Crazy Weather

After our one to several feet of snow in February, we are now spending what is usually a rainy April and May basking in the sunshine of 60-80 degree days.  Should we move the cacti and succulents out?  Will we still get some of those 45 degree rainy days?  It’s hard to tell at this point.  Predictions are for another hot summer and a dry one.  Our rain barrels are all full but the water won’t last long as we are already watering plants on the deck from our rainwater stash.

Many of our members are enjoying large dinner plate sized blooms on their epiphyllums.  At our April meeting, one of our most ardent brag plant presenters brought in an array of orchids and bulbs in bloom.  Another member brought in a breathtaking red epiphyllum with blooms at least 8 inches across.  In both cases, the plants are grown in greenhouses.  Our plants, grown in our home, tend to bloom later in June or July once they get outdoors.

Photo by Karen Summers

 

Mammillaria spinosissima seedlings
Photo by Karen Summers
Ferocactus wislizeni seedlings
Photo by Karen Summers

At the other end of the spectrum, seeds sown on March 20, 2019 have grown and are eagerly crowding out their neighbors.  One of the things I’ve found that promotes the growth of seedlings is to crowd them.

I plant thickly on purpose and let them jostle each other for a year or two.  I’ve found that the survival rate seems increased as a result of this.  I’m not claiming a high survival rate, just an increased one.

On April 10, we were called into action to drive 3 hours to an area east of Wenatchee to retrieve many plants from the home of one of our members who was selling her property.  It was a dry day, breezy and with a spring feel to it.  We stood out in the middle of this beautiful piece of land- rocky and grassy with a wide open skies feel to it.

We pruned many varieties of  Opuntia paddles, dug Lewisia from their rocky home, and tackled some of the Cholla and Yucca.  It seemed that most of what was growing competed for the longest, nastiest spines.  After bringing them home, many of the Opuntia paddles were taken to our April meeting where they were snapped up by members using salad tongs.  Some were planted for our fall sale.  Lewisia cotyledon were potted  up and regardless of the upset of the move have been bursting into bloom.

Lewisia cotyledon
Photo by Karen Summers

Spring is a wonderful time of year – so much to do outdoors and with the plants.  Each day brings new growth, new blooms, and a stronger connection to the natural cycle of plants.

Tasks of Spring

As a result of our last meeting, “The Great Frailea Repot” happened over two days in the greenhouse of one of our members.  Some years ago, he willingly took in a tray of Frailea that had been donated to the club and no one else had room to adopt.  Over the past several years the forgotten Frailea had happily reproduced in the back corner of his green house to the point that he had 13-15 cacti in a one inch pot.  The Frailea looked a bit worse for it, too.  While re-potting we managed to salvage many seeds, some of which are percolating in a flat in my laundry room as I write this.  I have great hopes for many tiny, tiny Frailea babies.

With our warmer weather we are opening our greenhouse doors – out with the bad air and in with the good air.  Repotting of our less crowded plants will begin soon.  And then there is that first watering after the long winter dormancy.

Along with the commencement of growth has come the mealy bug army.  I keep my alcohol spray bottle at the ready as I work with my plants. Unfortunately this year the mealies have gone after the Gasteria and Haworthia quickly decimating some of these plants.  Perhaps since we’ve never had this problem with these plants before, we wasn’t as vigilant as we are with our Echinopsis which seems to breed it’s own mealy bugs.

While watching the tulips unfurl, we are already planning the big break out of plants from under plastic and into the yard.  Each year we try to come up with the perfect design and each year we end up with plants all over the place, often in the walkways.

Our summer promises to be drier, hotter and in other ways following the trend of the past years.  Our plants love this, but the native plants in our yard have begin to struggle a bit.  It’s hard to imagine that our rainy Pacific Northwest is becoming a good place to grow cactus!

Spring!

We celebrated spring a bit early at our March 17 meeting.  The weather was balmy with a blue sky giving hope and promise after the deep snows of a month ago.  Our plants are showing signs of spring growth which is always exciting.  Many members are actively engaged in re-potting, propagating cuttings, and starting plants from seed.

There is nothing more exciting to me as a gardener than planting a seed and seeing an amazing plant grow from it.  Two weeks ago I planted 16 different seed packets and the results have been beyond my dreams.  Most exciting is the packet marked “unknown”.  Right now the tiny green nubs look like all the other tiny green nubs.

