As we find ourselves devoting increasing amounts of time caring for the needs of our ever-expanding collection of cacti, we thought we’d compile this list of what we consider to be essential cactus-growing accessories.
Dependent on your own personal level of immersion into this all-consuming cactus addiction, you might not feel the need to own all of the items listed here (yet!), but we’re certain there’s at least one or two listed here that might be of benefit to you…
Our Essential Cactus-growing Accessories
When you choose to take a cutting from a cactus (or, in fact, any other plant), it’s particularly important to do everything practical to minimise the risk of an infected cut.
One simple way of achieving this is to use sterile alcohol wipes (or if you prefer, alcohol and a clean tissue), wiping the blade’s surfaces both before and after making the cutting. Hopefully, this will eradicate the majority of any harmful bacteria which may be present.
Most growers would agree that the average cactus should be fertilised at least twice a year, although never during their dormant period (roughly November to March). However, it’s less agreed exactly which fertiliser blend works best!
To give you a basic overview, ‘balanced fertilisers’ contain roughly equal amounts of nitrogen (N), potassium (P) and phosphorus (K). Nitrogen encourages cell and foliage growth, potassium encourages improved flowering and fruit-production and phosphorous encourages improved disease resistance, seed viability, root growth and fruit-ripening.
With regard to cacti, ‘low-balanced’, soluble fertilisers can be applied with good results. Examples of such solutions include 8-8-8 (8% nitrogen, 8% potassium, 8% phosphorus) and 10-10-10. A good quality fertiliser that’s higher in phosphorus than nitrogen is often used too, including many specialist commercial cactus blends, such as those with a 2-7-7 or 1-7-6 ratio.
Be aware that too much fertiliser (especially nitrogen) can cause frustrating issues such as rotten roots or split skin, so it’s wise to avoid overfeeding your precious plants! Many folks recommend diluting to half or even quarter strength compared to the fertiliser manufacturer’s instructions. At present, we prefer to use a shop-bought cactus fertiliser, dilute it to half the recommended proportion, then apply during the summer and early autumn every two to four weeks, watering it in to the earth as usual.
The more that one becomes caught up in the world of cactus cultivation, the more it becomes apparent that some decent cactus gloves (basically extra-thick or otherwise armoured gardening gloves) are an incredibly wise investment! We’ve tried a few pairs on our journey so far, with mixed results.
For handling smaller (say, up to fifty centimetres or so tall) or shorter-spined cacti, the majority of heavy-duty, thorn-proof gardening gloves work quite well – provided you remember never to approach the spines with force, as we’ve discovered several times to our dismay! For larger or longer-spined plants and cuttings, there are several specialised armoured gauntlets available on the market.
Canes/ chopsticks/ coffee stirrers/ poles / sticks/ etc.
It may seem obvious to some, but it’s always worth maintaining a collection of canes and other sticks in order to prop up cacti while they’re rooting – or just for a little general support.
Good examples of such include our use of wooden coffee/tea stirrers (the only thing we find most high street chains good for!) to support small cuttings (although they tend to start rotting in more humid environments) and old metal wardrobe rails (to support larger columnar plants, such as Trichocereus species).
Gibberellic acid (GA3)
So this one’s not really essential, but we thought we should highlight it here anyway, for the more experimental-minded among you! Gibberellic acid (aka ‘GA’, ‘GA3’ and ‘Gibberellin A3’) is a highly effective, naturally-occurring hormone found in fungi and plants.
If introduced in the right amount and at the right time, it can stimulate flower, fruit, root and stem growth, improve germination rates, induce seedless fruit, offer some protection against frost damage and be used instead of (or together with) thermal stratification. It’s widely used by commercial laboratories and nurseries.
Moler clay/ Perlite/ Sand/ etc.
One thing that’s truly vital for all cactus collectors is to establish a good growing mix. To this end, it’s pretty essential to improve the drainage (and, to a lesser extent, aeration) of your average soil by mixing it with at least one other suitable medium. Typically, such materials include volcanic stones (for example, moler clay and perlite) and sand. Currently, we prefer to use a roughly equal mix of perlite, sand and regular potting soil, but feel free to experiment!
A magnifying glass, loupe or similar lens can prove incredibly useful, not only for checking for signs of pests and such, but also as an aid to removing those pesky cactus spines!
Durable, waterproof and generally hard-wearing plant marker labels are especially important if you’re cultivating species, strains or hybrids which are difficult to distinguish on first glance, or which need to be tracked through generations or some such. Make sure to use a decent permanent marker pen when labelling your precious plants!
Plastic tubs, bottles, etc.
Plastic food and drink containers and the like can often be recycled when growing cacti (or other plants). For example, we regularly make seed trays, propagators, cloches, saucers, scoops, plant labels and watering cans out of such plastic “waste” as cake and pastry packaging, drinks bottles, ‘disposable’ cups and fruit and vegetable punnets!
If you’re someone who often finds yourself making cuttings of your favourite cacti, you’ll definitely require a good, sharp knife! This will preferably be steel and have a smooth surface which is free of pits, so that it can easily be cleaned before, during and after use.
As above; sooner or later, everybody growing cacti realises they should keep a clean pair of tweezers to hand! Especially useful when dealing with smaller, often disproportionately irritating, spines.
So, there you have it! Our list of essential cactus-growing accessories. Did we miss anything out which you consider vital to the dark arts of cactus cultivation? Please let us know via the Contact page if so.