Cultivation basics 2; handling, planting and (re-)potting

Many first time customers ask us how to handle ‘those spiny plants’. One of our staff handles cacti with his bare hands but he grew up between cacti and other succulents and that seems to make a difference. We advise people to handle cacti with the most used South African implement. That’s the ‘braaitang’ (barbecue pincers). Wrap this implement with corrugated paper of bubble plastic to avoid damage and there you go.

When we plant succulents in our garden we first put the pots on the places where we want to plant and leave them for a few days to get acclimatised to the new environment. When planting we first squeeze the pot a bit to loosen the soil around the plant and than take the plant out the pot and plant it with all the soil in the pot.

In case of larger cacti: take these out of the pot, cut the roots for at least one-third of their length and let them dry first for a few days before planting. Cacti which are too large to handle with barbecue pincers can be handled with a shade cloth. Large columnar cacti: shade cloth over the full length.

Cutting roots also applies to larger (stem) aloes.

As most of the indoor plants also cacti and other succulents in pots should be re-potted every 3 years; eventually in a larger pot. Columnar cacti in relatively deep pots (taproot) and barrel shaped cacti in relatively wide pots.

For cacti and (stem) aloes: Take the plants out of the pots, clean the roots (eventually wash them off), cut the roots with at least one-third of their length and let them dry for a few days first before re-potting them

General exception: Cacti-like euphorbias. Take care with handling (wounds produce poisonous latex -always wash hands afterwards) and do NOT cut the roots. Just let the plants rest for a few days before planting or (re-)potting.

Another golden (basic) rule here at Soekershof: Some cacti are sensitive for ‘neck-rot’; especially in the first year after (re-)planting. Neck-rot is also the most common terminal disease for cacti under the open sky in the Western Cape with the emphasis on the Cape Town area. Once a plant has established itself the risk is minimised provided good care is taken. How to avoid neck-rot? Applying chemicals is not in our books but we have another, simpler, method to avoid neck-rot. Plant the cactus on a small heep, 5 to 10 cm high depending on the size and (future) shape of the plant. After a heavy rainfall the heep, including the joint between roots and plant, will dry first. After a few years the heep will have itself equalised with the surrounding soil and the plant has established itself with some resistance against certain diseases including neck-rot. In our practice the ‘heep philosophy’ works perfectly.

Another golden rule is that we never apply (chemical) fertilisers; even not the organic bounce-back (dried chicken manure). The plants will grow faster but will also be more vulnerable for pests and other diseases.