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Cactus Care Tips are Provided by Nan at www.nansnook.com

Rooting and growing cactus cuttings:

You will need a 4-6" clay pot and the soil mix detailed below for the best results. It really is worthwhile to mix up your own batch of specialized cactus soil. I have been experimenting with cacti soil mixes for years and this is what I have found works best for this specie, and many, if not most, other species as well. I have studied the soil types of many different cacti in their native range. And I can locate wild specimens by locating the correct soil type. This is a good potting mix:

One part commercial bagged topsoil.

One part commercial bagged cow manure, compost/manure, or compost.

One part crushed limestone "minus grade" (This bagged limestone, available from large nurseries and landscape companies, is the finest screening from a rock crusher. It contains limestone particles ranging in size from sand to pebbles.)

1 cup or so of powdered or pelleted limestone (or dolomite) per 6' pot. Peter's Professional All-Purpose Plant food (hardware or garden center)

You can substitute crushed oyster shell or crushed cuttlebone (pet or feed store) or finely crushed marble for the minus grade limestone. I just call around and pick up a bag of the crushed stone for about $3.00.

The problem with commercial bagged cactus potting soil is that most of it contains mostly peat moss. Peat moss reacts with fertilizer to produce an acid soil. Acid soil encourages rot, and Pedro will not take up primary nutrients: you get a weaker plant in addition to increased chances of rot. Some commercial cactus soils are pretty good, but how do you know? They all need some pH adjustment and stabilization, and getting the right pH after a few heavy soakings with strong fertilizer solution can be tricky. So I recommend a peatless mix, and the recipe above contains stone chips that provide good drainage in addition to long term pH stability. The mix will grow cactus in the same pot for years and years with just an occasional light liming in the summer when using strong feed.

Mix the ingredients and break up any lumps, you want the soil to have lumps no larger than your rock chips. If you are rooting a bud or small stalk, fill the pot to within 1-1/2 inches to the top, packing the soil down tightly with your fist while filling. Center your bud or cutting and pack soil mix around it to within ? inch of the top of the pot. You want about 1 to 1-1/2 inches of the cutting in the soil, just enough to hold it stable. Make sure to pack the mix tight. Then soak the pot slowly and thoroughly with plain water. You can set the pot in a bucket and fill with water to the pot rim, let soak 15 min, remove & let drain.

With specimens that are already rooted (usually shipped "bare root"), it helps to have one person hold the cactus with the roots hanging in the pot, fill with crumbled soil mix and gently tamp, taking care not to clump the roots up together. Fill the pot up with soil to the yellow line on the cacti base. Soak the potted cacti in 2-1/2 tablespoons Peter's per five gallons of water.

Place the pot in full direct sun if possible, the more light the better. For fastest rooting and healthiest plants it helps to dig a hole in the ground in a sunny location and sink the pot in up to the lip. This provides some temperature and humidity stabilization that helps rooting and encourages much healthier growth. They neglect better and you will water less as well.

During the growing season water the pots whenever it feels dry when you press your finger into the soil surface. Rooting should occur quickly when the cactus stalks are set up in full sun, the pots are pots sunk into the ground, and the soil mix is kept cool and moist. Usually 2-3 weeks. You will see new growth on the tip when roots have begun to set. When the growth resumes, begin feeding:

2-1/2 Tablespoons of Peter's Professional All-Purpose plant food per 5 gallons of water for starts. This is a 20-20-20 fertilizer with chelated trace elements: Trace elements are essential for good color, growth and potency in cacti. "Blue" Pedro is grown by maintaining the proper levels of: sun, feed (nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus & trace), pH and water... Lots of water. In summer, when mixing feed for fully rooted and growing Pedro's, try to add some pure urea to your feed. For peak summer growing I feed with a mixture of 2 tablespoons Peter's (above) and 3 tablespoons of Urea (46-0-0) in five gallons of water. Don't let the pots go completely dry during the growing season if you can avoid it. Outdoors in many areas summer feed is supplemented with rainwater, if not give the plants a break from feed about every second or third watering. Plain water, or weak lime water once in awhile rinses out accumulating salts. Rinse the pots well with a hose or rainwater ad-lib, but keep feeding. And lime with a few tablespoons of powdered rock per pot every few months if you are feeding heavy. A word to the wise: don't feed any heavier or you will burn the roots and don't let the pots dry out and get hot in full sun if you feed heavy. Roots like it rich, cool, and moist.

