Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Recent developments in Dave Bad Person's garden

Here's what's flowering on the balcony this morning: Fenestraria rhopalophylla, the Window Plant. It normally lives buried in desert sands in Namibia with just the windowed leaf tips poking above the surface to allow light to enter the plant underground.  Not long ago this was a rare plant in cultivation. However it's easy growing has made it a lot more common, and now it can be found in the gardening section of big box stores such as Target, Walmart and Home Depot.

Here's what it looks like in habitat. This is a pic I got from the internet.

Succulent Revival

I had a revival of my interest in succulent plants this autumn. I've been growing cactuses* and succulents for about 25 years now, which started with my dad and grandfather growing them when I was a kid. With the renewed interest, I decided to expand my plant collection significantly for the first time in several years. I live in Southern California and grow my plants outdoors, with no cover against the elements because I just don't have much space. This has caused my collection to undergo natural selection over the years. Anything that can't handle the baking summer sun or the occasional heavy winter rainfall simply dies. However this time I was a little smarter with my choices and looked for plants that I knew were from winter rainfall areas and would therefore be more likely to survive here.

* You don't need to use Latin plurals anymore. Latin is dead.  It's been dead for about 1500 years. The word "cacti" can now be spelled "cactuses". Get with the times!

Another thing I've started doing is collecting seeds of rare and unusual succulent plants.  I intend to propagate them. It's a whole lot cheaper to buy rare plants as seeds and grow them yourself. Even moderately rare plants can go for $50-$100 or even more. Growing them yourself saves a lot of money. You just need some care and patience, several years of time for the plants to grow from seed, and an expectation that some things might die along the way.  It's also a whole lot more fun to watch them grow than just buying plants off the internet or from a nursery.  

So  I bought a bunch of pots and trays and a bunch of soil ingredients and put them over at my father-in-law's house where there's some space.  He has a vegetable garden he no longer uses so I took over some of that space.  Here I can begin germinating my seeds.  Autumn might not seem like the best time to start sowing seeds, but some of these winter growing plants do germinate in autumn or winter, which is when the rains or fog begins in their native homes in the deserts of Southwestern Africa. So I've managed to get a few things to come up already.

And now for a digression...
Dave's Succulent Soil

Just as a quick aside, I'd like to mention that I make my own succulent soil. You can't rely on so-called "cactus potting soil" that you find at most nurseries and garden centers because they generally contain too much organic matter.  Succulents live in deserts and perfer a soil that's made of mostly inorganic components.  Highly organic soils tend not to drain well and hold too much water for succulents. They also harbor fungi and pests that can be detrimental to succulents. So it's best to make your own succulent soil.

Here are the ingredients for my soil.

  • 1 part perlite.  You can also use pumice such as Dry Stall, which can be bought from animal feed stores.
  • 1 part scoria. This is a type of lava rock. It comes in a black or red color, or even mixed, but I prefer the red because it looks more "deserty".  Try to get particles less than 3/4 inch otherwise you'll have big chunks in your soil.
  • 1 part quartz sand.  This can be bought as pool filter sand in 50 pound bags from hardware stores or Walmart. It's pure quartz sand that's been washed and had the large and small particles seived out so it comes as 20 grit particles, perfect for sucuclent soil. Paver sand, coarse river sand, or any other kind of washed sand can also be used. Don't use beach sand because it contains salt and will hold a lot of water because it's too fine. I've also used decomposed granite in the past, but be warned that it can sometimes contain a lot of fine particles, depending on the batch, and those fine particles will make your soil hold a lot of water for a long time, which is bad for succulents. Keep the particle size of your soil on the coarser side for good drainage.
  • 1 part potting soil. This is the stuff that comes in plastic bags at most nurseries and garden centers.  You can even buy the "cactus, palm and citrus soil" but it makes no difference.

  • Vermiculite. It holds way too much water for succulents.
  • Rice hulls. These will go moldy and make your plants rot.
  • Non-porous gravel or pebbles. These larger particles contribute no air spaces or water retention to your soil and are simply a waste of space in your pots.

Mix these ingredients thoroughly by whatever means.  A concrete mixer can be useful if you have one.  I only make small amounts at a time so I just pour the ingredients onto the ground and kneel down and mix by hand. ONce mixed, you now have your succulent soil.  Adjust the ratios of ingredients slightly to give the soil different properties to match the requirements of different plants.

End of digression.

Tylecodon singularis

While looking around online for plants to add to my collection, I found out about a plant called Tylecodon singularis.  It's an extremely rare plant that grows only in crevices in limstone layers around the mouths of a few caves in the desert of Southern Namibia. The population has been decimated by illegal collection. It's actually a kind of freak of the succulent world and you wouldn't even know it was from the Crassulaceae family until it flowered.  Fortunately t's easy to grow and some hobbyists have managed to cultivate and propagate it.  I found some seeds being sold online in the Netherlands.

Importing seeds into the country can be an issue.  So I applied for a USDA permit to import a small batch of seeds. This permit is free and can be filled out online.

I'm starting to wonder if this was a good idea, since the permit application might take 1 to 6 weeks. By then it may be getting late in the plant's winter growing season for me to plant the seeds and get decent sized plants that can survive on their own before their summer dormancy set in. However the people in the Netherlands assure me the seedlings are opportunistic and will grow through the summer if kept cool and shaded and given water. Phew!

I guess I can add "endangered species preservation" to my resume.

Here's the Llifle entry for Tylecodon singularis.…/Crassula…/35331/Tylecodon_singularis

Here are some pictures I found online of Tylecodon singularis, including one in habitat.

Habitat pic

Update 12/20/2019

I got my USDA permit to import seeds of Tylecodon singularis from the Netherlands today. The permit only took 2 days to get.  I sent it on to the seed suppler and should get my seeds soon.

That's all for now.  Come back to this blog post later and hopefully I'll have some updates about the various plants I've mentioned.

-Dave Bad Person

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