I will hug him (ouch!) and squeeze him (crap!) and I will name him George.
October 2, 2012 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I went a little nuts at Home Depot last night and bought 7 tiny cacti/succulents. Please help me to not kill them.

Obligatory picture of adorable tiny cacti here. I have the furthest thing from a green thumb, so I'm trying to arm myself with as much information as possible so I don't murder these poor babies.

Issue 1: I would like to re-pot into something slightly larger, but these guys and gals are bone dry from being neglected at the store. I was reading online that the plants should not be watered for at least a week after repotting to allow any damaged roots to heal. Should I water now, and then re-pot? If so, how long should I wait before I re-pot? OR, should I re-pot now, wait a week or so, and then water for the first time? For what it's worth, none of the cacti look shriveled or like they're doing particularly poorly, the soil is just so dry.

Issue 2: I read somewhere that different types of cacti/succulents can benefit from different types of pots based on whether their root systems are more shallow or deep, but haven't been able to find out anything beyond that (like which types of cacti/succulents have shallow roots). Can anyone provide some insight? Will this even matter in the long run?

Issue 3: I'm kinda bad at determining how much light a plant will need. Right now, I have all of them sitting along the windowsill of a west facing window, so they would be getting lots of afternoon sun if they stay there (the picture above was taken at 7am). The rest of my apartment really doesn't get a whole lot of sun at all. The only other windowsills in the apartment sit directly above heating/ac units so I'm hesitant to put them in the path of near constant cold or hot blowing air. Or maybe hot blowing air would be a good thing? Will they be ok getting half a day of direct sun? I could potentially build a shelf on the opposite wall of where they sit now so that they get more indirect, rather than direct light.

Issue 4: I'm now in the process of trying to identify what is what, which will certainly help with figuring out light and potting requirements. All I know so far is that the third from right is a moon cactus, that it's grafted, and that it will probably only last a couple of years. I can provide better pictures later on today, but until then, can anyone help me with identifying these?

Issue 5: Does anyone have recommendations for good cactus soil, fertilizer, and pots? Bonus points for Amazon links.

Issue 6: I like to name my plants. Name suggestions are welcome and encouraged.
posted by Gonestarfishing to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Issue 6: If it were up to me, I'd pick five poetic, highly literary names, and Spike.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:05 AM on October 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

You know tons more than I ever did about plants. I merrily repotted and neglected succulents for years (mostly aloe vera). Other than murdering a few while trying to transport them cross country, they thrived in spite of my black thumb (one came back after hubby lopped it in half with a lawnmower, others came back after being transferred to a nicotine-poisoned patch of ground, turning brown and appearing to be dead for a time). They are fairly hardy, so you aren't at very high risk of killing them, though I have heard from two sources that excess cold can kill them. So keep them away from the air conditioner.

Also, you probably don't need to worry too much about optimization of soil, etc. I had a warm, sunny window one year and had to give away dozens of plants. It was like a succulent explosion happened on my window sill. In the wild, they developed in very harsh environments. Devoted, loving care of such plants doesn't typically result in simply a beautiful, healthy, thriving plant. It results in needing to beg, borrow and steal repotting resources and asking friends to join you in a repotting party. (They are kind of like tribbles.)

Re names: Since there are seven, maybe the names of the dwarves from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves?
posted by Michele in California at 9:29 AM on October 2, 2012

If you are in the northern hemisphere and coming into winter I'd be very hesitant to water the plants at all. They are cacti and the main cause of death of cacti is over watering not underwatering and as the days get shorter and cooler the plants have even less need of water as they don't grow etc as much in the winter and are resting.

I'd wait to spring to repot if I was you as they will not grow new roots in winter, if you want them in more attractive pots I'd just sit them in the new pots in the pots they are already in.

This is a pretty good site for some basics, it covers plant resting and watering really well.

Honestly your best bet is benign neglect and never watering them when they are resting, and only watering occasionally when soil is bone dry in warmer months. Avoid hard water if possible and fertilizers.

