Culture and Out Of Africa’s Views on this Subject
The questions we are asked most often regard soil, light, fertilizer and watering. Please remember we like you are always trying to learn and improve our cultural practices. If it was really easy wouldn’t we find something else to do? Never be afraid to experiment. Look at everything below with the caveat, what works for us may not work for you.
Probably the most discussed subject when it comes to succulent plants and culture. We are finally able to get a mix we started using in Ohio but was unavailable to us in Florida. That mix is Sun Gro Metro Mix 366P Coir. Our sole reason for using this mix, it was the only one we could find that did not contain peat. When peat dries out it is very reluctant to reabsorb moisture, this was a problem for us as we would let our plants sit dry for up to twelve weeks in the dormant period (winter). In Florida winter humidity in an open greenhouse did not create any problems with a mix containing sphagnum peat moss, we used Fafard 4P mix. Since the 366P was a mix we really liked we have gone back to it. In conclusion try to find a professional soil mix if at all possible. Our advice is also stay away from retail products labeled “Cactus Mix”.
To our soil mix we add perlite and diatomaceous earth. The percentages will vary depending on pot size and species. In general our mix is 60% soil, 30% perlite, 10% diatomaceous earth. Some will use pumice over perlite, we do not like pumice so it is just personal preference for us. Diatomaceous earth can be expensive and hard to find, we purchase ours from NAPA it comes in a 24 quart bag and is $7.99. Our goal with our final mix is to produce the best possible root system we can. Do not be afraid to inspect your root system when your plants are in active growth, this will tell you if you are on the correct path!
After we have started to wake our plants from dormancy typically two waterings we fertilize our stock or parent plants with a blossom boosting fertilizer, or a fertilizer with a ratio along the lines of 1-3-2. We will also use Epsom Salt to help induce flowering. For us flowering is critical as our biggest enjoyment is producing seed and seedlings! Our seedlings do not receive this treatment. By the middle of spring all our plants will be on the same fertilizer regimen, we will use a 1-2-2 ratio fertilizer every third watering at a rate of 50ppm nitrogen. With the first day of summer as a guideline we will give all our plants a dose of Peters S.T.E.M., this is a soluble trace element mix. In mid August we stop fertilizing. Could we fertilize more often and at a higher rate, of course! We like to use the analogy of a human on steroids, if a human is not weaned off steroids they will have trouble. If we fertilize heavily and you the customer do not keep up that same regimen the plants will suffer. There are also some very good controlled release fertilizers on the market that you may want to consider. Typically they will be marketed as 60, 90, and 180 day formulas. We would recommend 180 day.
All of our plants are grown outdoors and in greenhouses that receive full sun morning through evening. According to the EPA southern Florida has the highest year round UV average. Southwestern states will see higher daily UV than us in only the summer months. So in general it will be almost impossible to give plants you receive from us too much sun light.
We like to say that many will underwater in the growing period and overwater in the dormant period. Many like to get on a regimen of watering once a week and in some case this may work. One question to always ask yourself, are you keeping your plants alive or are you watching them grow? With new customers we like to ask them to buy two $4 seedlings of the same species, water one using their normal schedule and water the other twice as often, look at the results and make decisions from what they see. In general the more leaves the species has the more water it will want.