Cactus Frailea Information: Tips On Caring For Cactus Frailea
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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Frailea (Frailea castanea syn. Frailea asterioides) are very small cacti that rarely reach 2 inches in diameter. The plants are native to Southern Brazil over to Northern Uruguay. These little cacti are quite interesting in their form but their life cycle is even more surprising. There are several species of this genus available for home growers, but the plants are considered threatened in their native habitat. Learn how to grow a Farilea cactus and add an interesting specimen to your arid garden collection.
Cactus Frailea Information
Rounded, flattish mounds of solitary to occasionally divided chocolate, purple-brown or greenish brown Frailea make interesting contrasts to other succulents. This genus is named for Manuel Fraile, who once was in charge of the cactus collection of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Growing cactus Frailea is not difficult and these little plants are super starter plants for the novice gardener or just for someone who travels consistently but wants to come home to a living thing. Frailea cactus care is one of the simpler cultivation processes in the plant world.
The majority of these plants grow as solitary little flattened domes. The spines are extremely tiny and arrayed along the ribs. The body of the plant may range from chocolate to reddish green with several other color variations possible. Often, the plant will produce a fuzzy white fruit that dries to a fragile, membranous capsule filled with large seeds. This fruit is often a surprise as flowers are rare and are cleistogamous, meaning they don’t need to open to produce fruit and seed.
If you are lucky enough to observe a full bloom, the flower will be larger than the body of the plant and rich sulfur yellow. Growing cactus Frailea is easy from seed as germination is quick and reliable.
How to Grow a Frailea Cactus
Frailea perform best in full sun but be cautious about placing them too close to a southern window where the flesh can burn. The tone of the cactus is darkest when it enjoys a full day of sunlight.
This is a short lived plant that rarely exceeds 15 years before it dies back. Here’s a fun bit of cactus Frailea information. If plants are growing where no water is available, they have the interesting ability to hide in the soil. Don’t be shocked if your plant seems to have disappeared, as it is simply retracted under the soil just as it would do in the dry season in its native region. Once sufficient moisture is available, the plant swells and is again visible on the top of the soil.
Caring for Cactus Frailea
Caring for cactus Frailea is a balancing act between sufficient moisture but periods of soil drying, so water is the biggest challenge in Frailea cactus care. Choose water that is free from heavy minerals. Water well once per week in summer, but in spring and autumn water only once every 3 weeks or when the soil is quite dry to the touch. The plant experiences no growth in winter and does not need water.
Once per month during the growing season use diluted cactus food. In summer, you can bring your indoor specimens outside but be careful to bring them back indoors before any cold temperatures threaten.
Repot every few years with a good gritty succulent soil. Plants rarely need a larger pot and are quite content to be crowded. If you spot a seed pod, crack it open, sow seed in a flat with cactus mix and keep moderately moist in a sunny location.
The ease of growing cactus Frailea is a welcome surprise and is a simple way to increase your collection.
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Learn Torch Cactus Growing and Care
The trichocereus grandiflora [try-koh-KER-ee-us, gran-dih-FLOR-uh] belongs to the trichocereus or echinopsis plant genus and is a member of the Cactaceae (cactus) family and refers to all the trichocereus hybrids.
The word “grandiflora” means a large flower referring to the flowering style of this cactus.
Randy from Newbury Park, California, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is quite similar to the Lobivia and Soehrensia and is included in those genera sometimes.
It was first discovered in Bolivia and Argentina, particularly in the Catamarca region as well as other regions of South America.
They’re now popular in low desert gardens as seen throughout Phoenix, Arizona.
Other botanical names of this cactus include:
- Lobivia grandiflora
- Lobivia grandiflorus
- Helianthocereus grandiflora
- Helianthocereus grandiflorus
- Helianthocereus huascha
- Trichocereus rowleyi
- Echinopsis huascha
- Echinopsis spachiana
The most common name for this plant is the torch cactus.
The golden torch and the silver torch cactus are some of its more famous versions.