At our March meeting the brag plants overflowed with a variety of bulbs and orchids in bloom.  Even a rather harried looking Albuca was putting on a show.

The Frailea presentation for Cactus of the Month elicited many delighted remarks and an interest in acquiring this little dynamo.  Fortunately one of our members has a stash in the back corner of his greenhouse in serious need of re-potting.  These were donated to the club 5 or 6 years ago and when no one took them he took them and stuffed them in a corner.  Being small they lend themselves to that.  Now they have multiplied to the point of overflowing their pots.  We are eagerly looking forward to potting up and selling these at our next meeting as well as our fall sale.

Our monthly program was on Gardens of England and having wanted to see the Chelsea Garden show for many years I savored the colorful slides presented.  While England,  like Washington state, isn’t know for its cactus and succulents, the climate lends itself to stunningly floral landscapes.  The succulents become an accent point.

Spring is a time of change, reunion, and hope.  We are all looking forward to what grows this year.

Got Snow?

The month of February was one to remember for those of us growing succulents in the Pacific Northwest.  We took a right to the jaw with 4 inches of snow fall, followed by a left to the jaw with another 5 inches, then a shot to the ribs with another 4 inches.  Once it was all settled and iced over we had a foot of snow and freezing weather to keep it around.  After living here for nearly 30 years, I can say I have never experienced anything like this.  Yes, we get snow from time to time, but not usually a barrage of snowy freezing weather.  Not this deep and not for so long.

Of first concern were the plants in the greenhouse.  Were they warm enough? (no) Was the weight of the snow too much (yes).  To add to our woes, the power went out leaving us scurrying out in hats, boots, and gloves in the dark, unloading the greenhouse and moving approximately 200 plants onto a tarp in the family room.  In the rush, a few plants were dumped, some broken.  We took advantage of the time indoors for some mid-winter plant care and addressed a couple of mealy bug issues.

At our February meeting members had an opportunity to share their personal horror stories as they dealt with plants kept under the eaves, in unheated greenhouses, and even in heated greenhouses.  One of the scariest situations happened in the greenhouses of our member who grows many caudex plants and unusual plants in very full greenhouses.  He had to hold the plants at just above freezing as he was nearly out of propane and the delivery truck couldn’t reach his home.  As he described it, “It’s survival of the fittest.”

 

While it was an intense time for the humans, the plants we brought indoors showed signs of spring growth starting.  Snow or not, spring is here as far as the plants are concerned.  I am always amazed and impressed at the will to live hardwired into succulent plants.  We know they are designed to survive in arid and harsh conditions, yet I see the same resiliency carrying them through some pretty cold weather.  The critical factor being that they are completely dry.

As of this writing, we are seeing some sun, some warmer days and the early tulips and daffodils starting to show color.  After going through some real winter, I think I appreciate the coming spring even more.

Starting a new year

As the daylight begins to return to our shady corner of the continental United States, there is yet time to reflect and learn from the past year.  Letting these reflections frame our goals, hopes and plans for the coming year provides a boost and an opportunity to adjust the rudder of our club’s direction.

2018 was a good year in many ways for the Cascade Cactus and Succulent Society.  We have had an infusion of energy, new ideas and skill sets into our club in the past year and it has allowed us to “make things happen”!  To reflect on our successes, there being no failures, is to feel like we are vibrant, growing and changing.

Our gains this past year:

  1.  New T-shirt design with online ordering
  2.  Field trip organized by a small committee of members, not the program chair
  3. New e-newsletter editor stepping up
  4. Name tag coordinator stepping up
  5. Official Instagram post person
  6. Our new website up and running
  7. Guest blogger preparing a piece on photography for this website
  8. Our annual plant sale – biggest sale yet with more vendors, new vendors, and greatest sales total.

And probably more that I haven’t even registered.  The point is, that leadership isn’t just at the administrative level, but many of our members are embracing their responsibility to keep the club running well and sharing the load.  The highlight of the December meeting was when two new members were quietly but vehemently discussing which one of them should be secretary for the coming year!  How many times have we needed a fill in secretary for one meeting and when asked who would fill that role there was only the “sound of silence”.

