Cactus snowflake
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How Cactus Snowflakes Seduced Me

Remarkably, the spination of certain cacti suggests snowflakes, something I first noticed years ago at a succulent specialty nursery. I was there to photograph aloes in bloom, but I’d come too early in the season. I thought of leaving, and I’m so glad I didn’t! That afternoon forever changed the way I see certain succulent plants.

Cactus snowflakes

There were a lot of columnar (ceroid) varieties—you know, those shaped like fire hydrants and baseball bats—all with tapered tips. I looked down on one, was intrigued by how lower spines framed upper ones, and took a photo. Wow! I took lots more. When the images (above) appeared later in the Los Angeles Times, editors prefaced my photo essay with: “We thought we’d share our version of snowflakes with readers in colder climes.”

I hope you’ll hunt for succulent snowflakes in your own garden or cactus collection. I know that whenever I find one, it’s a delightful surprise. Now, for your enjoyment, a few from my own garden:

Cactus snowflakes

Cactus snowflake

Moon cactus

Succulent snowflakes

Cactus snowflakes

It’s a paradox worth savoring: Spines on hefty desert plants resemble delicate, geometric ice crystals. Do check for cactus snowflakes the next time you visit a succulent specialty nursery, whether you bring any home or not. To capture them with your camera, simply hold the lens horizontally above the plants.

P.S. If you search online for “cactus snowflake,” you’ll get images of succulents that look like cacti but aren’t. They’re Euphorbia polygona, the green form and silvery gray ‘Snowflake’…which has been renamed “Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’. But as you can see, there’s nothing horrid about it!

Succulent snowflake

Also in my own collection is this Euphorbia meloformis. The green is new growth that happened after the plant got sunburned. Pretty cool, eh?

Euphorbia meloformis

Related info on this site:

Succulent spiral

Enjoy my article on succulents with spiral patterns: Many cacti and succulents form geometric spirals similar to those of sunflowers, pine cones and nautilus shells. Spiral leaf arrangements funnel rain to roots, and keep upper leaves from…[Continue reading].

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
12 Days of Cactus
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The 12 Days of Cactus

When putting this together, I envisioned friends and family sitting around the tree with a fire going. They’re finishing hot mugs of cocoa (laced with whiskey for the grownups). I hand out Xeroxed copies; they peer at the words. Teens giggle at the word “obesa.” Someone asks how to pronounce “saguaro.” But no one groans. They all know the tune. I clear my throat and begin…

On the first day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

A dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the second day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the third day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the fourth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the fifth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the sixth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the seventh day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the eighth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the ninth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the tenth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Ten chollas jumping, nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the eleventh day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Eleven trips to Tucson, ten chollas jumping, nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the twelfth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Twelve ‘Sunburst’ drumming, eleven trips to Tucson, ten chollas jumping, nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

Now, if you’d like to suggest alternative or more alliterative lyrics, please do so. I likely have photos to match. I’ll update this as good suggestions come along. 

See the YouTube version, set to music:

12 Days of Cactus

Happy AloeDays, one and all! — Debra

How rain benefits succulents
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How Rain Benefits Succulents

How rain benefits succulents

Don’t be surprised if after a good rain, your succulents look brighter and more vibrant. Here’s how rain benefits succulents: It provides dissolved minerals and washes away dust that inhibits photosynthesis; it dilutes and flushes salts and harmful chemicals that have built up in the soil from tap water; and it provides nitrogen essential to growth, especially during electrical storms. It’s odd but true: Lightning nourishes plants.

To make the most of precious rain, collect it in buckets and use it to water house plants and in-ground succulents beneath eaves. When rain is forecast, move your container-grown patio plants where rain can soak them. (Once the storm is over, return them to their earlier location, lest sun scorch leaves—or if frost is a possibility.)

Succulents do best in regions where annual rainfall is less than 25 inches.  Excessive amounts can cause roots to rot, especially if soil stays soggy. Prepare for this by growing the plants in coarse, fast-draining soil, on a slope or atop a berm.

how rain benefits cactus

 

My blog post, Succulents and Too Much Rain, A French Solution describes a French botanical garden’s simple but effective method of protecting its cactus collection.

