Prickly customers and succulents
There are three stalwarts in my conservatory, all of them prickly and in middle age – a bit like me.
The oldest is my Easter-flowering cactus (Schlumbergera), although it’s never flowered then.
All over the world, various cultivars are called the Christmas/Whitsun/General Holiday cactus. It was my gran’s and was a fair age when she died in 1983.
There’s also a bizarre cutting which was eaten away on both sides by something nefarious – how it survives, I’ll never know. It’s a matter of time before it snaps.
The second is an epiphytic cactus, sometimes called an orchid or leaf cactus. It was a gift from a friend, who’d had it for years but it had never flowered.
She’d probably treated it too well, as it’s continued to flower well, in the conservatory. The fruit’s edible, but I’ll give it a miss.
Last is my 44-year-old Opuntia, or prickly pear/bunny’s ears/Mickey Mouse cactus, bought at the Tyneside Summer Exhibition on the Town Moor (anyone remember them?) for 30p.
Potted guide: cacti/succulents
- Cacti and succulents are easy to grow, but they cannot stand being overwatered, as the roots will rot.
- Use a special cacti compost, which is lower in nutrients and very free draining.
- Keep them virtually dry when dormant in winter, only starting to water again in spring.
- They will survive surprisingly low temperatures – mine stay in the unheated conservatory all winter, which has dropped below 5C.
Aeoniums and Aloes
I’m the proud owner of four Aeonium cuttings, given to me by a lovely lady from the National Gardens Scheme.
Aeoniums are fleshy-leaved succulents that grow in a large rosette on a stem – some branch, some don’t.
They’re Canary Island natives, but unlike most succulents, they have shallow root systems and can’t be allowed to dry out completely. Give the plant well-drained soil in a sunny location at temperatures between 4-38C.
These succulents are easy to grow from cuttings – cut off a rosette, let the cut end dry out for a couple of days, then plant in gritty compost.
Give potted plants an annual feed in spring when new growth starts.
The most common problems are root rot – use clay pots with good drainage.
My two varieties are Aeonium arboreum Zwartkop, with a large rosette of almost black succulent leaves.
The other is Aeonium arboreum, with green rosettes – it’s monocarpic, dying after flowering – but usually, offsets along the stem.
There’s also an Aloe vera, brought back from a holiday in Lanzarote and a host of Aloe humilis, much smaller with little white pimples on the skin.
Unlike A. vera, which is cultivated for its medicinal properties, A. humilis can be a skin irritant – don’t mix them up.
However, it flowers freely, with pendulous, bright orange-scarlet tubular blooms, up to 4-5 cm long, arranged loosely on top of a 20-35 cm tall spike.
Both Aloes are hardy enough to go outside in a sheltered, sunny spot in summer. but beware snail damage on Aloe vera!