Q: I was given a shallow pot of small succulent and cacti this year and it’s been doing really well. I have it outdoors under a west-facing lattice roofed porch, so it’s a bright place and it gets dribs and drabs of sun at times. Can I leave it outdoors throughout the winter months or will it need to come in? E.C. – West Side
A: Since you don’t have any names to research from your collection, I’m going to hedge your bet and suggest strongly you bring the pot in for the wintertime. So many of the pre-potted collections sold on retail levels during the growing seasons are chock full of creatures not able to handle our temperatures. Granted, there are lots of cactuses and succulents that are built to withstand the cold I’m not sure yours would. So, rather than lose the collection, bring it in.
Now there is an easy way you can find out if any of your plants are hardy: Contact the Cactus Succulent Society of New Mexico. The web page www.new-mexico.cactus-society.org can guide you to knowledgeable folks. This Society meets periodically at the Albuquerque Garden Center, too, so being able to figure out if your collection is winter hardy should be pretty easy.
And, lo and behold, the Society is also hosting an informational fair at the Albuquerque BioPark Botanic Garden today and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There, you’ll see an exhibition “of prize winning plants along with some presentations and demonstrations … Learn about the cold hardy plants, non-prickly, prickly and some edibles that work well in Albuquerque landscapes.” Admission to the park will get you to several folks who should be able to help you figure things out. Now don’t go waltzing into the BioPark with your pot. Pictures work best or set up a time to discuss your treasure.
For now, let’s go back to bringing in your collection for the wintertime. Variety and weather dependent, you probably have through this month and into early October before the move is made indoors giving you some time yet to plan for the move. First you are going to find – indoors – a very brightly lit spot that isn’t kept too warm. I wouldn’t place the pot too close to direct sunlight window glass as that could sunburn the plant life or, as odd as it sounds, chill the pot during the night too much. Your aim is a very bright, temperature consistent (on the cool side) spot. Make sure whatever you set the container on is sturdy enough to hold the weight and remember a saucer that is at least a full 2 inches wider than the pot to set it on.
Now, while the pot is still outdoors, it’s time to get it clean and pest free. Since succulents and some cactuses can react tenderly, spraying with a pesticide can be tricky. I’d suggest applying an insecticidal soap pesticide, perhaps twice diluted, to eliminate any critters that could be living on the plants. Remember to spray the soil, too, so the pesticide will wash through helping to kill any soil-living pests. It’s best to spray at dusk when the sun has set and remember to give the container a drink the next morning to completely wash the pesticide through the soil. After an hour or two, dump any water that has collected in the saucer so your cactuses/succulents don’t drown.
Next, give the pot a good wiping off with a clean rag. If the pot has a lip be sure to get under it, too. Pests and their eggs hide very easily, so your aim is to prevention – think clean!
Monitor the collection, get a hold of the Cactus Succulent Society for identification, start and continue to prepare the pot for its eventual trip indoors and rest knowing you’ll have the collection ready to go back outdoors next year when the weather allows.
Next week, a question-and-answer session about peony care. Happy Digging In.
Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.