Done doing some potting

I spent a couple hours in the morning removing suckers from two of our ornamental pear trees (‘Aristocrat’ and ‘Bradford’) that keep coming up everywhere. What joy! I wrote about this sucker problem before, so the less said on that topic, the better!

To reward myself, I decided to tackle a few potting projects I hadn’t gotten around to yet. The first one was simple: Put the 1-gallon Puya coerulea var. violacea I bought at the last UC Davis Arboretum plant sale in a larger and nicer container.

Puya coerulea var. violacea in its 1-gallon nursery container

Puyas are terrestrial bromeliads and hence related to pineapples—the top of a pineapple looks quite similar to this puya. Most puyas are native to Chile and given time and space will form large clumps and eventually produce stunning flower stalks. This spring several large puyas were in bloom at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden but unfortunately I never got around to seeing them. My puya is a smaller species and will produce a more modest flower stalk, seen in this photo. But that’s a number of years down the line.

A couple of years ago I was given the green pot seen in the next photo and I never knew what to do with it—it simply didn’t go with any plants I had. However, it seems to be a good match for this puya, so that’s where it went.

Note: Puya leaves are heavily serrated. Wear thick gloves when handling them!

Puya coerulea var. violacea in new pot


Project 2 involved a rather brightly colored strawberry pot my wife bought last year at Panama Pottery in Sacramento. In the top I had planted a dwarf aloe called ‘Pink Blush’ and in the pockets a bunch of cobweb hens and chicks (Sempervivum arachnoideum).

Strawberry pot with Aloe ‘Pink Blush’ and Sempervivum arachnoideum

As you can see in the next photo, the Sempervivum arachnoideum are doing extremely well…

Sempervivum arachnoideum offsets

…at least in three out of the five pockets. The plants in the other two pockets have died, leaving ugly gaps.

Dead pockets…

The solution was simple: Simply detach some of the offsets from the other pockets and stick them in the empty pockets. Add a little bit of soil on top and water. They should put out new roots in no time considering how pleasant the weather is at the moment.

…with some Sempervivum arachnoideum offsets

The third project was a fun one. During our trip to Southern California in February, I bought a beautiful fish hook cactus at Mariscal Cactus & Succulents in Desert Hot Springs. Since I didn’t quite know where to put the cactus, it sat in its 5-gallon nursery container all this time. Last week I bought a nice square terracotta pot at Panama Pottery’s spring sale so I was finally ready to repot my fish hook.

Fish hook cactus (Ferocactus wislezenii)

I used the same technique I’d followed in early February when I repotted a large golden barrel cactus.

Step 1: Place the cactus sideways on wadded up newspaper. This fish hook cactus has even longer spines than the golden barrel and I was very careful to protect them well. The last thing I wanted was for the spines to get damaged or break. That would have seriously impacted the looks of the cactus.

Protect the spines with wadded up newspaper

Step 2: Wrap a blanket around the cactus and newspaper and tie it with a strap, belt, etc.

Wrap in blanket and tie with strap

Steps 3: Remove the old pot. While I had to struggle with the golden barrel cactus, this one came right off. Not a lot of roots considering how large and heavy the cactus is!

Remove from pot

Step 4: Plop the plant into its new pot and remove the strap, blanket and newspaper. Fill up with loose, well-draining soil. Done!

Put in new pot

Here’s the fish hook cactus in its new home on our front porch, next to two of my favorite agaves. They make quite a beautiful trio!

Ferocactus wislezenii with Agave celsii (top right) and Agave ‘Blue Flame’ (top left)


  1. Something about that first photo of the cactus made me think it was a little thing... then I saw the belt and realized the scale!

    Seems like you've got a good method now that I may have to use someday -- my one potted houseplant cactus is getting big!

    It seems to me that using a saucer under potted plants that like it dry is counterintuitive. Is it not a problem?

  2. Alan, of course you're right about the saucers. I use them more to protect the flagstone than for anything else. I typically drill a few holes in the side of the saucer so the water can run off into the planting strip in front of the patio.

  3. Gorgeous succulents Gerhard! The aloe and sempervivum planter is my favourite. But extra thumbs up on repotting the Fish hook cactus, well done!

    I've sort of given up on Puyas here, most of those I leave outside were killed off a couple of winters ago. Mainly due to general lack of space. The smaller Puyas are lovely though.

    Have you got any Dyckias and Hechtias in your collection?

  4. Mark, I do have a dyckia. I'll post a photo soon. It has started to clump but is remaining small. I don't know which species it is--it was simply labeled "Dyckia sp." Not very helpful :-(

    Hechtias are beautiful, too--especially the cultivars that turn intensely red in the center--but their leaf margins seem to be the nastiest out of all the bromeliads. Still, if I ever find a Hechtia texensis like this one, I'll buy it.


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