A Spring Moon Landing

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Spring has sprung here in Montréal with blue skies, bright sun, and above zero temperatures. One of the tasks I had scheduled for myself this long Easter weekend was to repot some of my plants, which are composed exclusively of cacti. To be specific, my goal was to pot my collection of moon cacti into individual pots but to make this more fun, I decided to make this into an easy arts and crafts session using used candle jars.

First a disclaimer: I am not a plant expert! I did not always have cacti and in fact, for pretty much all of my adult life, I did not grow any plants. This is despite being surrounded by a forest of plants in my childhood home, which my mother tended to and cared for inside our suburban dwelling. She had a green thumb and the plants grew tall and robust under her care, meaning that a collection of approximately fifteen plants took up a large portion of our living room. My family called this area the “jungle” because that is exactly what it was — a smorgasbord of plants large, stout, small, flowered, spiky, with big leaves, and small leaves.

I did not inherit my mom’s ability to be the plant whisperer, and my various attempts to grow pants were always a bust. My first plants were small pots of cacti that my parents permitted me to purchase as a child; I loved how they were purchased as small, baby creatures that came with seemingly straight-forward directions. However, I always managed to kill my cacti, and my memory is fuzzy in terms of whether I drowned them in too much water though that seems like the probable diagnosis. Since then, I never owned a plant though I did tell myself that eventually I would have a jungle of my own.

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Yet, when I moved into my present apartment two years ago, I was gifted with cacti from my boyfriend who has a tradition of presenting cactus as house warming gifts. These cacti became the first plants that I have owned in my adult life. I was gifted with three different types of cacti: an Opuntia subulata, a bright green and vertically oriented guy with thick spikes; a Cumulopuntia corotilla, which are dusty green in colour and bulbous; an Echinocereus chisoensis, which are the long, tall cacti that bloom flowers on top; and several Moon Cacti. My favourite, of course, are the moon cacti, which is the product of grafting two types of cacti together using Gynocalycium mihanovichii as the top, and Hylocereus as the base. This means that moon cacti have a bright green stem and a bulbous, brightly coloured top with short spikes.

I admit that my current moon cacti collection is round number three (or is it four?) as I have committed cacti-cide on a few occasions. I have never been good at keeping cacti alive, despite the fact cactus seem so easy to care for — they are creatures of dry environments so you would think that minimal watering is all you need to remember to do. Well, let me tell you that moon cacti are especially finicky beings that are very sensitive to too much water, as well as too little water. Thank goodness moon cacti were not part of my childhood cacti collection as those poor fellows died very quickly and valiantly.

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However, all this trial and error has allowed me to understand what works and what does not work for moon cacti. That, and research on moon cactus care has allowed me to keep a few members of the moon cactus collection alive for a few months now. I realized that the reasons that a few members were unsuccessful, and this usually pointed to the way the cactus was watered. As previously noted, moon cacti are very sensitive to watering as they require water only when the soil has dried completely. To check, stick your finger into the soil, about one inch deep, and if the soil is dry you can water the cactus again. Be careful not to over water as this can result in rotting of the roots.

Plant the moon cacti in cactus soil, which can be purchased in any home hardware or gardening store. Additionally, I recommend planting the cacti in separate pots and that they are placed on an even surface. In their previous incarnation, I had potted several of the moon cacti in a large and wide communal pot. I would place the moon cacti pot on a shelf beside the window and perched on top of a plate to keep the shelf clean. However, the pot was slightly tilted and I found that this tilting caused the water in the soil to accumulate on one side of the pot only, causing some of the moon cacti to be over watered while others were parched dry. Which is why the moon cacti were repotted today into their separate pots. This allows the individual cactus to be watered on a custom basis and not feed on the water travelling through the soil meant for its neighbour.

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Moon cacti have brightly coloured tops, which I absolutely love, so to emphasize these hues I decided to pot the cacti in used glass candle jars from IKEA. I had stocked up on TINDRA scented candles as I always light scented candles around my home to counteract the smells from cooking. TINDRA candles are cheap ($1.99 CDN for size shown) and come in a variety of different scents and colours, but they disappointed me in that only the brown and red colours gave off a discernible aroma. Nevertheless, I lit a few of the candles until they burned out, then thought it would be fun to pot individual moon cactus in each jar. The remaining coloured wax in the jars burned unevenly, but I liked that effect. I pot my red moon cactus in the purple coloured jar, the yellow in the orange coloured jar, and the orange in the green coloured jar.

But first, the candle jars were dipped in hot water to peel off the large sticky IKEA labels adorning the sides of the jars. The individual moon cactus and the soil around their roots were place in the jar, with gaps filled with additional cactus soil. Small amounts of water was used to compact the soil and to firmly stand each cactus in their respective pots. And there you go: Potted moon cacti, bespoke style.

Additional Notes: Remember that moon cacti also require bright, but indirect sunlight. They can be placed outdoors during the spring and summer months, but I bring them inside once it is below about 10°C. During the winter months, they require less frequent watering. However, during the growing season between April to September, fertilize the soil with cactus fertilizer monthly.

Happy spring gardening and good luck!

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