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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
South Shore News

Master gardener entertains with succulents and cacti


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When my friends Nancy and Bob Gaspermint offered to drive me to the Master Gardener’s talk at the Bloomingdale Library to learn more about succulents and cacti, I couldn’t refuse. I don’t always get to these presentations, but every time I do, I enjoy them immensely and learn new things.

Gary Martin was the speaker, and he had the full room laughing much of the time and amazed us often. He and a few others had put together an excellent PowerPoint presentation and added more with plants he brought and some important techniques he made sure to show us.

Did you know that:

♦ succulents and cacti use 80 percent less water than lawns?

♦ if you cut a piece from a succulent plant, you should let the bare spot dry, then dip it into a rooting hormone powder?

♦ if you don’t have the powder, cinnamon will serve? I hadn’t heard of that, but Martin said they use it at the botanical garden, so it must work. It’s also much less expensive and easily available.

♦ all cacti are succulents, but all succulents are not cacti? Some succulents have spines, too. Cacti have a cushion where the spine attaches. Succulents have none.

These plants are experts at water conservation. They control the use of the water they get. The worst thing you can do is over-water them. They may survive summer rains if they have good drainage, but deluges can do them in. Be careful not to let water sit in the saucer if they’re potted. “If they look fat and happy, don’t water them,” Martin said.

The best way to handle a prickly plant is to take a piece of newspaper, fold it into a strip about 10-inches wide and plenty long, wrap it around the plant, twist, and hold it with the rest of the paper. He showed us how to take a plant out of a pot and put it into another with no harm. It was worth the trip to learn that.

Everyone in the audience already liked succulents a lot – cacti a bit less – but we came to appreciate both even more after seeing all the photos and plants that were shown. There are more than 5,000 succulents. They’re versatile, bountiful and beautiful.

All thrive on neglect. They’re ideal for busy families, senior citizens and make great gifts. They do well indoors or out, on patios, in the ground or in containers. They’re easy to propagate by offsets, stem cuttings and via a leaf that falls to the ground and sends out new shoots.

Martin recommends a potting medium of three parts fibrous soil, one part peat, and a bit of perlite or vermiculate so the soil will have moisture retention and good drainage. Use a balanced fertilizer such as 6-6-6 or 20-20-20, all numbers the same.

Master Gardeners’ lectures are free and offered monthly except in the summer at most Hillsborough County libraries. It’s the best way to spend an hour or so, meet new and old friends and learn at no cost. God bless the masters gardeners who offer their time, talent and often starts of their own plants.

Today’s pick is Kalanchoe luciae, commonly known as Paddle Plant, Paddle Kalanchoe, Red Pancakes or Desert Cabbage. I had killed a few in containers before I went to the garden of Gretchen and Ron Desalvio several years ago and saw theirs thriving in the ground. They gave me starts that have multiplied and survived both summer rains and winter frosts. This was the first year they’ve bloomed. They’re in almost full sun, though they’ll grow in light shade, and I don’t do much at all except enjoy them. The leaves stay fairly low, but the bloom stems grew to four feet. They are supposed to attract bees, butterflies and birds, though I’ve not noticed this. They can be multiplied by dividing the pups or by leaf or stem cuttings.

Now’s the time to tell you one more thing that can kill a succulent – moving it too quickly from the shade to the sun. Aloes will grow in the sun, but I once quickly moved one from dark to too much light and the plant boiled in its own juices. Either move these plants gradually to more and more light or put it directly in the light but cover it with a pot or pillowcase each day for less and less time as it adjusts. This is called hardening-off. It’s also important for transplanting any plant.

My kumquat tree in the front yard is loaded and I can’t use them all. It’s the Meiwa, the sweetest variety. Anyone who will pick their own is welcome. Call (813) 654-1969 first to be sure there are still some left.

Upcoming events

Master gardener Jim Hawk will present a program on orchids April 2 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Bloomingdale Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico. For directions, call (813) 273-3652.

The Town ‘N Country Garden Circle’s annual Spring Expo and Plant Sale will be held April 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church, 6100 Memorial Highway, Tampa. Plants grown by members will be sold at bargain prices. There will also be garden vendors, plant societies and food trucks. Craft tables are located both indoors and outside. Tool sharpening at reasonable prices will also be available. For information, call Sharon Cooper at (813) 727-2947 or (813) 886-2015.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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