When using the Urea formula above, add a tablespoon or two of powdered limestone or dolomite to each pot every two-three months to maintain a "sweet" soil chemistry. Soured pots will still grow, but the color and potency of the cactus is second rate, and it will not grow as fast. The lowest the pH should get is 6.8, any lower and Pedro will start to grow out pale yellow. Hit sickly or yellowed plants with: lime, hardwood ashes, sunlight and fertilizer... They will improve.

I water my cacti out of a five gallon bucket I keep filled in the back yard. The water has a chance to sit 24 hours at air temperature, I mix in fertilizer, and dip it out with a small pot. Using this water in combination with sunken pots works just great. The roots are never shocked and nutrient/water uptake is both rapid and constant. Pedro will grow like a weed once the root systems are established. The grow method detailed here is simply the bestest. This grow tek provides an ideal environment for Pedro roots: proper drainage, gas exchange, water uptake, nutrient uptake, pH control. When soaked with feed, sunken pots will fill and hold water long enough to completely soak the soil mix, thereby retaining the maximum amount of moisture. When the feed solution drains off by seepage a complete gas exchange takes place within the pot. Pots never need to dry out under these conditions, especially since there is pH control with the crushed limestone rock. This environment produces a thick, fat, knotted rooted system. It looks just like a fully colonized jar of mushroom mycellia when a healthy cactus is pulled from a pot.

In the early spring and early fall, Pedro grown outdoors should be switched to rooting feed: 2-1/2 tablespoons Peter's in five gallons. One month before the first frost: rinse the pots well with 2-3 fillings of plain water, then stop watering and fertilizing altogether. You are done for the season, rainwater will usually be more than enough to keep plants hydrated during the late fall in many parts. Bring dormant plants indoors just before the first frost.

It is not unusual to bring dirty, cold, soaking wet pots inside, so be forewarned. Let the pots winter indoors in a cool bright location. There is no need in most cases to water during the winter dormant period (unless your plants were not well hydrated when you brought them in), water can be resumed indoors around Feb 15th, but unless there is plenty of light it is usually best to wait until after the last frost and move them outdoors before watering. Lack of light causes skinny weak growth. This cacti really needs bright light to grow exceedingly well. Short day lengths, cool temperatures, and lack of water during the late fall, winter, and early spring will cause the cacti to go dormant. Increasing day length, and water, starts them growing again the next spring.

Pots tend to go a little acid when plants are wintering dormant. You can take advantage of this acid condition in the early spring with a "post dormancy" treatment for the first spring watering: 1 rounded teaspoon S.T.E.M. (Soluble Trace Element Mix, available from nursery supply companies) and 2-1/2 level tablespoons Epsom salt in 5 gallons of water. Soak pots with this solution; let them sit in the cool early spring weather, good sun, for 7-10 days. STEM and Epsom salt creates a temporary low pH condition (below 6.8) where trace elements will absorb rapidly. You will see thin dark blue (almost black sometimes) streaks moving up the creases in the stalk as the trace elements hits the chloroplasts. Cacti are typically heavy trace element feeders.

Once absorbed, soak the pots down well with the following feed: 1-quart hardwood ashes (sifted barbeque ashes are fine), 2-1/2 tablespoons Peter's, and one cup powdered limestone or dolomite swirled in a five gallon bucket. This feed will raise the pH back up, where Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are absorbed readily by the root systems. Trace elements are still available at a higher pH when using Peter's because the elements are chelated. Chelated nutrients are compounded in order to make them available to plant roots over a wide range of pH condtions, and it works, but a strong shot of trace elements in early spring, first thing, will establish reserves that are available for the early summer growth spurt. You get bluer cacti when you dose with trace elements

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