seed production and vegetative propagation. This illustrated guide covers all aspects of grafting, from week old seedlings to mature specimens. Includes tricks we have learned over the years that help make this valuable conservation technique accessible and practical. Focuses mainly on Cactaceae but coverage is given to Euphorbiaceae, Apocynaceae and other succulent families.
$9.00 postage paid.

Cultivation Notes On Specific Plant Species

(Check back, as we hope to expand and update this section)

Cactacae

Ariocarpus species

Because of their large taproots, Ariocarpus need a potting mix with excellent drainage. We recommend the mix consist of at least 50% pumice stone. A small addition of powdered limestone in the soil is beneficial. Make sure the pot you use for planting has drainage holes and is deep enough for the taproot. Don’t overpot. We have heard of some sources recommending these plants be watered only a tablespoon of water a month. We strongly discourage this. Though the plants may barely survive with this treatment, they will hardly grow or thrive. We recommend regular and thorough watering approximately once every 7-10 days during hot weather. Ariocarpus enjoy bright strong light and diluted fertilizing during summer, Ariocarpus agavoides is a little more sensitive to sunburn than other species and should be given a little more shade, During winter, plants should be kept dry and watered very minimally. A number of species are frost tolerant when dry but we recommend you keep them above 35° F. The brilliant blooms appear in late summer and continue through fall. We recommend hand pollination with a small paintbrush to obtain viable seed.

Astrophytum species

Most like a soil mix of 30-40% pumice or perlite though A. asterias has a taproot and does best with at least 50%. A. asterias prefers a little more shade than the other species which do best in very bright light. Flowering happens late spring through summer. All species are tolerant of light frost if kept dry, A. capricorne and A. ornatum being a little hardier than the others.

Echinocereus species

Regular succulent culture. Generally, the spinier the species is the more bright light it can take. Most species offset profusely with age, and these offsets can be divided for propagation. Exposure to cold during the winter is necessary to induce bud formation and blooming in spring and summer. Many species are quite cold hardy, some well below 10° F, and make excellent rock garden and landscape subjects.

Grafted Cacti

The understock, or simply the stock, is the plant on the bottom that acts as a surrogate root system for the scion, which is the plant on top. Grafted plants are quite easy to care for. Their cultural requirements depend mostly on the type of stock utilized. The stock plant will often offset and these should be removed with a sharp knife, because if left on to grow they will use up a significant portion of the energy & nutrients the scion should be receiving. Sometimes the scion will grow too large for a stock, at which time it should be re-grafted onto a larger stock or de-grafted & rooted (see our grafting guide).

The understocks we use are:
Eriocereus jubertii – Regular succulent soil mix & thorough watering during the growing season. Not cold hardy, keep above 40° F. Roots easily from the sides of the stem & can be planted low in the soil to give the scion the appearance of growing on it’s own roots. Stenocereus griseus – Also known as Stenocereus ‘victoriensis’. Regular watering & culture. Protect from frost and avoid over watering during the winter. Trichocereus pachanoi & T. spachianus – Regular succulent care. These like lots of water during the growing season. T. pachanoi is cold hardy to about 25° F and T. spachianus,down to nearly 10° F.

South American Cereoids (Armatocereus, Azureocereus, Neoraimondia, Roseocereus,etc.)

Regular succulent culture is called for. Once these plants get a foot or more in height, they really enjoy strong, bright light. Small plants do fine in pots, but older plants really like horizontal root room. Regular, thorough watering and light monthly feedings during the summer growing season. Keep a little on the dry side during winter. Easily propagated by cuttings. Flowering and the unique characteristic forms of these plants are not fully expressed until they reach several feet in height. Larger plants can take mild frost, but in general (especially Armatocereus and Neoraimondia) should be kept above 35° F.

Trichocereus species

If you ordered an unrooted cutting it should be planted with the growing tip upright. Middle sections have an arrow drawn on them and should be planted with this pointing up. Regular succulent soil enriched with a little organic fertilizer works great. Trichocereus are easily propagated by cuttings- cut sections that are at least 3-4″ long and place in a warm well ventilated spot for 3-4 weeks until a strong callous has formed over the cut surface, after this the cuttings are ready to plant. It is best to use a smaller pot to root your cuttings, then transplant once fully rooted. Cuttings can take a few weeks to a few months to root. Water irregularly until rooted. Once established they can be planted in large pots or growing beds. They really take off when given lots of horizontal root room. If using these plants for grafting, it is best to keep them in smaller pots which are easier to handle and wrap rubber bands around. Larger plants can take full sun when planted in the ground or growing beds, but it is best to give them a little shade otherwise. Many Trichocereus like lots of water and higher nitrogen fertilizer than most cacti. During summer you can really pump them like watermelons. They make great landscape specimens. The nocturnal flowering species bloom spring through fall, usually with the lunar cycles. The diurnal flowering ones bloom heavily late spring through summer. To produce the sweet edible fruit, 2 seperate clones or species are needed. To insure best pollination and fruit formation, hand pollinate with a paint brush. Nearly all species are somewhat cold hardy, even when wet. In general and to be safe keep them above 25° F.

