From when I repotted my cactus — nearly two years ago — there were long stretches when these plants looked dead. I seem to have somehow specialized in growing plants that go dormant for extended periods. If you disturb them — even though you are only doing it for their own good — they just don’t appreciate your efforts. These cactus desperately needed to be repotted.
I originally got them from a friend at work. The last time I worked was 2010. They arrived as cuttings in tiny pots. During the intervening 12-years, they went from cuttings to big healthy plants. Inevitably, no matter how much I fertilized the soil, the roots needed room and fresh soil. The bit of soil in which they arrived had been sucked dry. Mind you plants such as cactus — succulents — as well as most orchids have tiny root systems, but even so, these were overcrowded. They were also too heavy for little pots. They fell over and every time they fell, pieces broke off.
I didn’t want to re-pot them. Succulents love to drop pieces of themselves. This is how they spread. Those broken pieces will grow roots and become new plans which is great — outside. It doesn’t work quite as well indoors. So, there came a day when if I didn’t repot them, they’d die. If I did, they might die anyway, but I had nothing to lose. I had to give it my best shot.
As I feared, they fell into dozens of broken pieces during the pot-changing ceremony. I learned years ago that you have to be firm with your plants. They won’t respect you if you don’t treat them firmly, but kindly.
After re-potting, they went into a green coma. A “resting” plant looks pretty much dead. The only thing you can do is keep them in a bright place and ONLY water them when they are totally, absolutely, completely dry. Many times I would look at the table and I had to wonder if I wasting my time. But, I had faith. It believed they would come back. Last year, just about this time, each plant woke up for about a week, put up a few buds and grew one flower. Not exactly a major blooming, but it helped me keep the faith.
I believed they would grow again and finally, they have come beautifully alive.
I’ve been growing indoor gardens for a really long time. I was just in my early 20s when my friend Mary told me:
“Plant them in the right soil and put them in a bright window. Water them when they are dry.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“That’s 90% of it,” she said. “The rest is having the right light, re-potting if they really need it, and not over-watering them.”
I spent three years as the editor of Doubleday’s Gardening Book Club and reading books about plants was about 50% of my job. (Note: Talk about great jobs. They paid me to read books!)
I read a lot of books but in they end, Mary was right. It helps to know what kind of soil you need, what kind of fertilizer is best for that kind of plant, but it’s not hard to find that information. Any nursery will tell you and send you home with a lot more dirt than you are going to need.
So be of good cheer. It may be too early to put up the (fake)(but realistic) tree, but my Christmas cactuses are red and green and growing like crazy!