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Cochineal Scale on Paddle Cactus, What To Do

White fuzzy lumps on paddle cactus indicate the presence of a parasite that pierces the plant’s skin and consumes its juices. A bit of cochineal (coach-en-ee-al) scale is no big deal, but it does tend to spread and may eventually kill the plant.

Your first line of defense is to blast what appears to be bits of cotton with a hose to dislodge them. However, in crevices and where a hose can’t reach, they’ll proliferate. I take preventive action and scrub my paddle (opuntia) cacti at the first sign of infestation with insecticidal soap. I also remove any badly infested pads and those growing quite close to each other (slice them off at the joints).

Then I treat the plants with Safer insecticidal soap. So named because it’s safe for the environment, it controls soft-bodied insects without harming plants like harsher soaps may. (Don’t use dishwashing liquid on succulents.) I mix 4 or 5 tablespoons of concentrated Safer soap to a gallon of water, then dip a long-handled, soft-bristle brush into the solution and scrub the pads.

This removes the insects (which are not mealybugs, a common misconception), won’t scratch the pads, and leaves a soapy residue that inhibits the pests’ regeneration. I do this “as needed”—about every six weeks in the summer. In winter, if the problem persists, I spray with Neem oil.

In my YouTube video, How to Treat Cochineal Scale, helper James squashes the bugs with his thumb.

Cochineal scale does have the odd benefit of entertaining garden visitors, especially kids. Squish a white lump and you’ll get marvelously realistic “blood.” (Use cold water to remove any stains on clothing.) Of course if the opuntia has spines—as most do—real blood also is a possibility. If so, simply use a stick to squash and smear the cottony bumps.

Insects nestled within the waxy white fuzz are rich in carminic acid, a red liquid that repels ants, birds and other predators. Used by ancient Aztecs to color woven fabric, cochineal scale was highly prized by Spanish conquistadors, who considered it second in value only to New World silver.

Cochineal insects under a microscope. Actual size: 0.2 inches (5 mm).

Because harvesting cochineal dye is labor intensive, it was replaced by synthetic dyes in the 1800s. But due to cancer-causing concerns, natural red dye is now back in favor with food and cosmetic manufacturers. Next time you pick up something that’s edible, red and packaged, read the label. If ingredients list “carmine,” “cochineal,” “E 120,” or “natural red 4,” it’s been colored—ironically, to make it more appealing—with insects.

Related info on this site:

Uh-Oh, Is My Succulent Sick? When a succulent isn’t looking quite right, you may wonder if you’ve done something wrong. Here’s what to look for [Continue reading] 

On my YouTube channel:

Go to my 6-video playlist, “Succulent Pests and Diseases.”

Watch my 2-min. YouTube video, How to Treat Cocineal Scale. Under my direction, James, 9, scrubs opuntia pads with a bathroom brush and squashes popcorn-like bugs with his fingertips.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

In my books:

Succulents Simplified, pp 76-77: “What’s Wrong with Your Succulent?”
Designing with Succulents, pp 137-143: “Pest and Damage Control.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Colors of Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta health and fitness spa in Tecate, Baja California, across the border east of San Diego, offers the best of Mexico’s food, climate and ambience. It’s also famous for mature gardens that offer a wonderfully immersive experience. The Ranch is a great getaway within half a day’s drive from nearly anywhere in SoCa. Amid the lush landscaping are guest casitas (bungalows), gyms, library, gift shop, dining hall, and much more. Ornamental plants include Mediterraneans such as rosemary, Australian trees (melaleucas), native oaks and palms, and succulents large and small. The majority are minimally watered (or not at all) and are well suited to the region’s arid climate. Below are a few favorite photos from a recent visit. Bienvenidos al Rancho!

In the lobby, stained glass windows by famed Julian artist/sculptor James Hubbell overlook a cactus-and-agave boulder garden.

Agave shawii (Shaw’s agave) is native to the Baja peninsula. When backlit, teeth along leaf margins glow shades of yellow, orange and red.

One reason I went in April was to see the Aloe striata (coral aloes) in bloom. They’re beautifully juxtaposed with a similarly red-orange ice plant.

Incorporated into the door of the art studio is a stained-glass-and-brass butterfly.

A mosaic by artists Linda Weill and Tilly Nylin near the concierge office depicts a garden of cacti and succulents. That’s a scrub jay at lower right.