So we are off and rolling with exactly 73 members paid in full and a full program for the year.  We are looking forward to our programs, our continued involvement with the Volunteer Park Conservatory, and visiting member collections whenever possible.  Should we be in the same situation we are in now when 2020 rolls around, it would be excellent.

Transitions

The fall season is full upon us, with leaves glowing and blowing through the yard.  Not but a month ago, the spaces now claimed by fallen leaves were occupied by sunning succulents, sucking up the last of our sunny summer weather.  With the collections buttoned into greenhouses, moved onto window sills, and into basements under bright LEDs, our succulents transition into their winter rest.
                                                        Electronic Sunshine

While tucking all the plants into the nooks and crannies available for winter, it’s a good time to take stock of plant health and growth through the summer.  Many plants made big strides this year with our hot sunny weather.  It was merely a matter of keeping up with watering.  That’s something we don’t say often in the rainy Pacific Northwest! A bit of mealybug was noted in a few plants, which have now been moved to “Urgent Care” on the kitchen counter.  Here they get constant vigilant attention and needed spritzing with rubbing alcohol.

     “Urgent Care”

Our club is also wrapping up a very successful year of programs and field trips.  We are enjoying an influx of new members brought about by our recent club sale.  Already they have contributed ideas for programming and offered assistance with some of the ongoing club needs.  This time of year our club elects new officers to carry us through the coming year and hopefully years.  It takes a few months to get one’s stride as a newly elected club official, so expanding service to the club for a couple of years allows for more depth to develop in leadership.  Generally the focus for the change in leadership in our club, is on the office of president.  This all important person at the helm who provides support to volunteers working on special projects, who maintains the constancy of our club, who makes connections to other cactus and succulent communities, and who sets our vision is usually hard to find.  Finding those willing to serve in the role of president is a challenge and even more so finding one who is visionary and possessing needed leadership skills.

While the president is carrying the vision and structure of the club there are many worker bee roles needing responsible volunteers – refreshments, name tags, room set up and tear down, A/V, field trip coordinators, mini presenters for Cactus and Succulent of the month.  These are the people who pitch in on a regular basis to make sure the meeting room is comfortable and the small parts happen to make the whole.  Still a bit difficult to secure these people in ongoing roles but we are seeing more step up to take on the smaller jobs.

Our club is strong, energetic and fun.  It would not be this way without our able and willing volunteers.  We hope for some new volunteer energy in 2019 to carry us forward.  But for now, we are in good shape and looking forward to our next two meetings.

 

Our Big Sale

It takes a village to raise a child.  It also takes a village to put on a tremendously successful plant sale.  Our club is small compared to some of the clubs located in more succulent friendly climates.  What we lack in numbers we make up for in passion and energy.

With a turnout of eight excited members, we transformed the donated commercial space into our own cactus and succulent store.  A big shout out here to Sky Nursery in Shoreline, WA for continuing to support our sale as they have for somewhere over 28 years.  We filled our ten large horticultural tables with a selection of large and small succulents in a variety of forms:  dish gardens, bonsai, Halloween jack o’ lanterns, outdoor succulent gardens, cute pots, etc.  There was really something for everyone,  Except Lithops lovers.  Those were lacking.  There will be a Lithops growing push in our club’s future.

Saturday morning we were greeted by a line of shoppers outside the store, waiting to head for our sale space in a frightening imitation of salmon spawning upstream.  (A sight familiar to us in the Northwest.)  Crowds continued until 3:30 p.m., allowing our checkout team to get a break for the first time.  We were “dazed and amazed” with the succulent fever that consumed the shoppers.  One of the best things about the sale each year is that we see our fellow cactophiles who live in the area (some people drove three hours to come to the sale).

Our local popular gardening expert, Ciscoe Morris, spent time before his radio show doing some shopping.

Once their shopping cart or box is full, there is time to catch up and hear about their collection. Some things heard this year:  Go LED, use Milk of Magnesia to remove spines, Kalanchloe ‘Mother of Millions’ toxify the soil and nothing will grow near them, growing things in extremely small pots helps prevent overwatering, and other such tidbits.  We also learned that no matter how much promo you do, people primarily use our website and Facebook to find out about the sale.

