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STICKY WITH CACTUS ENCINO SHOW LETS YOU GET ACQUAINTED WITH THESE BEAUTIFUL, UNUSUAL PLANTS.

Byline: Elizabeth Smilor Correspondent

Succulents, including cactuses, and bromeliads are survivors.

They thrive in arid deserts, on cliff faces and in trees. There are species in coastal deserts that survive on fog and dew alone, others that use their roots to attach themselves to rocks or trees and some that look and feel like the pebbles on the ground around them.

``Some grow in very harsh conditions,'' says Steven Frieze, a member of the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society and co-owner of Desert Creations Nursery.

``These are plants that are spectacular and colorful but require less water. You can create a Mediterranean garden without having to spend an enormous amount on water.''

This ease and hardiness is attractive to many home gardeners. Unfortunately, it can also prove detrimental to the plants.

``There's a myth that they grow by themselves, but it takes some knowledge and expertise,'' cautions Frieze.

This weekend's Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society and San Fernando Valley Bromeliad Show and Sale offers the perfect opportunity to see and learn about the many different species.

``Most people get started the way I did. They see them and say, `Those are different and weird,' '' says Woody Minnich of Cactus Data Plants in the Antelope Valley community of Littlerock.

``Once they start growing, cactuses probably have the most incredible textures and forms and colors of any plant group in the world.''

Succulents are plants that store water in enlarged leaves, stems or roots. Cactuses are a type of succulent native to the Americas.

Bromeliads are distinguished by a spiral arrangement of leaves called a rosette and tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes, which aid in water absorption.

Minnich has spent more than 30 years studying succulents in their native habitats around the world. He can point to any plant in his inventory and explain the roots of its Latin name and how it adapted to grow in a specific region. The Lithops genus, for example, means ``stone face'' and these small succulents from South Africa and Namibia mimic the appearance of the stones around them in very arid regions. The Euphorbia Symmetrica, also from South Africa, is perfectly symmetrical so as to shed excess water.

``It's like raising children -- each kid is different,'' Minnich says about growing succulents.

``Each species is different and has characteristics specific to an area.''

One important characteristic to know when buying a succulent is the timing of the growing and dormant periods. Many are dormant in the winter, but some species are dormant in summer.

``The most common misconception is that cactuses and succulents don't need water,'' says Minnich. ``They need to be watered during their growing times, and then they store it to survive.''

On the other hand, over- watering these plants during their dormant period will result in root rot, Frieze says.

Bill Baker of California Gardens nursery in Reseda says that in addition to the proper amount of water, plant placement is important.

``Be patient. Don't be afraid to change the location of the plant,'' he tells customers. ``It takes a while to get the right place.''

Another reason for patience, he says, is that many succulents are slow-growing plants. He points to the Bombax Elipticum and says it takes 10 years for the trunk of this tree to go from 1 inch to 1 foot in diameter.

In the home garden, there are two ways to grow these plants. Plant them in the ground to create a drought-resistant landscape, or grow them in pots. Either way, they need porous soil, which can be created by mixing in pumice or perlite, says Frieze.

Bromeliads need a well-composted soil, says Bryan Chan of the San Fernando Valley Bromeliad Society. Bromeliads that grow in trees in their natural habitat will grow in the ground but need bark in the soil for support. Others can grow just lying on the ground or mounted on wood plaques because they do not rely on their roots for sustenance, he says.

``They are easy to grow once you understand them,'' says Chan, who has about 1,000 bromeliads in his home collection. ``They are gorgeous plants. They have a lot of bold markings, and the inflorescences (flower spikes) are colorful and unusual.''

There are more than 3,000 species of bromeliads that grow in many different climates. It is now a highly hybridized plant that has become very ornamental, says Chan.

Many bromeliads like some shade and humidity, which can be hard to come by in the San Fernando Valley. Chan grows his under a shade cloth and has created a more humid micro-climate by grouping them together.

At this weekend's show and sale there will be many types of succulents and bromeliads that are not readily available in retail locations.

There will also be many experts to explain each plant.

``It's an underground thing,'' laughs Chan. ``There's always a plant group to join.''

THE CARE, FEEDING OF SUCCULENTS

Each species of succulents (including cactuses) is different, and knowing the particulars of each plant is necessary in creating a thriving garden. However, there are some basics.

1. Choose a pot that is about 1 inch larger in diameter than the plant and make sure it has a drainage hole. You can re-pot once a year into a larger pot, but make sure the plant gets plenty of water and light so it can establish roots after being transplanted. Plastic pots retain moisture, while clay ones dry out faster.

2. Add pumice or perlite to your potting mix or ground soil to create drainage. Most recommend one-third to one-half of your potting mix should be this drainage material.

3. Water the plant liberally when the soil becomes dry during its growing season. Don't water during its dormant season or if the soil is moist.

4. Fertilize as needed with a balanced or low-nitrogen fertilizer. Some experts advise fertilizing monthly during the growing season and others use a diluted fertilizer every time they water during that time.

5. Find the adequate amount of light for your plants and make sure there is good ventilation.

6. Use insecticidal soap or systemic insecticide if you see pests such as mealy bugs, spider mites and scale.

-- E.S.

L.A. Cactus and Succulent Society and San Fernando Valley Bromeliad Society Show and Sale

When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today and Sunday.

Where: Sepulveda Garden Center, 16633 Magnolia Blvd., Encino.

Admission: Free.

Information: (818) 784-5180.

Also: The Intercity Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale is Aug. 19-20 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626) 821-4623.

CAPTION(S):

9 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Prickly & perfect

Cactuses' real beauty is more than skin deep

(2 -- color) OPONTIA PACUYPOS

John McCoy/Staff Photographer

(3 -- color) NOTOCACTUS

(4 -- color) CRESTED CERIOD

(5 -- color) Cactus enthusiasts at the Huntington Library in San Marino view a variety of succulents, including Cypnostemma Sietziana, left, and Euphorbia Esculenta, below.

(6 -- color) REBUTIA MUSCOLA

(7 -- color) GYMNOCALYCIUM PAEDIOPHILUM

Box:

THE CARE, FEEDING OF SUCCULENTS (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 15, 2006
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