Another mosaic holds a blackboard with inspirational sayings that change daily. Its top echoes the outline of mountains nearby.

At La Cocina Que Canta (the Kitchen that Sings), dining tables are decorated with Mexican textiles and folk art.

Want to see more? Be sure to watch my YouTube video, “The Succulents of Rancho La Puerta.”

Related Info on this site:

Even if you live in drought-parched Southern CA, garden plants that don’t need to be watered are not as hard to come by as you might think…[Continue reading]
Agaves are rosette-shaped succulents native to the Americas. There are dozens of species of Agave… [Continue reading]
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Ten Top Trends for Succulent Plants, Gardens and Design

Apr. 24, 2018 ~ If it seems that succulents are moving at warp speed in the world of gardens, nurseries and designers, they are. And as a journalist, I’m ON it. My predictions for succulent plants, gardens and design will help you stay on top of trends and maybe even make money from the plants you love.

Btw, I wrote this before all those native dudleyas were taken from Northern CA by tourists from overseas. Shocking. Goes to show how a little-known genus is gaining attention (see #8 below).

This is Part Two of my earlier post: Ten Predictions for the Succulent Decor Marketplace.

1. As no-water cactus gardens command the design scene, all eyes will be on high-end, professionally orchestrated, Arizona residential landscapes.

2. In Western gardens, large tree aloes, beaucarneas, Dracaena draco and columnar cacti will be sought-after focal points, commanding five figures per specimen.

3. Also popular will be golden barrels, blue baseball bats (Pilosocereus pachycladus), Cereus peruvianus‘ Monstrosus’ and any long-spined or filamented cacti (such as Pachycereus pringlei and Cleistocactus strausii) that glow beautifully when backlit.(For examples see Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp 192-200.)

4. Beginning with collectors, the grafting of one type of cactus onto another will become fashionable, leading to groups on social media and a new market segment.

5. In southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south, retail and hospitality destinations— such as theme parks, resorts, botanical gardens, restaurants and shopping malls—will hire celebrity designers to create innovative themed succulent gardens that boost traffic, PR and social-media shares.

6. Opuntia (paddle cactus, prickly pear) cultivars will be acquired by homeowner-collectors for the color and variety of the flowers, especially those with prolific, multicolored, long-lasting blooms.

7. Nurseries, having to compete with homeowners who give succulent cuttings away via “Free” signs and neighborhood sites, will offer membership-based, trim-and-share services.

8. Dudleyas native to Mexico and CA will be THE sought-after rosette succulents, unfortunately leading to the poaching of rare species from the wild. Above: Watch my video of D. brittonii last week in Baja. 

9. The indoor, urban, and cold-climate markets for succulents will continue to increase. The money’s in haworthias, gasterias, dwarf aloes, sempervivums, and those genera’s tough-and-colorful hybrids; as well as windowsill mammillarias, parodias, rebutias, and anything monstrose or crested.

10. By 2020, spineless opuntia and other minimally spined cacti—the bigger, the better—will be the hottest plants for dry gardens in southern CA and beyond.

 

Related Info

On this site: 

Why Grow Paddle Cacti? My 16 Reasons

April 22, 2018— Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear… [Continue reading]

Ten Predictions for the Succulent Decor Marketplace

April 13, 2018— In fabrics, dishes and other decorative items, rosette succulents such as echeverias have… [Continue reading]

 

Dec. 27, 2017 — Whenever I’m asked how to find certain succulents or services that are in short supply, I wonder why so few offer them[Continue Reading]

Is Cactus the New Black?

Aug. 9, 2017 — Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in… [Continue reading]


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The Joys of Cholla (Cylindropuntia)

In Baja recently I was showing off my knowledge of native succulents when one “got” me. The friend who was taking a video with my phone gasped when I unsuccessfully tried to set a 3-inch-long chunk of cholla (“choy-ah”) cactus back onto a boulder. It resolutely clung to my fingers.

When I tried to shake it off, the cholla hopped into a more secure position. Next I tried to remove it with my other hand, and spines stuck to that one too. Wow, what a determined little cactus!

I had help removing these cholla spines. Watch the 20-second tweezered extraction.