Other Succulents & Xerophytes

Aloe and Haworthia species

A regular succulent soil mix is called for. Unless you want to bonsai them, the larger growing arborescent Aloe should be repotted every year until filling a 5 gallon pot at which time they can be planted in the ground in areas of little frost. When young or small, Aloe do best with partial shade and once they are larger can be exposed to more direct light. All Aloe species can be propagated from cuttings or dividing offsets. Haworthia do well in shallow pots. They prefer partial shade and even do well in areas of low light, making them excellent houseplants. Haworthia produce new plants from underground runners and these can be divided for propagation. Some species of both Aloe and Haworthia are cold tolerant, but in general keep them above 35° F. Both are pollinated by hummingbirds, which are especially attracted to these wonderful plants.

Bursera, Boswellia & Commiphora species

Bursera and Commiphora require regular succulent soil mix. A little extra pumic (up to 50%) should be added to the soil of Boswellia. If you want to bonsai your plant, underpot it and keep it trimmed back. If you would like to let it grow into a bush or tree, give it a large pot and regular fertilizer during the growing season. They enjoy more water than most succulents during summer, soaking them every few days is fine. They do best in bright light, but full sun should be avoided when they are young. Most species drop their leaves and go dormant during winter, so watering should be reduced at this time. Generally it is a good idea to keep them above 35° F, most Boswellia & Commiphora are a little more cold sensitive while Bursera fagaroides and B. microphylla are tolerant of very mild frost.

Delosperma, Aptenia and other spreading mesembs

Plant cuttings 0.5″ deep and water regularly to root in 1-4 weeks. Regular succulent culture. Easy plants to care for. The more compact and caudex forming Delosperma do well in small pots and need a little extra pumice stone in their soil for good drainage. Little or no fertilizer is needed. Aptenia and many Delosperma are sprawling, low growing and make excellent groundcovers that dazzle with their abundant blooms. If potted they prefer large, shallow containers. They are also perfect plants for alpine rock gardens. Aptenia is cold tolerant to about 20° F and Delosperma from the mid 20’s to 10° F, depending on the species.

Ephedra species

Ephedra are easy to grow, usually very cold hardy, sun and drought tolerant. Unlike true succulents, they cannot survive long periods without water if confined to a small pot, they are most drought hardy when planted in the earth so they can send down their long roots. Most are also tolerant of fairly high rainfall as long as they have a gritty well draining soil, we recommend at least 30–50% pumice, perlite, gravel or sand in the soil mix. They are excellent landscape plants, especially in arid and cold regions, and should be further explored as necessary additions to any edible/medicinal garden. The smaller species make interesting rock garden subjects and are well adaptable to container culture.

Gibbaeum, Rabiea and Pleiospilos species

Regular succulent care is needed. The flowers appear winter through spring. These plants eventually form clusters with age and these can be divided for vegetative propagation. Care should be taken not to overwater Gibbaeum & Pleiospilos, especially when the new sets of leaves are growing out, doing so may cause splitting and rot. Gibbaeum & Pleiospilos are tolerant of of some frost if kept dry, while Rabiea are cold and rain hardy and excellent rock garden candidates.

Sceletium species

Cuttings and bare root plants received are sometimes a bit limp, but will revive a few days after planting and watering. Plant cuttings 0.5″ deep and water normally to root in 2-6 weeks. Regular succulent culture is called for. These plants are really quite easily grown and even become somewhat weedy if given rich soil, regular fertilizing and watering. If you want to keep the growth more compact and “natural” looking underpot the plants and avoid fertilizing. Sceletium subvelutinum can be propagated from root cuttings as well as vegetative. Sceletium flower sporadically year round, most heavily in late winter and early spring. They are self seeding. Most species are tolerant of mild frost but suffer from too much rain.

Other Plants

Anadenanthera species

Best if given plenty of root room early on. Any well draining rich potting soil will do. They prefer the soil to be slightly acidic, growth can be stunted in soils that are too alkaline. At this size they prefer strong filtered light. They especially enjoy the heat of midsummer and thrive with regular watering and fertilizing during this time. Once they reach 3-5′ in height they can be transplanted into the ground in areas of light frost, otherwise increase pot size as needed. Once well established these trees are quite drought tolerant.

