Planting Spiny Succulents

I normally don’t lean toward writing instructional newsletter articles, but I have been bit and infected by the succulent bug.  I just know there are people out there who would like to read and see how to plant a succulent garden without getting injured by spines.  Well, I really should say, I am going to share how to plant spiny succulents and keep injuries to a minimum.  So, I hope you find this photo demonstration helpful and I hope it helps those worried about being “poked” get past that fear and create a spiny garden of their own.

 

NOTE – Not all succulents are cacti, but all cacti are succulents.  Even some succulents that look like cacti, aren’t.

 

First things first – Proper soil is key to keeping succulents.  I start with good soil and mix in expanded shale (haydite).  Your soil does not need to be organic, but it’s fine if you want to use organic as I did.  What’s really important is the texture of your soil.  It should be very loose and light.  Expanded shale is my drainage additive of choice.  Succulents in general require really good drainage to keep water from sitting on their roots.  You don’t have to use expanded shale, many succulent gardeners use sand, crushed granite, perlite, or other materials to increase drainage of their soil.  I like to use a mixture of 1/3 expanded shale to 2/3 soil.  This seems to keep my dry land succulents happy.  If I am planting succulents that might need a little more moisture, I reduce the amount of expanded shale to ¼ and increase the amount of soil to ¾ for my mixture.  For the purposes of this demonstration, I used approximately 1/3 shale to 2/3 soil because most of the plants I chose for these containers prefer dryer conditions. SOIL

Second things second – Proper lighting is important too.  Most succulents will do well in bright light (some will do great indoors near a window) and many will do well even in our full sun here.  However, if you purchase a cactus or other succulent and it has been partially protected from the sun, don’t just place it in full sun right away.  It’s always good to gradually increase sun exposure over a period of time to make sure the succulent can take it.

Third things third – Water is necessary, but because succulents store water in their stems, they don’t need regular watering like other plants.  Even in the heat of the summer, minimal watering is key.  Let succulents dry completely and for a period of time before watering.  Never allow water to sit in a succulent pot.

 

Now, let’s get onto the photos.

 

 

Photo 1- This photo shows my planting box (because I don’t have a potting bench), tongs, barrel cactus and pot (with a drainage hole at the bottom). I chose a fairly shallow pot for this barrel cactus with red spines because, like most succulents, this cactus has pretty shallow roots. The tongs are there to help me plant the cactus
Photo 1- This photo shows my planting box (because I don’t have a potting bench), tongs, barrel cactus and pot (with a drainage hole at the bottom). I chose a fairly shallow pot for this barrel cactus with red spines because, like most succulents, this cactus has pretty shallow roots. The tongs are there to help me plant the cactus

Photo 2- I am using my hand to squeeze the plastic pot all the way around and loosen the roots from the pot.
Photo 2- I am using my hand to squeeze the plastic pot all the way around and loosen the roots from the pot.

Photo 3- I have removed the cactus from the pot and laid it on its side in my planting box. Don’t worry about injuring cacti too much from handling or laying them down. They are pretty sturdy and can handle a lot while planting.
Photo 3- I have removed the cactus from the pot and laid it on its side in my planting box. Don’t worry about injuring cacti too much from handling or laying them down. They are pretty sturdy and can handle a lot while planting.

Photo 4 – I have moved the pot to my planting box and I have loosened the soil around the roots. It’s always a good idea to loosen the soil around the roots. If the cactus had been root-bound, I would have cut some of the roots as well. This is a great time to inspect the roots and make sure they aren’t rotting at any point and there aren’t any bugs to contend with
Photo 4 – I have moved the pot to my planting box and I have loosened the soil around the roots. It’s always a good idea to loosen the soil around the roots. If the cactus had been root-bound, I would have cut some of the roots as well. This is a great time to inspect the roots and make sure they aren’t rotting at any point and there aren’t any bugs to contend with

Photo 5 – This photo shows the soil and shale I start with before mixing. Some people like to pre-mix their soil in a container, but I usually end up mixing soil in the pot I will be planting in. I don’t use exact measurements; I just use the container I am moving soil with to measure out 2 parts soil to 1 part expanded shale.
Photo 5 – This photo shows the soil and shale I start with before mixing. Some people like to pre-mix their soil in a container, but I usually end up mixing soil in the pot I will be planting in. I don’t use exact measurements; I just use the container I am moving soil with to measure out 2 parts soil to 1 part expanded shale.

