Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The gift that keeps on giving: A Haworthia story (23 pics)

Winter is over! Warm and sunny days are coming and I can't wait to watch the plants grow. The weather is still being funky - we've had snow and -2°C on Sunday and +15°C with some sun/rain combination yesterday - but most of the lithops are watered and conophytums are sleeping and things on the windowsill are starting to change for the better. Well, except for the mealy bugs. Still need to deal with those...

I've been thinking what story to tell you and decided that something positive and uplifting would be best for the start of the season. I need some cheering up myself and this is what makes me smile these days. If you follow me on Twitter, you might know this story already. It's fun to tell it in detail though :)

Last year, when I was seriously getting into Adromischus, I also started growing more of the Haworthias. These plants can get rather large so I can't grow many. After browsing through those beautiful pictures online, how can you resist? Several plants have found their way to my home. Amongst them, a Haworthia splendens, you know, the fancy Japanese kind, with fat chocolaty leaves and everything. I was quite proud to call it my own but even before I could brag about it it just rotted away in what feels like a day. It turned into a nasty stinking mush without so much as a warning. Tough luck.

I was still hoping to save some of it so I kept pulling of leaves and cutting it to get to the healthy tissue until all what was left were two small half-leaves. I stuck them into pumice and left them alone. This was last May. 



A couple of months passed and contrary to expectations the leaves neither rotted nor dried up. They just shriveled a little and looked like this in August. 

And then, in September, things started happening! Those are new roots. How exciting is that?

And it gets better! Although it still takes several more months until then.

Last November the leaves finally started pushing new growth. 

And check out those roots!

By January I could already separate one of the baby-plants from the mother-leaf.

(This one kinda grows from the backside of the leaf because why not?)

In March, with a bit of sunlight, the chocolaty color started coming out, too. Along with the leaf pattern and texture.

Every little plant comes with its own fully developed root.

And the thing is, after I started separating bigger plant-babies, the leaves kept growing new ones. I already have five of them and they just keep coming!  I'm very excited to watch them grow and will let you know the final count :D

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Adromischus marianiae cultivation tips (23 pics)

I have been growing several Adromischus plants since 2014 but this is the first year I can watch many different types grow and develop. It's exciting and full of discoveries. Having watched them grow for a year or so does not make me an expert but the more I see the better I understand their yearly growing pattern and their needs.

The good news is they are doing very well on a windowsill and in pure pumice substrate! They are definitely not the genus that is "best in a greenhouse", in fact they don't even need that much sunlight. Half a day of it (the sun moves on after 2 pm here) and careful watering will produce compact and healthy plants.

While the red types develop a nice tan with intense sunlight, green types tend to get "bleached", turn lighter green or yellow. Here is my oldest plant. This year it started developing a second branch from below and is overall a nice and healthy one. The next two pictures are of this same plant, taken from two opposite sides. Can you tell which side is the sun-facing side? :D

When the sunlight get less intense the darker green color returns for those types that were supposed to be dark green like the below specimen.

The babies I grew from leaves in the recent years get greener during winter months, too.

But it also means that the "Lime Drops" variety that is actually supposed to be lighter green with pink tips is now also completely green.

And the "herrei" red types turn brownish green, too. The red color will return in the spring.

The new leaves are more intensely colored anyway. The below younger "alveolatus" variety plants have been growing some new red leaves this Fall. So pretty!

Adromischus marianiae "Little Spheroid" are really prone to stretching. I have a plant that stretches  in winter every year without fail. And then gets back to looking great by the end of summer.

What I wanted to say is that shape improves with time. No need to fret about it. See the below plant? All the new leaves are narrow and pointy. As the year progresses they will get thick and round thus hiding the stems even better and contributing to the tight shape the plant is supposed to have.

Or, another example. I got these "Droedap" locality plants earlier this year with only two big leaves of an undefinable shape on each. But once they started growing all those perfectly shaped and beautifully colored leaves came out.

The coloring and pattern like the number of dots and spots varies as well. The below Adromischus trigynus barely has any dots on the new leaves. The typical pattern only develops with time as the leaves grow bigger.

There have been lots and lots of flowers, on the new plants as well as plants I've had for years (my pollination attempts have failed though). Most of the leaf cuttings have developed into proper little plants within a year and growing them from seed has turned out to be absolutely possible (although very slow). The only thing that is still standing between you and a windowsill full of Adros is their retail prices. Unfortunately the hype is not yet over. But at least if you have one plant, as it grows, you can create "backup copies" and won't need to spend money again if one of them withers. That's what I've been doing. Because boy I won't be able to re-purchase any of them.

Here are some plants I grew from leaf cuttings this year.

And here are the babies grown from seed that are now 1,5 years old. While it was fun to watch the seedlings grow if you're not as patient, growing Adros from leaf cuttings is the way for you.

I have already written about Adromischus propagation and other observations earlier this year. What I would like to address now is the yearly life cycle of these plants and how to water them.