Bomarea species

Bomarea require a rich well drained soil, in fact a regular succulent soil mix works well. The climbing and twning species usually prefer their roots in partial shade and a sunny, bush, fence or arbor to grow on. Generally they are opportunistic growers, remaining in active growth as long as there is adequate water and warmth. During a prolonged dry spell or after frost, the vines die off and the tuber clusters sleep underground, waiting for warm weather and moisture to send up new vines. This dormancy may last as late as June or July for us. They usually flower in 2-4 years from seed. Some species may actually require a month or two of no water to encourage blossoming. Most species, even the tropical ones, can handle some frost if the roots are well mulched. The majority of the Andean species are hardy to at least 25-20° F and the ones from the higher alpine elevations can probably withstand cold down to below 10° F when mulched.

Andean Tubers: Canna edulis, Oxalis tuberosa, Smallanthus sonchifolius, Tropaeolum tuberosum, Ullucus tuberosus

General information for all: Plant tubers 2-6″ deep. They all are tolerant of a wide range of soils, but definitely grow best in a relatively rich, well drained soil. We use 25% pumice stone, 10-15% sand and the rest compost/garden loam. Gophers are particularly fond of all these plants, so we grow these in half wine barrels or raised beds with wire mesh on the bottom. In the colder climates, several inches of mulch will help assure tuber survival through heavy frosts. In climates below Z7, the tubers can be overwintered in moist coir or sand in a cool place, then replanted at the start of the growing season. Though tolerant of a little shade, all do best in a sunny location.

Canna: This is the least cold hardy them all, but can still tolerate Z8a or even 7b if very well mulched. Achira is also much more tolerant of extreme heat and wet or even soggy soil. The rhizomes are best harvested after the tops of the plant have died back from frost or a dry period. Make sure to replant a few of the nippled growing tips of the rhizome for continued harvests.

Oxalis: One of the most adaptable of the tuber crops. Some varietals seem more tolerant of high Summer temperatures than others. Since tuber production does not begin until after the Autumn Equinox when the daylength shortens and the days cool, the largest tubers are produced if you can keep the tops protected from hard frost (they are tolerant of light frost) and growing as long as possible (this goes for Tropaeolum and Ullucus as well.) If you do not live in an area with a long mild Autumn season, you have a couple options. One method is to stake some hoops over the plants with frost protectant fabric or even greenhouse plastic. One other trick is to cover them with shade cloth a few weeks prior to the Equinox to simulate shortened daylight and encourage early tuber forming. We are finding that well before the shortened daylength it is good to mound extra soil around the stems, as you would potoatoes, to encourage additional tuber formation. The tubers can be harvested after the tops of the plant finally die back. In general, the more cold the tubers are exposed to the sweeter they become, so a late harvest is usually preferable. Traditionally the tubers are exposed to sun and cold for several days after harvest to break down any oxalic acids and increase sweetness. Exposure to light also enriches the vivid colors. Tubers can be left in the ground for next years plants, or stored tubers can be replanted in the Spring. Like potatoes, the tubers can be cut into pieces for propagation.

Smallanthus: One of the most adaptable to warmer climates, some clones have even proven themselves in the tropics. It’s important to differentiate what’s the propagative tuber and what’s the edible storage tubers. The propagative tuber (what you’d receive from us) is knobby, eventually clustering, often cream colored, brown, or even purple when exposed to light. It looks very much like its close relative the sunchoke (jerusalem artichoke). The edible storage tubers grow off the other tubers and are long (to 10″+), smooth, usually brown or white, and shaped like yams. New plants cannot be propagated from these. The propagative tuber clusters can eventually grow quite large (we’ve had them basketball size), and these can be broken up to further propagate the plant. Some clones are very sweet harvested any time of the year, while others are a bit sour until exposed to repeated frosts.

Tropaeolum: Best given something for the vines to climb on. In general, mashua dislikes heat, preferring a long cool and moist season. Most varieties are daylength sensitive for tuber production, after the Autumn Equinox they should be cultured similar to Oxalis (see entry above). The ‘Ken Aslet’ variety has been grown as an ornamental for some time and is not particularly sensitive to daylength for tuber forming. Vegetative growth is tolerant of mild frost, but dies back to the tubers after heavy frost. Flowers are formed late in the season, but can be encouraged earlier by holding back water.

Ullucus: A little more challenging than the others, but well worth any effort. Most varieties resent too much heat. They also seem to be sensitive to being transplanted into overly rich “hot” soil, often rotting. The best treatment is gradually applying small amounts of compost/fertilizer as a mulch throughout the growing season. Even more than oca, they only produce their lovely tubers well after the Autumn Equinox, sending out small stolons that slowly grow into tubers. See the Oxalis entry above for additional growing info. Unlike oca, the bright tuber colors quickly turn green when exposed to light, though unlike potatoes, they are still safe to eat.

The universe is a poem of love. The stars themselves are voluptuous inscriptions,
as are the clouds, the salt water, the leaves. Each tree is a book of pleasures.”

– Rikki Ducornet Phosphor in Dreamland

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