Cylindropuntia, of which there are 30+ species, are sometimes referred to as “jumping chollas” or “horse cripplers.” Like many other succulents, chollas reproduce via both seeds and cuttings. Cylindrical joints detach readily from the mother plant and cling with astonishing tenacity to whomever or whatever brushed them. They take root where they fall off, usually far enough from the original plant so they’re not competing with it for water, sun or nutrients.



My Mexico experience reminded me of when I addressed the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society, where I made the mistake of saying I don’t recommend that anyone grow cholla. “Could there be a more unfriendly plant?” I asked the group. Well, you’d think I’d insulted the entire state of Arizona.

“There are more than a dozen different species,” members told me, each more eager than the last to extol the virtues of cylindropuntias. “Cholla is beautiful.”

“This is my cholla comb,” one told me, pulling a small comb from his shirt pocket. “If I get spines in my clothing or skin, I just comb them out.”

A mourning dove nests in Cylindropuntia fulgida at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson.

“Cholla is an important part of the desert ecology,” said another. “Nesting birds feel safe in it. Snakes, coyotes and other predators can’t get to them or their young.” Birds aren’t alone in using cholla as a security enhancement, she added. “I have it below my bedroom window to keep burglars out.”

Intrigued, I went on a cholla hunt. I found this orange-flowered one at Tohona Chul botanic garden near Tucson. Not bad looking, considering it survives broiling desert heat and temperatures below freezing, with no water for months.

Cholla comes in more colors than I’d assumed—not just its flowers, but even its spines and skin. The specimen of Cylindropuntia versicolor above has green, rose-red and maroon segments, and translucent, rust-red flowers.

Cylindropuntia bigelovii is commonly called teddy bear cholla. Look how fuzzy it is, and its cute little ears. Like all chollas—like most spiny cacti, for that matter—it’s beautiful backlit.


The flower petals of teddy bear cholla are buttery yellow tipped in rose-red.

Cylindropuntia spinosoir, illuminated by late afternoon sun in a Tucson suburb, glows pink.

Cylindropuntia fulgida var. mammillata (chain fruit cholla) forms ropy, pendant strands. Doesn’t this one look like a face?

Diamond cholla at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Cylindropuntia ramosissima, aka diamond cholla, has pencil-thin stems lined with glittering, translucent toothpicks.

I pretended to hug a Cylindropuntia fulgida, then sent this photo to my new friends at the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society.

As for my Mexico adventure, what was it about those spines that made them stick? Like those of all cacti, cholla spines are modified leaves. But cholla spines differ in that they have papery sheaths lined with microscopic barbs. Try to pull one from your skin, and you’ll discover it’s well anchored. Sure it’ll come out, but if a bit of barb remains, you’ll feel it whenever pressure is applied to the area. If that’s just too annoying, you may have to dig it out with a needle.

“Living and working around cactus is an art that requires the balance of a dancer, the strength of a weight lifter and a high tolerance for pain,” one of my favorite authors, Maureen Gilmer, wrote in the Desert Sun. “In time we become immune to the arrows of these New World beauties, and in all our homes are the tools of the trade. These are the magnifying glass, sharp needles and tweezers with a bit of Neosporin afterwards if the going gets bloody.”

Fortunately, “my” cholla’s spines were shallowly embeded. The only thing that stung was my pride.

 

Related Info

On this site:

Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, Opuntia species have stems shaped like [Continue reading]


Is Cactus the New Black?

Aug. 9, 2017 — Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in [Continue reading]

Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in [Continue reading]

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Why Grow Paddle Cacti? DLB’s 16 Reasons

Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, Opuntia species have stems shaped like ping-pong paddles. New pads grow from older ones after rains drench the roots and help fuel new growth. Typically these new pads, and flowers that turn into fruit, form along the edge of the pads and orient themselves for maximum sun exposure. For garden plants, I prefer spineless or near-spineless varieties, like Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’, O. ‘Burbank’s Spineless’ and O. ficus-indica. These grow from 3 to 7 feet tall.

I also have dwarf varieties in my miniature landscape, which I designed to suggest a Latin American mountain town. Photos of it and the specimen below are in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.

Flowers of opuntias are spectacular, and open in succession. So although the blooms last only a day or so, the show lasts a week or more.

As with all cactus, opuntia spines are modified leaves. There’s a good reason to grow prickly varieties—whether Opuntia species or others, they’re breathtakingly beautiful when late afternoon or early morning sun backlights translucent spines.