Opuntia appears to dance

Of all succulents, cacti seem to respond the most dramatically to rain. No surprise; they’ve been waiting all year for it. If they weren’t rooted, they’d be dancing. Opuntia (paddle) cacti that have been doing a whole lot of nothing for months rapidly grow new pads that can double the size of a young specimen in a matter of weeks. It’s as though the pads were water balloons being squeezed; the resulting bulge is a new leaf.

how to protect succulents from excess rainfall

And then there are ribbed cacti…those that look like round or columnar accordions. You can almost hear their crenellations pop and stretch as they plump with water. They’re such simple plants—not much more than balls or bats—and yet the way they grow is amazing. The process of becoming engorged with rainwater exposes more of their skin to the sun, enabling photosynthesis, which equals energy, which in turn fuels new growth. In the heat of summer, those same ridges and valleys deepen, shading and protecting the plant.

Now that succulents are hugely popular, I’m asked how to grow them in tropical climates that have a great deal of rainfall. It’s like asking how to grow monkeys in Alaska. Sure it’s possible, but is it worth it? By definition, succulents have the quality of succulence: juiciness. They’re expressly designed to get by without a lot of rainfall. The flip side is that they don’t survive well with it. So grow them in containers, and move them under shelter when the weather turns too wet. Even then, in humid climates, they may mildew. In which case, move them indoors, provide lots of sunlight and fresh air, and keep a dehumidifier going. (And get my book, Succulent Container Gardens. I wrote it for succulent lovers in challenging climates.)

Frost protection for succulents

Rainstorms are often followed by clear, windless nights, during which the temperature may drop near freezing or below. Many succulents are frost tender, meaning that at 32 degrees, the water in their tissues crystallizes, expands, and bursts cell walls. This can turn leaves to putty, irreparably damaging the plants. You can gain several life-saving degrees by covering your succulents with sheets, lightweight fabric, or frost cloth. But not plastic, which by trapping moisture and blocking light and air can cause more damage than it prevents.

Frost burned aeoniums

If your succulents have been damaged by frost, they’re not necessarily goners. Learn more about this in my recent posts: Oh, No, My Succulents Froze! and Frost Damaged Succulents? Here’s What to Do. Notice the damaged tips on these aeoniums? No need to do anything. In a few months the older leaves will dry and fall off, and the rest will be hidden by new growth.

Related info

On this site:

How to Water Succulents These fleshy-leaved plants from hot, dry regions are designed to live off water stored in their leaves and tissues in order to survive periods without rainfall. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t water them at all…[Continue reading]

Prepare Your Succulents for Rainstorms  Succulents, which come from arid climates, may rot. Stems or trunks turn squishy and collapse. It may be possible to… [Continue reading]

Learn about pumice. No other soil amendment is as widely used by succulent growers and collectors as pumice (crushed lava rock). Here’s why…[Continue reading]

Succulents and Too Much Rain, A French Solution Want to protect your succulents from too much rain? Here’s how the Jardin Zoologique Tropical in southeastern France…[Continue reading]

Oh, No, My Succulents Froze!  Will succulents recover from frost damage? It depends. Here’s how frost-tender succulents looked before temps dropped into the mid-20s F, and after…[Continue reading]

Caring for Your Succulent Garden After Rainstorms, Checklist  Rain at last! Could the California drought finally be over? Well, no. It’ll take hundreds of years for underground aquifers…[Continue reading]

Winter Protection for Succulents: Products  Soggy soil, dim light, high humidity and freezing temperatures can be death to succulents native to warm, arid climates. These items will help you get your succulents through cold, wet North American winters…[Continue reading]

On My YouTube channel: 

Why Succulents Rot and How to Prevent It

Why Rain is Good for Potted Succulents

Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens

Get all the info you need, all in one place: 

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Give a Basket of Baby Succulents

Want to launch a lifelong love of gardening? Give a basket of baby succulents.