By the time the dust settled at the end of sale day on Saturday we surveyed tables nearly empty with few boxes left.  Sellers scurried home to prepare more plants for sale on Sunday, and one member went dumpster diving at two local businesses for boxes.  Shout outs here to Trader Joe’s and Mudbay, (a local natural petfood store) for helping out a desperate woman babbling about succulents and boxes.

We had another banner day on Sunday, the Seahawks opening season game not dampening any shopping enthusiasm.  We left Sky Nursery’s space as we found it, empty, and went home with a full cash register and three well used Square Up card readers. One quit working and we thought it might possibly have melted from continual use.

Show plant on the display table.

As for the initially mentioned village, we had a team of 5 checkout folks who operated as a finally tuned machine, 14 vendors who spent long hours growing and preparing plants for sale then talking to over two hundred shoppers, a staunch greeter and plant show guard who interrupted several attempts to remove show plants for purchase, rovers who assisted shoppers with boxes, questions and shared information about our club.  The coordinators spent hours planning just so that when things went awry, it really didn’t matter.  The sale happened, customers got exciting new plants and our club has program funds for the coming year.  We feel happy.

Exciting Monthly Meeting

Our club enjoyed an expanded picnic experience with a morning visit to Elandan Gardens in Bremerton, WA.  It was overwhelming with the amazing plants, ancient trees, and artistry of the creator, Dan Robinson.  Lovers of bonsai were bowled over by the trees.  Some of us have seen Dan’s work at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle, but never before on this scale.  It was stunning.

After we tore ourselves away from the gardens, we visited the home of club members Steve and Claudia in Gig Harbor, WA.  They have their own amazing plants and trees, which we enjoyed looking at on a short tour of the property.  Steve’s meticulous greenhouse was a treat, with so many unusual and hard to grow plants doing well with his customized growing style.  Recently Steve has expanded his carnivorous plant collection, thanks to an accomodating neighbor, Scott Vergara at The Bogs of Doom at Woodland Gardens.  Scott brought some plants for our club members to look over and purchase then was good enough to give a talk with some printed literature to increase the likelihood of survival.

Finally, getting to the picnic – a delicious lunch of Beecher’s Mac ‘n Cheese and homemade ice cream was served.  These two dairy treats were augmented by the salads and side dishes contributed by attending members.   Following the meal, sated members enjoyed strolling the property, peaking into corners of the greenhouse and the waterfront view from in front of their home.

Our annual picnic is always a highlight for our members.  Days like this are what make summer in the Northwest worth waiting for.

It’s Time for the Annual Sale

Here in the Northwest, we cactus and succulent growers are reveling in “the dog days of summer”.  For us it’s “the succulent days of summer” – our summer heat wave.  Some growers are pollinating with brush in hand, others are lucky enough to be watching seed pods ripen.   All of us are watering plants, watching for pests, and trying to keep up with the needs of  our small seedlings in hot dry weather.   Then there’s the disturbing question of “Did that plant just die or go dormant?”

Yes, it does get dry in the rainy western half of Washington.  We are in the midst of our “drought” season, although those of us on this western side of the state were pleasantly surprised by a bit rain this week.  It gave us a break from the heat and watering chores, and provided much needed moisture for our very dry native plants.  Meanwhile our eastern Washington members are experiencing hotter than normal temperatures and the ever existent danger of wildfire – without the respite of rain.  

Our club is working feverishly to prepare for our annual sale.  We are at “one month ’til sale time” which means that all sale plants have been repotted if necessary, pest management attended to, and the process of pricing and tagging will begin soon.  The cleaning of plants and pots is done at the last moment. One year the plants were all cleaned and ready a week before the sale, sitting outside enjoying the sunshine while the Douglas Fir trees dropped their small needles and small cones into the pots. Nothing like using tweezers to pick a fir needle out of the center of an Opuntia!

An annual plant sale for a club such as ours is an “all hands on deck” affair.  With the popularity of succulents and the rising popularity of cacti, we have been experiencing increased numbers of shoppers, most of whom come within the first three hours of our sale opening.  While we love seeing the nursery doors open and customers headed our way, the onslaught can be a daunting.  It brings to mind the crowd scenes from the late 1950’s movie “The Blob”.  We are fortunate to have some experienced crowd wranglers in our club who are proficient at handing out boxes for shopping, providing cultivation information, and membership details to people as they shop.  Four years ago we added Square to our check out system and found our sales greatly improved over the cash and check system we were previously using.

