In the Garden:
Inland Northwest, High Desert
Cactus flowers, such as this bloom on one of my favorite cactus, can be dramatic.
My Little Cactus
A friend of mine gave me this little cactus about five years ago. It's the only cactus I've not killed. Somehow it continues to serenely hold down the northeast corner of the due-east windowsill season after season. And blooms. My friend said that the mother cactus bloomed once at her house while she was gone on vacation. She's never seen the thing in bloom. Mine blooms twice a year.
Taking Care of Cactus
This little cactus belongs to the Rebutia family. Its modified softball shape puts out thin, sturdy spines that easily stab me if I pick it up barehanded. I use goatskin gloves to protect my hands whenever I work around it. They are prickle proof and soft enough to allow me to work safely around this plant.
The soil this cactus grows in is grainy so that it drains immediately. To make it, add one part sand or grit to 3 parts potting soil. Commercial cactus soil is available, too. Remember to use a pot with a generous drainage hole. Water when the top of the soil is thoroughly dry. My cactus has never been repotted. It seems to like crowding, and shows it by putting out lots of baby offshoots and huge violet-pink blooms.
Watering and Fertilizing
I water and fertilize my cactus with a soluble fertilizer only once a month or when I notice that its soil is dry. I also like to give it a shower now and then. I put a little liquid organic soap in a mister and spritz it all over, then I rinse it off with a weak, tepid tea solution. Water droplets in the sun could scorch this plant, so I keep it out of the sun until it's dry.
Along about Valentine's Day and again in the fall, my cactus sprouts a long, dark, hairy, ugly arm. In a few days it grows to almost 2 feet long. Then, suddenly, a stunning violet-pink flower opens at the end of the arm. Unfortunately, it remains open for only about 18 hours. The bloom is so large and out of proportion to the rest of the plant that it has to be propped up or the whole plant, flower and all, tumbles over. Once it has finished flowering, the blossom closes and shrivels, and the arm deflates and drops off the plant.
Making More Cactus
From time to time, tiny round offspring appear randomly on the sides of the plant. Tiny rootlets come with them. To make more cactus, I snap them off gently and set them in cactus soil. If there is room beside the mother plant, sometimes I scratch a little indentation in the soil and set them there.
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