Posted on January 26 2015
Article written by Bob Reidmuller, Altman Plants
Published as part of the Altman Plants Monthly newsletter February 2015
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♫ Baby It’s Cold Outside ♫
Winter has hit with a vengeance even taking a crack at some of our Southern California growing grounds.
6”-8” of snow covering about 800 acres of landscape plants in Riverside county and snow flurries at the main office in north San Diego county – That’s just wrong! This only happens about every 40 years or so. We should be good now until about 2055.
While many of our veteran Cactus Shop customers in the more inclement parts of the country know the drill on wintering over these gems for the freezing months, we have a lot of “newbies” that might be a bit perplexed on what to do. Hopefully this quick refresher course will get all of you (and the plants) through the worst of winter, and be helpful info to pass on to your customers as well.
No Food – Little Water – LOTS of Very Bright Light
If you have had any cacti or succulents for any length of time, possibly growing them on outside or in a greenhouse, any feeding should be cut off by mid-summer. These are very light feeders, and any fertilizer late in the summer or beyond will force weak growth when the plants are beginning to go into their fall and winter dormancy period. They won’t need a feeding again until late spring when the temperatures start warming up and the plants begin their active growth period.
Rule of thumb through most of the year is to water thoroughly when you do, and don’t water again until the soil has become fairly dry again.* Indoors during dormancy your succulents will be barely taking up any water so they will need less and last longer between waterings. You will find that they only need water once a month or even longer. Just don’t let the soil become so dry that it pulls away from the sides of the pot; this can cause the roots to desiccate and collapse. The goal with winter watering is primarily keep the roots just slightly hydrated. NEVER let the pots sit in water for any length of time.
*Expert Tip: A great gauge for checking moisture in the pots is to take a bamboo skewer or even better a wooden chopstick and insert it into the soil all the way to the bottom, and leave it there. It can be pulled out anytime and you can see where the moisture level in the soil is on the stick – then just put it back in. During active growth you can water again when the moisture level shows around half way down in the pot. In winter wait until the moisture level shows more down into the bottom ¼ or 1/3. Above all remember that you are ultimately the best gauge of when to water or not as you become more familiar with your plants over time.
Hold back on the food and water and up the light quotient! Although they can do with less light in the winter, not enough can be seriously disfiguring. Without enough light, succulents “etiolate”, meaning they stretch trying to find more. They will also lose a lot of their color and turn a pale green regardless of what their actual color is. Sitting on a table or bench in the middle of a room isn’t going to cut it. Try to position them near a direct light source like a south facing window – some direct sun is o.k. too. Very bright is what you are shooting for, hopefully 3-4 hours a day. Artificial grow lights can be used as well but need to be positioned 12”-14” above the plants, and on for 12-14 hours for best results.
When winter is over – Yay!
So winter is over at some point, and if possible (this is good info for your end consumers especially) when the last frost warnings are over and the night temperatures are staying in the upper 40’s or better, get everybody out of their winter barracks and into the great outdoors. Full to dappled sun, fresh air, a good drink and some ¼ strength fertilizer. Leave them there for all of the frost free months and remember to bring them back inside for another winter hiatus before the first freeze of autumn hits.
Everybody Stay Warm!!!
For more information on Cactus and Succulent care visit: http://www.cactuscollection.com/info/index.html