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Cacti: Yuman offers advice on care for the prickly beauties
Click here to view slideshow of Kelley's cacti
Cal Kelley met his first cactus when he visited a plant nursery at the age of 12, “and hasn't stopped since.”
Today, his home is a testament to that passion for all plants prickly. He says he has 110 varieties in the ground and somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 cacti in pots.
“They're just amazing plants,” he said. “There's astounding varieties in all kinds of shapes, sizes and forms. I'm amazed at nature's ability to produce the prickly beauties.”
And when they bloom, they put on quite a show.
Kelley admitted he killed a lot of cacti before he learned the proper care and feeding of the plants. Today he's become the “go-to” person in Yuma for tips on how to keep them alive and healthy.
Growing cactus is a subject that has a lot of interest here, judging by the standing room-only presentation Kelley gave recently at the Foothills Branch Library on “Cactus 101.”
The biggest complaint he hears, and no doubt the main obstacle to growing cacti, is that the plants are hard to handle.
Kelley has found a number of ways of doing so without feeling like a pin cushion.
When planting a potted plant, he suggests putting a pot of the same size on the top of the cactus and turning it upside down. “Then you can handle the roots with your hands. Carrying the plant by the pot on top, drop it roots first in the ground.”
Kitchen tongs, especially ones with rubber tips so the cactus isn't damaged, also work well.
To move larger plants, he suggests straps like those used to secure truck loads. He has two truck drivers who live down the street, “so I have a ready supply,” he said.
Or cut up an old garden hose and wrap it around the cactus to carry it.
Once people learn how to handle cacti without getting stuck, “they become converted,” Kelley noted.
There is a misnomer about cacti, he said. People believe that since they're desert plants, they can survive without much care.
Most cacti, 75 percent, live in the semi-desert higher elevation of the Sonoran Desert where it is cooler and wetter. Another 5 percent grow in more tropical areas.
“Only 20 percent of all cacti grow in the low, dry desert like Yuma,” Kelley said.
“Some people think they never have to water cactus here,” he said, but without care they struggle. On the over hand, many people tend to over-water the plants.
He said that in the Yuma area, you should fertilize and water every week or so during April, May and June. Continue watering once a week throughout the summer, but don't fertilize. Begin to reduce watering to one time a month in October and November. Then do nothing but enjoy the plants during the winter months.
That's because when night temperatures are below 60 degrees, the cactus is dormant and watering could cause the roots to rot, he explained. The plants wake up when the nights become warmer and begin the flowering process.
Kelley noted that cacti are famous for survival and he's left a cut cactus in a shaded area for a year before planting it. That gives the cut time to “scab over” so the wound isn't susceptible to pests and disease.
As plants become mature, they require less care, he said, likening the process to the care of a growing child.
Kelley recommended four books, which are available at Barnes and Noble and the Yuma County Library:
• “The Complete Encyclopedia of Cacti” by Rudolf Subik and Libor Kunte
• “The complete Book of Cacti and Succulents” by Terry Hewitt
• “The Cactus Family” by Edward F. Anderson
• “The Gardener's Guide to Cactus” by Scott Calhoun.
Cacti (Cactaceae) are succulents (any plant that stores water in its stem) that grow in the hot and dry regions of the Americas. Most species of cacti have lost true leaves, retaining only spines that are highly modified leaves. Cactus spines are produced from specialized structures called areoles, a kind of highly reduced branch. Areoles are an identifying feature of cacti that give rise to spines and flowers.
Kelley said he grows some of his plants, buys some from local nurseries or from a California nursery that specializes in cacti, and occasionally finds an unusual specimen at Lowe's or Home Depot. And when he travels in his motor home, he's always on the lookout for something different.
He also noted that some homes in the Yuma are have some interesting cacti. “You will find some really neat ones in the area if you look for them.”