 

Photo 6 – This photo shows how my soil looks once I have it mixed. Don’t get hung up on being exact with the soil. Increase the drainage with shale or some other good additives and you are going to be fine. I add enough mixed soil to start so that my cactus will sit just above the rim of the pot on the root ball. You don’t want to plant so that the base of your cactus is below the rim of the container because your soil will settle and it will end up being even deeper in the container. Also, I have found that if I plant my succulents up high (just a little above the rim of the container) they look better over time.
Photo 6 – This photo shows how my soil looks once I have it mixed. Don’t get hung up on being exact with the soil. Increase the drainage with shale or some other good additives and you are going to be fine. I add enough mixed soil to start so that my cactus will sit just above the rim of the pot on the root ball. You don’t want to plant so that the base of your cactus is below the rim of the container because your soil will settle and it will end up being even deeper in the container. Also, I have found that if I plant my succulents up high (just a little above the rim of the container) they look better over time.

Photo 7- Here I am test placing my barrel cactus in the pot using my tongs. Gosh the tongs work great in helping to plant spiny cacti. I hate wearing gardening gloves, so tongs and a little carefulness on my part go a long way to keeping this gardener injury free.
Photo 7- Here I am test placing my barrel cactus in the pot using my tongs. Gosh the tongs work great in helping to plant spiny cacti. I hate wearing gardening gloves, so tongs and a little carefulness on my part go a long way to keeping this gardener injury free.

Photo 8 – Here I have moved the cactus more to the back of the pot and though I had originally planned to plant it alone, I decided to add a couple of smaller cacti with it. There’s usually room in succulent pots to add more. Succulent roots really don’t take up a lot of space, so don’t be afraid to plant more in one pot as long as the plants aren’t right up next to each other.
Photo 8 – Here I have moved the cactus more to the back of the pot and though I had originally planned to plant it alone, I decided to add a couple of smaller cacti with it. There’s usually room in succulent pots to add more. Succulent roots really don’t take up a lot of space, so don’t be afraid to plant more in one pot as long as the plants aren’t right up next to each other.

 Photo 9 – This photo is of the small cacti I will be adding to this container.

Photo 9 – This photo is of the small cacti I will be adding to this container.

Photo 10 – Here, I am using my fingers to loosen the plastic pot from the roots.
Photo 10 – Here, I am using my fingers to loosen the plastic pot from the roots.

Photo 11 – Here, I am using tongs to move the small cacti to the container.
Photo 11 – Here, I am using tongs to move the small cacti to the container.

Photo 12 – Here, I am using tongs to place the small cactus in the pot. Again, I am making sure that the soil level at the base of the cactus sits a little above the rim of my container.
Photo 12 – Here, I am using tongs to place the small cactus in the pot. Again, I am making sure that the soil level at the base of the cactus sits a little above the rim of my container.

Photo 13 – I have planted all three cacti and I am adding soil to cover the roots and finish off the planting. I don’t typically worry about the soil mixture at the top of my pot like I do the soil at the bottom and surrounding the roots of my plants.
Photo 13 – I have planted all three cacti and I am adding soil to cover the roots and finish off the planting. I don’t typically worry about the soil mixture at the top of my pot like I do the soil at the bottom and surrounding the roots of my plants.

Photo 14 – Here I am patting down the soil around my cacti, making sure to secure them properly in their spot and even out the top of the soil as best I can.
Photo 14 – Here I am patting down the soil around my cacti, making sure to secure them properly in their spot and even out the top of the soil as best I can.

Photo 15 – Here I am using a toothbrush to clean up the cacti. A soft brushing works well to remove soil stuck in and around spines on cacti.
Photo 15 – Here I am using a toothbrush to clean up the cacti. A soft brushing works well to remove soil stuck in and around spines on cacti.

