Cactus the perfect flowering plant for a time-poor gardener
WHEN you think of spring flowering plants, cactus is probably not at the top of the list.
But in late September and into October, many types of cactus flower profusely.
Those thorn-covered domes have blooms in all the colours of the rainbow, from white through pinks and red to orange, yellow and purple.
Some varieties have their flowers perched on top, like cherries on a cake; some bear their flowers in a garland around the plant like a necklace.
Cactus have adapted over the millennia to survive in the harshest of environments.
Instead of leaves, from which water escapes easily, they have spines, which greatly reduce water evaporation.
The spines also protect the cactus from predators such as birds.
There are some cacti that look like little mounds of pebbles, and others that have thorns so long and sharp that they are positively scary to look at. Some of the thorns have hooked tips.
The spines are arranged in perfect geometric patterns over the cactus - quite extraordinary when viewed in close-up.
Cactus range in size from small to absolutely huge - over 15 metres tall - so there is a place for these plants in every garden.
They don't need a huge amount of care, so they are perfect for the time-poor gardener, too.
A sunny position is best, even a sunny windowsill inside will be okay.
Cactus will do best if they are in a position where they receive good morning sun but are protected from the worst of the midday heat.
A cactus has a short, spreading root system, allowing the plants to capture as much of that scarce desert rain as possible.
These adaptations allow certain cacti to survive three years without water; a human can barely survive four days. So make sure you water these plants sparingly.
A cactus that is over-watered is much harder to save than one that is under-watered.
A good way to water potted cactus is to put the pot in a bucket of water and allow the plant to extract the water it needs through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
Cacti and their cousins, the succulents, work really well as potted plants, and can co-exist happily in the same planter.
Make sure you use a potting mix specially formulated for cactus and succulents, as it contains plenty of washed river sand to ensure that the container drains freely.
Never the let the pot sit in water for an extended period, as they will quickly rot in this situation.
Try planting a variety of different leaf shapes, textures and colours in a wide shallow bowl, and fill the spaces in between with coloured pebbles. Or group a collection of small pots of single specimens.
When handling spiky plants, protect yourself by wrapping the top in newspaper and wearing gloves and long sleeves.