Beavertail Cactus (Optunia basilaris)Danita Delimont / Getty Images
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Danita Delimont / Getty Images
Beavertail is a prickly pear cactus with pads that are mostly blue-green. It grows to about 20 inches high and up to 6 feet wide. Beavertail has dark cherry pink flowers that almost glow and smell like watermelon. It blooms late winter to early summer and is ideal for desert landscaping and drought-tolerant gardens. Beavertail looks great teamed with Angelita daisy and barrel cactus. Potted plants benefit from a diluted cactus fertilizer once a year, but plants in garden settings do not need to be fertilized.
- USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
- Color Varieties: Pink
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Needs: Well-drained loam or sand
Growing forest cactus
Forest cactus survives best in humid areas. Therefore, choose soil that retains a little bit of moisture compared to that of desert cactus soil mix.
The following soil proportions will work best for your forest cactus
- One part of sponge rock/perlite
- Three parts of potting soil
- One and a half tablespoons of orchid bark
Forest cactus loves water. Unlike desert cactus which require you to only water them when the soil is completely dry don’t wait for the soil to become too dry.
However, you should be careful not to overwater your plants because the results will be a cactus with rotting roots. Always check the soil and ensure that it’s moist but never wet.
Another important thing to note about watering is to water your plants according to the season. During winter, water your plants once every two weeks. During summer and spring, water your plants every few days.
If you’re growing your plant from a cutting rather than buying a young cactus plant ensure that you don’t water the cutting. Only water the cutting once it starts to root, otherwise it will rot.
Forest cactus love filtered lighting. To ensure that your plants get the right amount of lighting, it’s best to grow them in hanging containers.
If your plants are growing under a tree, put up a shade made of lath or cloth. The materials will filter out the light to prevent sunburns, and promote blooming.
Do not make the mistake of moving your cacti indoors during winter, then putting them directly under the sun when summer returns. Your plants require time to adjust. Start by placing them under a shade, and then slowly start exposing them to sunshine using an incremental approach.
Initially, place the plant under direct sunlight for about an hour, then moving it to shade, the first few days. Proceed to place it under the sun for two hours the next few days and so on.
If you live in a tropical area, you won’t need to worry too much about temperature requirements for your cactus. This plant is a native of tropical areas where temperatures remain the same all year round.
If temperatures in your area dip below 10 degrees centigrade move your plants to a warmer area. Your house could be an ideal location until temperatures return to normal.
Alternatively, construct a shed that you can move your plants over the winter. A shed will ensure that you don’t bring plant bugs to your home.
Forest cactus gets a lot of nutrients from rotting leaves in the forest. Visit your local plant shop, and buy cactus fertilizer. Use this fertilizer every time you water your plants to promote absorption by the roots.
You can also try using cow compost. Be careful to use only properly composted manure. Stay away from compost that smells as this is an indicator that it’s not ready for use.
Forest cacti require containers that can seal in the moisture for a longer period. A good choice for material for your container here is plastic. However, ensure that your container has proper drainage to keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged.
3. Is using a fertilizer necessary?
A plant needs nutrients to thrive. For proper care, you need to purchase a fertilizer designed for cacti. They need additional nutrients for them to grow well. For most cacti, their growing season is usually the warmer months.
When looking for fertilizer, ensure you get a low-nitrogen one but high in phosphorus. This helps in maintaining the healthy looks of the cactus.
Always ensure you inspect your cacti during spring to monitor any new growth. Only apply fertilizer when you notice the growth.
The fertilizer should be in the ratio of 1 tablespoon of the low-nitrogen fertilizer with 1 gallon of water. Use this solution to water the cactus. Use this every eight weeks during spring/summer.
If you recently potted or repotted the cactus, don’t use fertilizer until the plant establishes itself in the new pot. This can take up to two months.
Some cacti such as the Christmas cacti bloom in winter and remain dormant during summer. In this case, fertilize them in winter.
Frailea curvispina Rare small size cactus
Frailea curvispina Origin and Habitat: The plant is found from Southern Brazil to Northern Uruguay.