When in my 20s, I had 30 houseplants. Before leaving on vacation, I asked a neighbor to tend them. To make it easier for her (ha), I labeled each with a number corresponding to a hand-drawn map of my apartment’s interior, and to a list that gave each plant’s watering schedule and amount.

If that sounds excessive—or obsessive—consider that #plantparenthood on Instagram has over 150K posts and averages 250 new ones daily.

Succulent Plant Parent Essentials

So what does that mean for you, dear reader, since you’re probably not in that demographic? (Most of my subscribers are seasoned gardeners 40+. That’s who we are, and we’re proud of it.) Well, you now have an idea for that lovely niece or DIL you normally just throw a gift card at: a Plant-Parent Gift Basket.

Create a Plant-Parent Gift Basket

Select an assortment of chubby succulents, tuck them into a box or basket, and pad with tissue paper. Wrap the whole shebang in clear cellophane and tie with ribbon, perhaps with a pacifier attached (kidding…sort of).

Include a copy of Succulents Simplified or Succulent Container Gardens. Email me if you want autographed, personalized copies. Or if she likes videos, give her my online class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. Watch it together! 

Gifts for Succulent Lovers

The Easy Way (recommended if you’re shipping to the recipient): Send a gift arrangement from Succulently Urban. Owner/designer Marialuisa Kaprielian does gorgeous work, her plants are superb, and her prices are awesome. Plus her echeverias (shown here) are kitten-cute. Marialuisa will ship two-day or overnight until mid-December.

The Grandparent Way: Gather individual items at your local garden center or order them online. Good starter collections:

Altman Plant’s indoor succulents collection: set of 8 in 2.5 inch pots, $27Gifts for succulent lovers
Gifts for succulent lovers

Add a pot that has a simple form in colors trending with 20-somethings: white or pale pink. One example of many on Amazon:

Gifts for succulent lovers
Thoughtful extras likely to be appreciated:
Pebbles for topdressing: 32 oz. bag, $8.79
Cactus potting mix, 10 qts, $13.61
Cactus potting soil

Enjoy your grand-plants

When you hear squeals of glee, suggest that the giftee post occasional photos on Instagram. It’s a great way to stay connected and watch little darlings grow. About half the photos at Instagram’s #plantparent and #plantparenthood show succulents. Do tag me in the comments. Auntie Debra wants to see too!

Also watch my YouTube video in which I assemble a gift basket of echeverias for my own DIL.Video about gift basket of echeverias

Related Info on This Site:

Great Gifts for Succulent Lovers

Succulent Centerpieces

Buy and Shop for Succulents Online

Succulent White-Pot Pairings 

My “Stunning Succulent Arrangements Class” 

Gifts for succulent lovers
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Great Gifts for Succulent Lovers

Much of what follows is my own wish list, but these items would likely make great gifts for you and other succulent lovers as well. Some I already own and figured you’d want them too. If you’re the giftee, consider forwarding this to the gifter. Note: Some links go to Amazon, where I’m an associate, so I do get a small percentage of any sales that result, but it doesn’t cost you extra. Please know I appreciate it—especially since, while doing this exhaustive research, I bought a few things. ;+)

Tools and useful items

Thorn Armor Gloves: These are the gloves that Phoenix artist Jim Sudal wore while assembling his prickly-pear holiday tree. His gloves were ruined after two days and 250 spiny pads, but Jim says he couldn’t—and wouldn’t—have done it without them. Prices vary according to size, but expect to pay $40 or $50. I figure a pair ought to last someone like me, who doesn’t handle cactus much, a lifetime. In fact, they’ll probably become heirlooms.

Thorn armor gloves

Thorn Armor gloves

Joyce Chen scissors. Around $20. I have four pairs that I keep in various drawers and on my potting bench. I even have a pair in my car for…well…you know, the occasional overgrown succulent by the side of the road. Joyce Chen scissors don’t appear tough, but they can cut through finger-diameter branches. I use them mainly for precision snipping, clipping and deadheading. If I could keep one of my pairs of Joyce Chen’s out of the garden, I’d use it for its intended purpose: in the kitchen, cutting chicken bones.