Photos 16 and 17 – These are the rocks I used to top dress this pot. I lightly place them into the soil and press them just a little so they stay in place. You don’t have to use rocks to top dress your cactus garden; this is an area where you can get very creative. You can use glass chips, old beads and a myriad of other things to give your cactus garden a little more oomph. I even have some pots that I have decorated like fairy gardens and one that looks like an undersea scene (I will share photos of these in the July newsletter).
Photos 16 and 17 – These are the rocks I used to top dress this pot. I lightly place them into the soil and press them just a little so they stay in place. You don’t have to use rocks to top dress your cactus garden; this is an area where you can get very creative. You can use glass chips, old beads and a myriad of other things to give your cactus garden a little more oomph. I even have some pots that I have decorated like fairy gardens and one that looks like an undersea scene (I will share photos of these in the July newsletter).
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Photo 18 – My first pot is complete and placed on its plant stand.
Photo 18 – My first pot is complete and placed on its plant stand.
 

Photos 19-22 – These photos show the process I went through to plant my second succulent container. Basically, I followed the same procedure that I used for the first one, but I did opt to keep this pincushion euphorbia alone in its container. I just love the purple spines on this one.
Photos 19-22 – These photos show the process I went through to plant my second succulent container. Basically, I followed the same procedure that I used for the first one, but I did opt to keep this pincushion euphorbia alone in its container. I just love the purple spines on this one.
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Photo 23 – The two small cactus gardens are finished and I am preparing to plant the larger one in place. My last pot is quite a bit larger than the other two and once I fill it with soil, it will be too heavy to move, so I will be planting it on its stand.
Photo 23 – The two small cactus gardens are finished and I am preparing to plant the larger one in place. My last pot is quite a bit larger than the other two and once I fill it with soil, it will be too heavy to move, so I will be planting it on its stand.

 Photo 24 – Here, I am filling the large pot with soil and shale and mixing in place.

Photo 24 – Here, I am filling the large pot with soil and shale and mixing in place.

Photo 25 – Here, I am placing the larger succulents in the container to get a feel for where they will go.
Photo 25 – Here, I am placing the larger succulents in the container to get a feel for where they will go.

Photos 26-28 – Here, I am using crumpled newspaper to both move cacti and hold them in place temporarily. The cactus with the golden spines is called Golden Torch Cactus and the gray haired cactus is called Old Man. When I pulled the Old Man cactus out of the pot, most of the soil around its roots fell away. So, the cactus did fall over in my container and it took some doing to get enough soil around to support it and get it to stand straight.
Photos 26-28 – Here, I am using crumpled newspaper to both move cacti and hold them in place temporarily. The cactus with the golden spines is called Golden Torch Cactus and the gray haired cactus is called Old Man. When I pulled the Old Man cactus out of the pot, most of the soil around its roots fell away. So, the cactus did fall over in my container and it took some doing to get enough soil around to support it and get it to stand straight.
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 Photo 29 – These are the smaller cacti that I am adding to this container garden.

Photo 29 – These are the smaller cacti that I am adding to this container garden.

Photos 30-32 – In these photos I am placing the smaller cacti, planting them and using my soft toothbrush to do a little cleaning up. Even the old man cactus cleaned up well with the toothbrush.
Photos 30-32 – In these photos I am placing the smaller cacti, planting them and using my soft toothbrush to do a little cleaning up. Even the old man cactus cleaned up well with the toothbrush.
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.Photos 33-35 – This is the last step to planting succulents - watering them in. You do want to water in newly planted succulents very well. But, after that, only water succulents infrequently. I keep most of mine on my screened porch. The roof is screened too, so I get plenty of filtered sunlight and my succulents get water naturally when it rains. Don’t be afraid to keep your succulents out where they may get some rain. Just follow the steps above to be sure that your soil drains very well. There are some agaves that don’t like rain hitting them at all, but mostly succulents can deal with a little rain. If you get a lot of rain, you may have to move dry land cactus under cover to protect them.
.Photos 33-35 – This is the last step to planting succulents – watering them in. You do want to water in newly planted succulents very well. But, after that, only water succulents infrequently. I keep most of mine on my screened porch. The roof is screened too, so I get plenty of filtered sunlight and my succulents get water naturally when it rains. Don’t be afraid to keep your succulents out where they may get some rain. Just follow the steps above to be sure that your soil drains very well. There are some agaves that don’t like rain hitting them at all, but mostly succulents can deal with a little rain. If you get a lot of rain, you may have to move dry land cactus under cover to protect them.
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Photos 36-39 – Completed succulent containers, separately and all together. I am very happy with the end product and I will share their progress in future newsletters.
Photos 36-39 – Completed succulent containers, separately and all together. I am very happy with the end product and I will share their progress in future newsletters.
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