These babies thrive in the toughest of the tough conditions, I'd give them tough Action hero names.
posted by wwax at 9:36 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

you can plant them all together in something like this - wide and relatively shallow. Or individual little pots. Also most gardening places will have cactus or succulent soil that is nice and sandy to drain well. I would probably just water them now and re-pot them. Like other people said, they're tough to kill! Then the general rule for watering is a decent soaking, then let them dry out, repeat.
posted by brilliantine at 9:40 AM on October 2, 2012

They are very hard to kill. I pulled some little succulents out of the trash in my apartment building and planted them in a pot and only one died. I put all my plants in clay/ceramic pots because they seem to grow in them better than plastic.

I keep all my succulents in my windows and water them once a week year round. They grow just fine. It's very dry in my apartment in winter though.
posted by interplanetjanet at 10:43 AM on October 2, 2012

1. If you do pot up, it needs to be only very slightly up and with the right soil because they don't look underpotted now. The problem with overpotting is actually not so much the pot size but that larger pots retain water longer and almost all novice cacti owners overwater anyway. Which leads to rot. The soil composition should be chunky to allow quick drainage - a mix of pea gravel, bark, and potting soil with maybe some perlite thrown in. No sand - people think that helps drainage but it's too fine and actually drains really poorly. Also, repotting is best done in late spring/early summer as that's when the plant is at its healthiest.

2. Deep root systems are typically better for the plant than shallow (it stabilizes the plant and makes it less susceptible to freezing, etc.), and though it does differ somewhat amongst plants, they actually differ more in cultivation from pot and soil choice. So don't pick shallow pots or really heavy non-draining soil. If you know you'll have a tendency to overwater, pick clay pots. If you don't, keep them in plastic.

3. Cacti/succulents kept indoors need as much light as you can give them. Filtered-through-window sunlight is already weaker than outdoor sunlight, so give them whatever setup indoors you can that provides them with the most direct sunlight. I'd avoid vents if I could help it.

4. I'd guess from left to right: Some form of Echeveria, possibly two different forms of Mammillaria cactus, a Faucaria, a grafted Gymnocalycium "Moon cactus," two more typical forms of cactus again possibly Mamms but not sure. Larger, tighter photos would help with IDs but many cacti can only be positively IDed from flowers. Also, #2's growth pattern suggests it has had periods of weak light leading to etoliation.

5. Easiest to mix your own soil - start from Miracle Gro Cactus soil and amend as I listed in number 1. Only weakly fertilize with each watering (Miracle Gro liquid fertilizer is fine) and you should only water AT MOST once every month-and-a-half. But when you water, make sure the water is actually reaching the roots and not running off the dried soil clump. It might mean keeping it in a catchpot during watering and letting it stand in water for ten minutes and then dumping the rest of the water out, flushing it, and then leaving it be until you need to water again. If you're the type to overwater, I'd actually suggest only watering when you do see visible signs of needing water - sagging, dehydrating, wrinkling, etc.

6. Tiger if you ID my guessed Faucaria as a Faucaria tigrina is a good name. For Mamms, some mother-y names like Mary Cassatt or June Cleaver or if it has a lot of pups maybe Carol Brady/Florence Henderson. The grafted cacti should get a sci-fi name like Valentine Michael Smith.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:14 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need to re-pot aqny right now- their pots are a good size at the moment.

This cacti and succulent care sheet from Cornell is pretty comprehensive.

I wouldn't worry too much about deep or shallow root systems- what matters is that the soil is well draining and you water deeply and infrequently. Generally, tall plant will have deeper root systems than spreading plants, and people frequently plant tall plants in tall pots and wide plants in wide pots for aesthetic reasons, so it becomes kind of a moot point. If over the years you become aware of significant differences in root structure you can pot for that, but what is more important is well draining soil.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:28 PM on October 2, 2012

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