Succulent clippers

12-Inch Tweezers. Under $10. These are for those fiddly instances when you have to reach into an agave or between spines to extract fallen leaves, weeds and bits of debris. Long tweezers also are good for picking up bristly succulents. However, for a plant much larger than a ping-pong ball, you really need tongs…which I suspect you already have (check the kitchen). Hm, maybe you should get a second set of those, too.

Gifts for succulent lovers

The Colorful Dry Garden, $23. Not only is author Maureen Gilmer an expert on plants and gardening in the dry Southwest, her explanations, advice and descriptions are full of wit and insight. Gilmer’s beautifully illustrated book presents an extensive assortment of flowering shrubs that make great low-water companion plants for succulents. It dovetails nicely with the updated and revised second edition of Designing with SucculentsWant to get both books for free? Scroll down to the Giveaway. 

Moisture meter. Are you concerned about under- or over-watering your succulents? If you tend to be a helicopter plant parent, you’ll find a moisture meter reassuring. Stick its probe into the soil, and if the indicator goes to the left of moist, it’s OK to water. If it zips to the right, back away from the plant. This particular meter also measures light and soil pH, and needs no battery—not bad for under $10.

Gifts for succulent lovers

Pretty, cool stuff

Gifts for Succulent Lovers

Commemorative Tile: It’s a win-win: You support a worthy cause; honor a cherished relationship for decades (if not centuries) from now; and you give the recipient a lifelong fondness for a public garden. This particular tile is in the Children’s Garden of the San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG), and whenever my grandson is there, he looks for it. The SDBG is now raising funds for a 7,400-square-foot glass conservatory. Donor tiles are $250 to $5,000, depending on size. In the Bay Area, the Ruth Bancroft Garden—renowned for its succulent collection—is currently selling donor tiles to raise funds for a new building; theirs include the garden’s agave logo.

Cactus pad jewelry. I found the adjustable ring (above) on Etsy for $11. Matching earrings are $10. They’re made of “high quality resin” and come from Bulgaria, so it takes a couple of weeks for them to arrive.

Gifts for succulent lovers

Succulent leggings. No one would ever think of getting these for me (how sad is that?), so I consoled myself by adding them to my cart. If the pattern I chose is too sedate for you, do a search for “succulent leggings.” There are dozens of styles, some insanely colorful.

Succulent shoes. These come in several patterns, including cacti. I can’t speak for the quality, but at $50 it had better be good. The seller won’t ship after Nov. 30 to ensure delivery by Dec. 25, so if you’re interested, jump. Btw, I’m a size 9. Just sayin’. 

My Own Designs

Over the past few years, I’ve created numerous gift and decor items based on my own artwork and photos. They’re for sale online at my Zazzle store. Zazzle doesn’t make it easy to pass along discounts, but here’s a 15%-off code you can use through Jan. 31, 2019. Copy-and-paste it when you order: UQEYOJQKDMCOXQJQPRTP. But first see if they’re offering an even better discount (which they often do).

Gifts for succulent lovers

Agave watercolor tile 4.25” x 4.25” on Zazzle, regular price $13.70

Agave throw pillow on Zazzle, 16′ x 16″ square, regular price $31.35.

Gifts for succulent lovers

Barrel cactus lumbar pillow, 13” x 21”, on Zazzle $36.65 regular price.

Gifts for succulent lovers

My 2019 Succulent Watercolors Calendar, on Zazzle $22.15 regular price.

And now, the giveaway!

I’m giving away a pair of books that are must-haves for anyone who gardens in the dry, hot Southwest. If you already own them, they make great gifts: The Colorful Dry Garden (see above) and my magnum opus, Designing with Succulents (the revised and updated 2nd edition). Do enter! If the winner is a subscriber to my newsletter (sign up on my Home page), he or she will also receive my Succulents 2019 Watercolor Calendar! Go to my Instagram page to enter. 

