Friday, August 21, 2009

A Prickly Kind of Love


It's been a constant struggle growing flowers and vegetables in the desert, but one thing that has been pretty foolproof is, ta-da, the CACTUS. My dear friend Nora, who is a master horticulturist of the high desert, taught me how to propagate cacti, and it's so easy you can do it even if you live in downtown L.A. and don't have any space.

Break off a healthy paddle from a rooted cactus using tongs and let the paddle dry out in the shade for a week (it will rot if you pot it immediately). Plant the paddle in cactus potting mix (I just use a well-draining regular potting soil and it's fine) and water the little guy. Although different cactus families have different watering needs, a general rule to follow is to let the soil dry out between waterings. Your paddle will root faster than you think, and within two or three weeks you might start to see new growth. Pretty cool.

My beloved spotted aloe shoots up three-foot spikes of coral flowers in the spring that the hummingbirds go nuts over. The aloe is a succulent, not a cactus, with great medicinal qualities. I dug out and transplanted some baby aloes that were growing around the base of this one and they seem to be doing well.

San Pedro cactus from (gasp) Walmart. Hey, it loves the summer heat and it's frost tolerant. The top of this column had been snapped off when I bought it, but with a little water three fat arms sprouted from the break. Once they get big enough I'll break one or two of them off and propagate a whole new crop of new San Pedros.

I call these Gumby cactus, but they're really a kind of spineless prickly pear. Spineless = dinner for desert creatures (you can see nibbles on some of the paddles), hence I had to hang the pots from the side of the house. It adds a little unexpected whimsy to that area behind the house, and the animals can't get at my Gumbies like that.

I let this silver dollar cactus paddle sit in the sun while it dried and it was mostly dead by the time I finally got around the planting it. Then I over-watered it and the whole thing rotted. Just when I was about to rip it out of the pot and compost it, low and behold, it sprouted a new healthy paddle. Silver dollars grow thick, round paddles the size of wheel rims, and gorgeous, edible magenta fruit in the summer.

Happy cactusing. We've got some of P.'s friends coming from L.A. for a BBQ and whiskey-drinking around the firepit under the desert stars. Hope you have a great weekend!

1 comment:

  1. Look at you, just blogging away! I am so proud of you.

    Jackrabbits have managed to eat cactus WITH spines in my yard. Impressive!


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