Altitude: It grows at elevations from 150 to 300 metres above sea level.
Habitat and Ecology: The cactus grows on rocky outcrops and stony fields in pampa grasslands. This species is not abundant in Brazil but is common and abundant in Uruguay it is sparsely distributed where it occurs. The major threats to this species are grazing and cattle trampling, agriculture, forestry, fire and collection, but not in all of its range.
Frailea curvispina Description: Frailea is a very singular miniature plant, and one the of most fascinating cacti with a disk like, flattened to globose body.
Stem: It is diminutive in size and several remain solitary, never outgrowing 4-5 cm diameter. Stems are chocolate brown or dark reddish-green with 8-15 flat ribs.
Spines: 3-15 minute, short, black spider-like, appressed on the plant body and usually all bent downward.
Flower: Sulphur yellow, sometimes larger than the plant itself (4cm diameter). But don’t be disappointed when the easily produced buds fail to open. Fraileas are cleistogamous meaning that their flowers produce seed without even opening. Without the need for pollination, hence the buds rarely reach full bloom and remain closed. They will open only in great heat in the hottest, brightest, afternoon sun, if at all.
Fruits: Dry indehiscent that detach easily, pericarp membranous, fragile that break easily releasing the seed.
Seeds: Very big 3-3,5 mm wide. The seed is shaped strangely for a cactus, and is often described as “hat” or “boat” shaped with a prominent edge. That is a good description, for it is among the few cactus seeds that float! They are thought to be dispersed in habitat by floating away on runoff.
Remarks: This plant is short living (It does not live long – about 10-15 years)
ultivation and Propagation: Frailea curvispina is a summer grower species relatively easy to grow. It is sometime seen as a grafted plant but grows very well on its own roots too. Characteristically, during the dry season plants retract completely under the ground both in the wild and in cultivation too.
Growth rate: Fraileas are relatively short-lived plants, only lasting few years (rarely more than 10-15 years in cultivation) and, possible annuals in habitat! In fact they reseed readily around the base of the mother plant from self-set seed if kept reasonably moist during warm weather. It is a
good idea to keep restarting them from seed what looks like a healthy big plant may suddenly die of old age without warning.
Soil: Use mineral well permeable substratum with little organic matter (peat, humus), plants may become too elongated if compost is too rich.
Repotting: Re-pot every 2 years. Use pot with good drainage.
Fertilization: It grows much faster with a low nitrogen content fertilizer in spring and summer. Potassium helps maintaining the plants compact and healthy.
Watering: Requires careful watering to keep plant compact. Water sparingly from March till October, the thin, fibrous roots suffer if there is humidity, therefore the plant should be watered only when the surrounding terrain is dry. Keep dry as soon as the temperature starts dropping in October and keep it perfectly dry in winter at temperatures from 5 to 15 degrees centigrade.
Hardiness: They need a minimum temperature of 5-10° C (but occasionally temperatures of a few degrees below 0° are not dangerous if kept on the dry side prior to, and during, cold weather). It tends to rot in winter during the resting phase, if kept wet. In the rest period no high atmospheric humidity!!
Sun Exposure: Light shade to full sun, its colour tends to richer and darker when grown in light shade. In a shaded position the plants grow faster, but are not flat shaped and dark coloured.
Uses: It is an excellent plant for container growing. It always looks good and stays small.
What's the Best Cactus Soil?
Plant cacti in specially formulated cactus potting soil, whether purchased or DIY. Good drainage is crucial to cactus care, and regular potting soil tends to hold onto too much moisture for these low-water plants. You'll find many brands of cactus soil mix–some are even labeled organic cactus soil–on the nursery shelves, but it's easy enough to mix your own cactus potting soil.
A good formula for cactus soil is one-third horticultural sand, one-third cactus compost (you can use a regular potting mix for this but remove any large pieces of wood or twigs), and one-third grit in the form of pumice, perlite, or porous gravel. Mix these ingredients together thoroughly before planting your cactus.
If you're planting a cactus terrarium, you'll need to start with a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container, then top it with your cactus potting soil.