Gifts for Succulent Lovers

Related Info on This site:

Buy and Shop for Succulents Online 

Tools, Books and Products — My personal faves!

Want to give a signed copy of one or more of my books? Contact me! 

Succulent topiary tree
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Six New Holiday Designs to Inspire You

To inspire and entertain you, I’ve selected six new, never-seen-before holiday design ideas featuring succulents. Do consider each as a launching point for your creativity, and feel free to share them with friends. I’d love it if you’d post photos of what you come up with on Instagram or Facebook, and tag me @DebraLBaldwin. Regardless, have fun and enjoy!Succulent topiary tree
Sempervivum topiary tree.
This is a riff on my 2017 topiary tree. I love hens-and-chicks but only recently have grown them successfully year-round. The concept for this year’s mini-tree was one by Margee Rader in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. I used nearly 50 assorted Sempervivum heuffelii (hew-FEL-ee-eye) hybrids in 2-inch pots from Mountain Crest Gardens. When the holidays are over, they’ll join my other “heuffs” in the garden. (Most semps don’t like our hot summers here in Southern CA but so far, heuffs–which used to be classified as Jovibarba–are doing well.) See my materials list for a topiary tree. Succulent pine cone ornaments
Ready-made succulent ornaments.
Speaking of Mountain Crest Gardens, the succulent pine-cone ornaments they introduced this year are a super deal. The set of three includes six sempervivums atop sequoia cones (each 3-inches tall by 1.5-inches wide) for $10. So that means you get six semps that you can wiggle off and plant after the holidays for under $2 each! Be sure to check out MCG’s other fetching succulent ornaments too.

Crassula tetragona Christmas tree

Mini succulent Christmas tree. This desktop tree is 8 inches tall with a 4-inch-wide base. To make glass balls appear to hang from branches, I held the three-stemmed cutting upside-down, dotted the leaves with white glue, then added beads. A small, shallow container makes the cutting look proportionally large and treelike. A glass jar lid sort of looks like ice, but any container will do including a flowerpot. A small floral frog (a flower holder made of metal pins) holds the cutting upright, and white sand with blue sparkles hides the frog and suggests snow.

Succulents Lit for the Holidays
Succulent garden of lights.
Every year Sabine Hildebrand of  Weidner’s Gardens nursery in Encinitas, CA, decorates her own garden with holiday lights. In December night falls by 5:00, so Sabine and husband Rob enjoy their glowing garden for hours every evening. She keeps the design simple—no colored or twinkling lights—to showcase the plants’ shapes and colors. There’s not much difference in decorating succulents instead of shrubs, Sabine says. “Do it late in the afternoon so you can see the results as it’s getting dark. Then rearrange the strings of lights as necessary.” See more in my new YouTube video: Sabine’s Holiday Succulent Garden.

Cactus decorated with lights

Ferocactus glaucescens in a gold-painted terra-cotta pot glows with mini lights.

Barrel cactus aglow. Inspired by Sabine’s garden, I added tiny lights to a ferocactus to create a holiday centerpiece for the patio table outside my kitchen and dining room windows. The plant’s translucent spines shine, making an intriguing display. See how to make it, step-by-step, on my website and in my latest DIY video: Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights. I also painted the pot to match the gold of the spines, and to make the combo look good during the day as well as at night. [Continue reading]

Cactus pad Christmas tree

Cactus pad Christmas tree.  Jim Sudal’s cactus-pad holiday tree reinterprets the traditional fir, and is perfect for the dry, hot Southwest. Like Jim, many residents of Phoenix (and well beyond) have stands of prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), a succulent iconic to the region. About 250 cactus pads from Jim’s garden cover a 7-foot-tall cone that he and friend Mark Faulkner assembled on an iron frame wrapped with poultry fencing. “We wore special gloves called Thorn Armor that did their best to protect our hands,” Jim says. [Continue reading]

Wonder why I didn’t include succulent wreaths? Well, there are so many gorgeous ones, I created a Pinterest page for the best of the best! 