We are grateful to have Sky Nursery as our sale sponsor, as they have been since before 1990.  We have a large space configured to our specifications and a safe place to leave plants over night.  Each year we make some improvements in our sale process and review their worthiness.  All in all the basic approach of putting a lot of good looking plants out on a table and getting out of the way seems to work the best.  Everything else is “top dressing.”

The annual plant sale for a club such as ours is our life blood.  Membership dues provide enough to pay for the publication of the newsletter.  In order to provide educational programs and support plant/habitat conservation, our club depends on the annual sale to supply us with the needed funds to achieve our mission.  We are grateful for our returning customers, the familiar succulent lovers who return each year and find new plants to add to their collection.  We couldn’t do it without those members who show up every year to muscle the tables around, operate the cash register, answer numerous questions, and clean up the space.

Summer time and the Cactus are Happy

At last!  The weather our cacti and succulents have been longing for since last November: cloud free sunny skies,  high temperatures, long days, little moisture.  We have entered the Pacific Northwest drought period.  Yep.  It don’t rain all the time here.

This is nirvana for our spiny ball cacti, euphorbia, agave, and other desert weather lovers.  Our Haworthia and Gasteria have a rosy glow from their “suntans”.  Buds have formed or flowers are in bloom and nearly every day we and the bees discover a new flower.

Rebutia fiebirgii Photo by Karen Summers

Admittedly the blooms of Haworthia are nothing to post on Instagram, but they seem to represent the same zest for living as the large cereus and Echinopsis blooms.  Another bonus is the absence of the mealy bugs and other critters that were becoming obnoxious by the time we brought the plants outdoors.

All is not perfect, however, because we have traded the mealies for larger and more destructive pests:  squirrels.  While the cacti have been longing for summer, so have the squirrels.  They started their families early in spring and now the young ones play tag through the pots, across the shelves and over and under the trays of baby plants.  We love their joy and hate their havoc at the same time.  It is truly survival of the fittest in our collections that move outdoors this time of year.

Plants soaking up the sun Photo by Karen Summers

While our plants are enjoying a resort vacation outdoors, our members are enjoying our monthly meetings which get us out of the classroom and into collections.  In July we annually visit the Volunteer Park Conservatory for a walk through the greenhouses – including those behind the scenes.  This is such a treat – to see how it’s all done and the unusual plants which aren’t on display yet.  It’s one of our rarer meetings in that there is less camaraderie since we are spread throughout the several greenhouses.

We make up for that with our annual picnic.  It’s always a treat to visit one of our member’s homes and see their plants and other hobbies.  This year’s picnic is held at the home of one of our meticulous growers, a man who inspires envy and frustration at the same time.  Why does his top dressing stay in place?  (see “squirrels” above)  Why do his plants grow neatly in the center of the pot without tipping over?  (see “squirrels” above)  Why do his plants look neat and tidy with no extraneous plant materials getting into the top dressing or thorns?  (No, not the squirrels.  I failed to mention the Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock forest that covers much of Western Washington state.)

One year old dish garden. Photo by Karen Summers
Recently completed dish garden. Photo by Karen Summers

While plants are looking healthy and mostly happy, it’s a great time to create some dish gardens.  It solves the problem of what to do with all the seed grown babies that might take up so many individual pots.  Dish gardens are easy to make – remembering that the same horticultural rules apply as growing individual plants.  Using pots with holes in the bottom, well draining soil (one mix is 50-50 potting soil without added fertilizer and pumice), and plants that generally like the same level of moisture.  You can get around this in a dish garden by using an eye dropper to provide water to the thirsty ones while keeping it away from the plants not wanting that level of moisture.

The seedlings started in January are making progress while still under their fluorescent lights in a squirrel free zone.  They remain in their original pots with their siblings until 1-2 years old.  The one exception are the Beaucarnia recurvata seedlings which quickly grew to two inch height.  After repotting and placing them in a protected area outdoors they are making quick progress, now about 4 inches tall.

Beaucarnia recurvata seedlings at 6 months. Now twice as tall. Photo by Karen Summers.

During this season we develop the most hope for our succulents, as we see them at their best, doing what nature intended them to do – and jealously admiring how they thrive in 90 degree heat.