Certain varieties, such as O. Santa-rita, have purple pads. It’s been my observation that these tend to attain their best color in desert gardens; here in Southern CA, the pads stay green with a purple tinge.

I grow an intriguing variety that has beard-like white filaments, but I recently had to trash much of the plant because scale insects snuck under the threads and colonized the pads unnoticed. I did manage to keep a few unblemished ones, which I treated with Safer soap and replanted.

Opuntias are easy to start from pads; simply slice or break one off and stick it in the ground. Knock one off, and where it falls it’ll form roots.

The egg-shaped fruit of opuntias is edible and a colorful garden enhancement.

Opuntias are unique among cacti in that they have two types of spines—needles and glochids. The latter often is nearly invisible, barbed, and will go home with you if you touch it. Glochids create fuzzy polka-dots on the paddles of Opuntia microdaysis. Beautiful…but beware.

Because cactus pads are moisture-storage organs filled with a mucilaginous gel and protected by a tough, waxy skin, they’re slow to catch fire. Opuntias not only make great firebreak plants in wildfire-prone areas, they’re efficient at conserving water and need no irrigation other than rainfall.

Tender new opuntia pads (nopalitos) are sold in Mexican markets. They’re good in salads and can be cooked as a vegetable dish that tastes like green beans.

Let me know what you think. I always enjoy hearing from you! ~ Debra 

 

Related Info

On this site: 

Is Cactus the New Black?
Aug. 9, 2017 — Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in [Continue reading]

 
Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in [Continue reading]
 
Recently in Baja I was showing off my knowledge of native succulents when one “got” me. The friend who was taking a video with my phone gasped when I unsuccessfully tried to set a 3-inch-long chunk of cholla (“choy-ah”) cactus back onto a boulder. It resolutely clung to my fingers [Continue reading]

 

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I Come Out as a Cactus Lover

GD Cover & DLB annotated_resized

No doubt you know that Garden Design is a fabulous “bookazine” for those who love luscious photos of gorgeous gardens and superb design. It’s a huge honor and a high point of my career to be profiled in the Spring 2016 issue as a “groundbreaker” (See “Succulent Chic,” pp. 32-35).

Consequently, I took the opportunity to come out as a cactus lover.

Well, I had to. They asked about trends in the world of succulents. I believe my progression is fairly typical. Most of us start out loving succulents that look like fleshy roses—echeverias, graptoverias and the like. As people gain appreciation for the lines, textures and shapes of all succulents, they inevitably arrive at those that exhibit elegant simplicity at its best—never mind that they have spines (in fact, sometimes because they do).

Note I’m not talking about common prickly pear—the plant most of us have bad childhood memories of. (Ow!) There are SO many other kinds of cacti.

The article’s portrait shot (above right) shows me surrounded by columnar cacti with spines that glow yellow-orange in the late-afternoon sun. Yep, I wore turquoise on purpose.

Herewith, I offer a dozen reasons why cacti are the coming thing…in waterwise gardens and in Garden Design.

Cacti in square pot

In a word: symmetry. Mammillarias in particular have it nailed.

Poodle opuntia

They offer astonishing textures. I mean, c’mon, fur? Opuntia sp.

Echinocactus rubrispinus

Endearingly, cacti don’t take themselves too seriously. Echinocactus pectinatus rubrispinus.

Cactus snowflakes

Some think they’re snowflakes.

Cactus flower looks like waterlily

Others, waterlilies (Trichocereus hybrids at left)

Mammillaria elongata crest

And brains (Mammillaria elongata crest)….

Succulent looks like bird

Or birds. (Cleistocactus strausii)

Cactus flowers look like roses

A few are in touch with their feminine side (roses at left, opuntia at right).

Lophocereus

Others, not so much.

Mammillaria fragilis

More than a few are darn cute. Each of these thimble cacti is less than an inch in diameter.

GD Cover & DLB annotated_resized

But here’s what I like best about cacti: How they’re haloed by the sun. The spinier the better.

Obtain the Spring ’16 issue of Garden Design.

Mini Succulent High Desert Garden video

View how I assembled the container garden shown in the article. 

Are you a formerly closeted cactus fancier too? If there’s enough of us, I may organize a pride march.