Monday, February 15, 2016

Transplanting a barrel cactus from a pot into the ground

We worked all weekend on our lawn removal projects—both in the front and in the back yard. There are still a few things left to do so the big reveal will have to wait a little while longer. But I want to share with you how my wife and I transplanted a big barrel cactus from a pot into the ground.

Here’s the bad boy:

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I bought it in February 2011 at Mariscal Cactus & Succulents near Palm Springs. It was little smaller then; I’d say it’s grown by about 2/3. It’s now 16 inches tall and wide, not measuring the spines that stick out another inch on each side.

Mariscal said it was a fishhook barrel (Ferocactus wislizeni) but when Greg Starr visited last summer, he thought it was actually Ferocactus herrerae. Some sources list Ferocactus herrerae as a variety of Ferocactus wislizeni, so the two appear to be closely related.

Here’s what we did to transplant this barrel cactus from its pot on the front porch into one of the succulents mounds that now occupy what used to be the front yard lawn.

STEP 1: DIG A HOLE

This is the most obvious step. Dig a hole in the ground where you want the cactus to go. Make it slightly bigger than what it needs to be.

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STEP 2: PROTECT THE CACTUS—AND YOURSELF

I keep old towels, rugs, bath mats etc. on hand for this very purpose. I wrapped the cactus in an old IKEA area rug and a bath mat and held them in place with a couple of bungee cords.

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STEP 3: REMOVE CACTUS FROM POT

I failed to take pictures of this because it required two sets of hands. My wife and I carried the potted cactus over to the white tarp you see in the second photo above (I didn’t want to make a mess on the new path). I gave the pot a number of whacks with a rubber mallet to loosen the roots that might have attached themselves to the sides of the pot. I then laid the pot on its side and pulled on the cactus while my wife pulled on the pot. At first the cactus wouldn’t budge. I was getting ready to smash the pot (the cactus is worth more than the pot) when the cactus finally popped out. I lost some roots but that’s OK.

STEP 4: PUT CACTUS IN HOLE

The hole I’d dug turned out to be a bit bigger than it needed to be so I dumped some 3/8 inch rocks in it. I set the root ball on top of that and filled the hole around it with soil and more 3/8 rocks. The soil we’d had brought it is very loose and already has both pumice and small pieces of lava rock in it, but with cactus it’s virtually impossible to have too much drainage.

IMPORTANT: It’s important to plant the cactus in the same orientation it is used to. In other words, the side that was facing south when the cactus was in the pot should still be facing south after planting. Otherwise the cactus will sustain unsightly sunburn. This kind of damage is permanent and will never go away.

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I blurred out the left side of the photo above because I don’t want to give away too much yet. Look for the grand reveal of the front lawn removal project soon.

Since our barrel cactus used to live on the front porch where it only received directional sun in the mid- to late afternoon, I covered it with pieces of window screen to prevent sunburn. I’ll leave them in place for a week. Then I’ll remove the screen for 1/2 day for another week. After that, I’ll take it off altogether. I’m probably being too careful but the last thing I want is for my cactus to get horrible brown spots from sunburn.

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None of this is rocket science, but many people hesitate to transplant larger cactus. The key is to protect yourself (so you don’t get hurt) and the cactus (so it’s spines don’t get broken or its skin damaged).

NOTES ON WATERING: I typically wait a week or 10 days before giving a transplanted cactus some water. This allows the roots to heal in case they were damaged.

I recently learned from Laurin Lindsey of Ravenscourt Landscaping & Design in Houston, TX that seaweed extract is beneficial in preventing transplant shock. I plan on giving my barrel cactus a dose as soon as my order of Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed arrives.

16 comments:

  1. Do you water it at all when transplanting?

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    1. No, not right away. I usually wait a week or so. Except it looks like Mother Nature will help out tomorrow with a bit of rain.

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  2. Oh my gosh... Even with the photo blurred, I still can't wait for the reveal!

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    1. I hope it will live up to all the hype I'm creating here :-).

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  3. Feels good to get some long-potted plants into the ground, doesn't it? I only have one plant that needs to be wrapped for moving (the huge Pachypodium) but I have to admit it was scary doing it the first time -- so worried about breaking spines!

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    1. I'm with you: I'm actually more worried about the plant than myself.

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  4. I never thought about sun orientation. The screen is a good idea. I can't have many cacti in the ground here with our gumbo but I have had potted plants that I planted get sun burnt. I am excited to see your reveal. Glad you like the seaweed tip. I have a whole book about it and did a post you might find interesting http://ravenscourtgardens.com/2014/07/07/magic-elixir-for-plants-the-benefits-of-seaweed-in-your-garden/

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    1. I've learned the hard way. I just threw out a cactus that was sunburned all over--entirely my own fault. It was healthy and all but I just couldn't bear looking at it any longer.

      Thank you for the link to your post on the benefits of seaweed. I had no idea it had such wonderful properties.

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  5. Congrats on the successful move! What fun you must be having...everything (that I've seen thus far) looks fabulous.

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    1. Thanks! I'm really happy with everything. The only thing that's still giving me a headache is the choice of top dressing. None of the local rock yards have exactly what I want--a rock product that says "desert" to me.

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  6. Before reading the whole post, I assumed you and your wife were superheroes to take on such a task. Now I know that you are simply smart and well-prepared. The blurred out effect is way cool, by the way.

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    1. Believe me, I'm anything but a superhero (not that I would mind a few superpowers). In fact, I'm probably a bit too cautious. That's why I try to break down seemingly intimidating tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. With that approach, I've found, it's much easier to get things done :-).

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  7. You've got to be enjoying this phase of the process - even with its evident dangers!

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  8. Congratulations on a successful move! Has that cactus flowered yet for you since you bought it?

    The curved pathways look really good, even if we can see only little bits of them in the photos. Looking forward to the reveal.

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  9. Thanks for the pointers for an ouchless cactus transplant. I'm looking forward to seeing the great reveal!

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  10. So glad to hear this went smoothly. Careful prep and execution wins the day! It's so nice to have that mature specimen for an instant feature.

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