It is so hot in August that very few people want to even think about outdoor activities like gardening. But now is actually the perfect time to start planning our fall gardens; after all, the season is (thankfully) just around the corner.
In the desert, it’s best to contemplate low-water plants, like succulents. In my quest to keep your plants (and your money!) out of the compost heap, here are eight tips to safeguard your investment in these plants.
But first, a clarification: All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Of course, the best-known succulents are cacti.
Now for those tips:
1. Buy your plants from a nursery that grows its plants in the weather in which you will be planting them. In other words: Purchase locally from the growers, if possible. Some nurseries may not grow their own plants, but you can always ask where they were grown. Make sure the answer is either here or another desert climate!
2. Plant each cactus with the same orientation to the sun in which it was grown, to avoid sunburn.
3. Location is critical when choosing plants. Be sure each location and sun exposure is appropriate for the plant.
4. Plant succulents in purchased cactus soil—not native desert soil. This will limit exposure to bacteria and other disease organisms in ground soil.
5. When planting a succulent, bring the cactus soil level up to an inch or two below the original soil line on the stem of the plant. This will give you room to add rock to the top of the soil.
6. Here’s why you want to add that rock: It helps retain moisture and speeds top-level drainage. Too much water around the top of the planted stem can lead to root rot.
7. Allow the newly planted succulent to rest out of direct sunlight for a week or two before watering it. This allows any roots that were damaged to heal, as unhealed wet roots are susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections.
8. Do not overwater! Most succulents (aloes are a notable exception) are dormant in the winter, so potted succulents only need water once a month. In the summer, every two weeks will work. If you are going to be away, no worries; they can wait three to four weeks for water.
Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Marylee is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.