Related Info on This Site:

Succulent Topiary Tree

 

Cactus Pad Holiday Tree

 

Decorate a cactus w lights

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Cactus Christmas tree
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Jim Sudal’s Cactus Pad Holiday Tree

Jim Sudal‘s cactus pad holiday tree is a great reinterpretation of the traditional fir tree, and perfect for the dry, hot Southwest. Like Jim, many residents of Phoenix (and well beyond) have stands of prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). The juicy-leaved succulent is iconic to the region. “Last year I built a garland around my gallery front door made from fresh prickly pear pads,” Jim told me. “They lasted at least eight months and even started to sprout new pads.”

 

About 250 cactus pads from Jim’s garden cover the 7-foot-tall tree. He and friend Mark Faulkner spent two days assembling it on a conical iron frame wrapped with poultry fencing. “We wore special gloves called Thorn Armor that did their best to protect our hands,” Jim says. The men wired each pad at its stem end, then hooked it to the frame. Jim’s not planning on leaving the tree up past winter, but it has the potential to look good for at least six months.
Jim, a renowned ceramicist, gets much inspiration from succulents. He sells his work via mail order, so if you’re looking for home decor items or the perfect gift for a succulent lover, do visit his site. A few of many lovely items:
Ceramicist Jim Sudal

L-R: Cactus pad soap dish comes with a bar of prickly pear soap and a cactus ornament; two pots decorated with agave leaves; an aloe-in-bloom plate; a vase inspired by columnar cacti.

Cactus tree Q&A 

If you’re keen to make a cactus tree or just want to know more, here’s my Q-and-A with Jim. 
Q: What’s the approximate diameter of the base of the tree?
A: Probably 4 ft.
Q: Did you secure the chicken wire to the frame with zip ties?
A: No, we used bailing wire.
Q: Where did you get the frame?
A: I bought the metal tree frame from a retail display company, Tripar.
Prepping cactus pads for holiday tree
Q: How and why did you remove the spines?
A: We removed some of the daunting spines, not all, with scissors to make them easier to handle and to make a bit safer for spectators who are taking pictures of themselves next to the tree.
Q: What’s the cloth under each pad, and what purpose does it serve?
A: It’s natural colored burlap, and it was simply an aesthetic choice to give the pads some distinction between the layers.
Christmas tree frame
Q: Figure 3 lbs/pad x 250 = 750 lbs. What’s the tree standing on?
A: The tree is on one of the iron table bases I have made for making my ceramic-topped tables. We wanted to bring the tree up a bit higher above the prickly pear garden in front of my gallery. I clamped the base of the tree to the top of the table base.
Jim Sudal Christmas tree
Q: What kind of hooks did you use?
A: We made our own hooks from bailing wire. We threaded the wire through the woody end of the pad and looped it around, twisted it and bent it into a hook.
Thorn armor gloves

Thorn Armor gloves

Q: Despite wearing $50 Thorn Armor gloves, did you get poked?
A: They worked really great, but by the end of the day, they were a bit saturated with spines that eventually made their way through. They really helped. We couldn’t have done it without them, but nothing is foolproof.
Q: I see that you used seed pods and gourds for the garland, but what’s the white-dotted vine?
A: It’s a garland from a floral supply shop that we added natural elements to.
Cactus pad Christmas tree
Q: Anything else a do-it-yourselfer should know besides “start at the bottom, overlap the pads like shingles, and use smaller pads as you go higher”?
A: That’s pretty much it, except that we ended up using a lot more pads than we originally anticipated…probably by twice as many!  Also, as you mentioned, it’s a lot of weight so we really needed to secure the tree frame wherever we could and secure it tightly to the base.
Q: What are you going to do with all those pads when you take down the tree?
A: Being a lover of succulents and succulent gardening, the pads will come back home with me and be planted in my yard!

