Get­ting a cac­tus to bloom prickly busi­ness

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - REAL ESTATE HOMES - By Ger­ald Filip­ski

QUES­TION: I have a 10-year-old solid cac­tus that’s 12 cen­time­tres across and 25 cm high. It bloomed only twice in the last two years, once one flower and then three. Is there a way of en­hanc­ing flow­er­ing?

AN­SWER: There are a few tips that might help in get­ting the plant to flower.

While cacti are desert plants, the sand they grow in does have some hu­mus or or­ganic mat­ter in it. If you are grow­ing your cac­tus in sand, try adding some com­post to the mix or buy some com­mer­cially pre­pared cac­tus-plant­ing mix, which will con­tain the right com­bi­na­tions of sand and or­ganic mat­ter.

Wa­ter the plant once a week from April to Septem­ber, but only once a month from Oc­to­ber to March. Al­though this is a guide­line, it does work for most va­ri­eties of cacti. This change in wa­ter­ing regime is im­por­tant be­cause it is part of the plant go­ing into dor­mancy dur­ing the win­ter months. It is this dor­mancy that helps to get the plant into a flow­er­ing mood.

Make sure the plant is in the bright­est win­dow you have. Light is crit­i­cal for the bloom, as well.

Try fer­til­iz­ing with a 5-10-5 for­mu­la­tion in the spring. Also, look for a fer­til­izer for­mu­lated and la­belled as cac­tus fer­til­izer. Do not fer­til­ize dur­ing the win­ter months. Again, this is the dor­mant pe­riod for the plant and is very im­por­tant to the plant set­ting blooms.

QUES­TION: With the lovely win­ter days we’ve been hav­ing, my thoughts have turned to spring and gar­den­ing... yippee! I’m not an ex­pert gar­dener, so I al­ways have ques­tions and from read­ing your ar­ti­cles, I know you’re the man to ask.

My ques­tion to­day is about mulches. I am com­pletely mulch ig­no­rant. Could you could ex­plain the pros and cons of the dif­fer­ent mulches for flower beds that have shrubs and flow­ers?

As I do not com­post, I would have to buy the best mulch for the sit­u­a­tion. I heard or read some­where bark mulch is not the best, but I don’t re­mem­ber why. I would like a low-main­te­nance mulch that is es­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. I should stress I don’t want to have to rake it up and dis­pose of it each spring.

AN­SWER: Thank you for your kind words and yes, spring is on the way — at last. My favourite mulch is shred­ded cedar bark. It’s pleas­ing to the eye and smells great af­ter it rains or is wa­tered.

With some bark mulches you need to add ex­tra ni­tro­gen in the form of a fer­til­izer be­cause as they break down they can rob the soil of this nutri­ent. I find that cedar bark breaks down slowly and just nor­mal fer­til­iz­ing of the bed keeps the plants happy.

Cedar bark also has weed-in­hibit­ing prop­er­ties. I have fewer weeds to deal with and the ones that do take hold are easy to pull be­cause they’re spindly and less healthy.

I mulch my beds to a depth of 12 cm. I find this suf­fi­cient for weed con­trol and mois­ture re­ten­tion. You’ll find the mulch will com­pact over the win­ter and break down over time, so you’ll need to top up the mulch ev­ery spring. I add enough ev­ery spring to bring the depth back to 12 cm.

Adding fresh mulch ev­ery spring also helps tidy the beds up and makes them more ap­peal­ing. That lovely cedar smell comes back, as well. When ap­ply­ing the cedar mulch around flow­ers and shrubs, leave a mulch-free space of ap­prox­i­mately five cm near the base of the plant to keep any rot prob­lems from de­vel­op­ing there. I also do not use a land­scape fab­ric with my mulch; I sim­ply add it right on top of the soil.

A wide va­ri­ety of mulches is avail­able to the home gar­dener, both or­ganic and in­or­ganic. Some ex­am­ples of or­ganic mulches in­clude com­post, leaves, grass clip­pings, shred­ded news­pa­per, wood chips, pine nee­dles, sphag­num peat moss, an­i­mal ma­nures and straw.

There are in­or­ganic mulches avail­able such as land­scape-grade plas­tic, land­scape fabrics and rocks, but or­ganic mulches of­fer many more ben­e­fits. Or­ganic mulches of­fer bet­ter mois­tur­ere­tain­ing qual­i­ties and re­plen­ish soil nu­tri­ents. Since you’re look­ing for an es­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, low-main­te­nance mulch, the cedar bark would def­i­nitely be the first choice.

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