Related Info on This Site:

Decorate a cactus w lights
Reasons to grow opuntia
Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
Cactus decorated with lights
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Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights, Step-by-Step

These DIY step-by-step instructions correspond to my YouTube video: Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights

Inspired by my friend Sabine’s holiday succulent garden, I decided to light up a succulent of my own. The resulting potted ferocactus is the holiday centerpiece for a patio table visible from my kitchen and dining room. The plant’s translucent spines glow when light shines through them, creating a fascinating display. I painted the pot to match the gold of the spines so the tabletop display would look good during the day as well as at night.

Cactus decorated with lights

Ferocactus glaucescens in a gold-painted, terra-cotta pot glows with mini lights.

Here’s how I did it, step-by-step.

If you’re decorating an in-ground cactus or one that’s already in a pot, skip to #7.

Cactus with holiday lights

My ferocactus is shaped like a pumpkin and is 7 inches in diameter (including spines).

Step #1: Select a spherical, long-spined cactus from the nursery. I chose Ferocactus glaucescens because its spines are quite long, and I like the plant’s blue-green color. In retrospect, I would have counted the number of ribs and gotten a barrel cactus with 10. This one has 12—two more than the number of lights in the package. But most arrangements are viewed mainly from one side, so the “dark” side is in the back, along with the battery pack.

Step #2: Choose a pot or container that’s in scale with the plant. I went with a new terra-cotta pot because I wanted something clean and simple that would elevate the plant, and that I could paint the same gold as the spines.

Decorate a cactus for Christmas

Tools and materials include long handled tweezers, a soft brush, a wood chopstick, mini lights, kitchen scissors, gold stones, floral pins, a disposable paintbrush, gold paint and water sealant.

Step #3: Head for the craft store. At my local Michael’s, I bought gold “patio paint,” a disposable brush, floral (“greening”) pins, and battery-operated lights. I already had a wood chopstick, a can of Thompson’s Water Seal, long-handled tweezers and the kitchen scissors I use for gardening.

Step #4: Paint the outside and inner rim of the pot with outdoor craft paint and spray the inside with the waterproofing sealer.

Step #5: Gauge the size of the plant’s rootball in relation to the shape and depth of the pot. Add soil (I simply used pumice—up to you) if you’ll need filler for the bottom. Otherwise you risk plopping the plant into the container and finding it sits too high or too low. Which means picking up the !@#$% porcupine again.

Step #6: Extract the plant from its nursery pot and plop it into the new pot. This is tricky. You can’t touch the plant, and I didn’t want to dump it out because that might get soil on it that would be difficult to remove or worse, break spines. I also didn’t want to pull on a heavy plant and risk detaching it from its roots. So I cut the plastic pot away from the rootball, using the kitchen scissors, resulting in a plant-plus-rootball I still needed to get into the pot. I knew garden gloves were useless with spines like those, so I improvised with a long-handled bathroom brush and tightly crumpled newspaper. Using them to push against it, lifted the plant. (Memo to self: Get a second bathroom brush.)

Step #7: Settle the plant in the pot. I adjusted it a bit using the bathroom brush and newspaper, then pushed down on the soil along the rim with the tips of my long-handled tweezers.

Step #8: Turn on the mini-lights to make sure they work. Start with the light on the end of the string and, using the long-handled tweezers, tuck it between two ribs, under the lowest spines. Use floral pins to secure the wires and conceal them. Remember they’re there when it comes time to remove the lights or repot the plant. The pins will rust in the soil and… Step #8.5: Get a tetanus shot.

Decorate a cactus for Christmas

Gold rocks are $14 for 1.65-lb jar. Small pebbles would work as well.

Step #9: Add topdressing. I used gold rocks that I found online. Wait a week to water it. Cactus roots really shouldn’t be watered immediately after planting because broken roots are more vulnerable to rot.

Step #10: Place it where you can see it at night. Take photos and post them on Instagram or Facebook and tag me @DebraLBaldwin. I’d love to see what you come up with!

Decorate a cactus with holiday lights

This is how the cactus looks after dark.

 

And at anytime, it looks like a snowflake.

Watch me make it on YouTube: Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights DIY

Decorate a cactus with holiday lights

Related Info on This Site:

Succulent Topiary Tree

Succulent wreath how-to

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

2019 Watercolor calendar cover
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View my 2019 Succulent Watercolors Calendar

I’m pleased to show you my 2019 Succulent Watercolors Calendar! It features a dozen new, vibrant watercolors based on my favorite photos of succulent plants.

2019 Watercolor calendar cover

Last year I was so busy with the launch of the second edition of Designing with Succulents, I didn’t pursue my watercolor hobby. This year happily I found time.

I try to do a calendar every year because I tend not to get around to things—even things I enjoy—without a deadline and people waiting. It’s highly motivating that some of you requested a 2019 succulent watercolors calendar for yourselves and to give as gifts.

My calendars and other succulent-themed gift items are available from Succulent Chic, my online Zazzle store. Never pay full price at Zazzle. They charge too much! I use them because their production values are high and there’s no overhead, leaving me free to paint and design. Zazzle keeps 90% of the sales price.

Zazzle doesn’t make it easy to pass along discounts, but here’s a 15%-off code you can use through Jan. 31, 2019. Copy-and-paste it when you order: UQEYOJQKDMCOXQJQPRTP. But first see if they’re offering an even better discount (which they often do).

Historically, Zazzle has discounted calendars 50% on Veterans Day and 60% on Black Friday, so I usually wait until then to buy them. FYI, Zazzle will mail them directly to the recipients for you.

So, what’s new for ’19?

All my 2019 Succulent Watercolors Calendar paintings are based on my own photos, except Miss December. I based the agave-in-snow watercolor on a photo by Portland’s amazing Karina Aldridge (Instagram @sacredelements) with her permission.

See more of my watercolors ~

Past calendars are of course outdated, but the images are not:

2016 Watercolor calendar 

Related Info on This Site:The easy way to paint watercolors

Sixty succulent coloring book photos

Debra's art supplies

Go to “Debra’s Art Supplies” for the watercolor paints, paper and brushes I prefer.

 

On My YouTube Channel:

Paint a Succulent Watercolor the Easy Way

In “Paint a Succulent Watercolor the Easy Way” I trace the image onto watercolor paper, mask certain areas, apply washes, paint one leaf at a time by dropping in dabs of color, then scrub out highlights when the paint is dry.


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The Easy Way to Paint Watercolors

Is there really an easy way to paint watercolors? Yes, if you go straight to painting and don’t spend time laboriously drawing the image first. I learned the technique described here from San Diego watercolor artist Diane Palley McDonald.

The easy way to paint watercolors Step by step:

  1. Select a photo that inspires you.
  2. Print the photo on 8-1/2 by 11 paper.
  3. Put the photo on a light table or against a sunny window, and tape a piece of watercolor paper over it.
  4. Using a pencil, lightly trace the photo’s main lines onto the watercolor paper.
  5. Tape the edges of the watercolor paper to a thick rectangle of cardboard.
  6. Mask any bright white lines. (optional)
  7. Have fun painting!

This technique is a bit like painting a coloring book page. The worst that can happen is you’ll have to start over, but the hard part of any painting is the drawing, so you can skip that part. I sometimes do two or three paintings of a subject before I’m satisfied.The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors

 

Here’s why I prefer watercolors to any other art medium, except possibly photography: When you dilute watercolor paint with liquid light (clear water), you can create an image that’s translucent. Because the white of the paper shines through, the result suggests a sunlit moment.

Related Info on This Site:
Debra's art supplies

Go to “Debra’s Art Supplies” to find out which watercolor paints and brushes I prefer.2019 Succulent Watercolors Calendar

Sixty succulent coloring book photos

Also enjoy this YouTube video in which I share my painting method.

See more paintings from past succulent watercolor calendars still available on Zazzle. Many are are on my Succulent Watercolors Pinterest page as well.

 


Books by Debra Lee Baldwin