Watering is actually quite easy. All you need to do is touch and squeeze the leaves a little. If they are soft, you may water. I have actually measured my watering can - one watering is ca. 15 ml tops, 10 ml to be on the safe side. You will notice that the leaves will be really firm the next day. From there you just leave it and water only when the leaves are getting soft again.

There are no periods of time with strict drought as with lithops. A little water all throughout the year is fine if you follow the above rule. The plants mostly rest in winter, not wasting the resources, so automatically you will water less frequently. And even if they continue growing during the winter months it's better to slow them down as much as possible since the lack of sunlight will otherwise cause etiolation. We don't want that. The growing of new leaves happens in spring and in the fall. And they will spend all summer growing inflorescences and flowering. I thought at first that if I don't allow them to flower they would grow more leaves but I now believe they would just sleep instead. So, summer is either for flowering or for resting. Note that the younger leaves increase in size over the course of several months, so if I say they would be resting it means they just won't be pushing new leaves. Existing leaves however will (ideally) continue growing in size to create the typical tight cluster.

Tight growth with hidden stems is also the shape to be maintained and supported. For example, as recent as last month my Adros were actively growing and some still seem to want to continue. However, the days got shorter and I already notice that some try to outgrow the tight shape. Time to reduce or stop watering to avoid stretching. Those succulent leaves have lots of resources to support themselves. And while the new leaves get thicker and rounder the overall "dense foliage" will be maintained.

What I wrote so far sounds quite easy but there are also some issues Adros might have. Like any succulent plants they do rot. The roots are very thick, caudex-like even, and the substrate should be appropriate. I use pure pumice. If you use something else at least in the upper half of the pot it should be just as airy. There is another thing I have seen a couple of times - some sort of white mold at the base of the leaves. No idea what the exact cause is (too damp would be my guess) but if you catch it early and remove the mold and the affected leaves the plant will be fine if kept dry for some time after.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
There are so many different types and varieties of Adromischus marianiae out there that I am completely lost. I have no idea what exterior belongs to which name or locality. At this point I'm just trying to have plants of different shapes on my windowsill and I start to think assigning them numbers would make more sense. If you know how to keep them apart or where I can get reliable data on looks vs. name, I'd really appreciate your help.

Here are some plants whose proper names I can only guess about.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lithops cultivation on a windowsill (16 pics)

Recently I realized that after almost 10 years of writing about growing lithops and other succulents under less than ideal windowsill conditions I do not have a single post here that would summarize the whole endeavor. Let me try writing it all down now and if I miss something comments are always appreciated :)

Full disclosure. My approach is not scientific, I do not know the pH of the substrate nor do I note the average air temperature throughout the year. The experience I've gathered is based on close observation of the plants and learning from my mistakes.
Update January 2019: Winter temperature is 13°C at night and 16°C during the day. Summer temperature in the sun goes up to 48°C.

1. The windowsill

There are some things you need to know about my windowsill: 

- It is quite spacious, measuring 0.6 x 2.5 meters. Currently I have 4 trays of plants there with several pots standing free. There is room for the 5th tray but I like to have some free space as I do my sowing and repotting (and my cat does her sleeping) there as well. The trays are 40x60cm and contain 77 containers each. I also use the spaces in between trays for shallower pots with younger seedlings and such.
- It has window panes on 3 sides, not just one, thus allows just a little bit more sunlight in during the day. The longest period of full sun exposure is between 6 am and 2 pm in Summer, which is not nearly enough. It's much much less than that in Winter (if the sun comes out at all). There are spots on the windowsill, behind the non-glass parts of the windows, that have more shade. I use those as well, in rotation, for example for sleeping conophytums or rooting adromischus leaves. No free spot stays unused.
- It is directed somewhat South-East, I believe. Meaning, when the sun rises it first appears straight and slightly to the left. Bear with me, I'm really not a scientist.
- I do not use any artificial light. The light the plants get solely depends on the weather.
- I do not use any fans, nor open the windows. The windowsill is in my living room, separated from it by Florentine tulle. Whatever air circulation happens naturally (probably caused by me running around) it seems to be enough.
- I do not manipulate the temperature in any way. In Winter it has about the temperature of my living room (I do not heat during the day when I'm at work). In Summer the temperature rises up to 48°C when the black pots get too hot to be touched. There was never any sunburn related damage on the plants that I can recall, probably because the sun moves on from the windowsill by 2 pm.

As you can see, the above describes the general conditions, constant value, on which I have no influence.

So what are the points that we actually can manipulate? What is it we can do to compensate for all the unforeseen weather-related hardships of our lithops and help them be their best selves?

Here comes the No 1 Rule for growing lithops on a windowsill: Keep your plants as small and flat to the ground as possible. Your goal is - by all means necessary - to prevent them from growing upwards, also known as stretching. The slower they grow and the smaller they stay the healthier and prettier they will be and the longer they will live. All the care you give them should have this as a goal. You can achieve it by controlling what substrate and pots the plants grow in and by restrained watering. 

2. Substrate and containers

The substrate I use is pure pumice or pumice sand. There is absolutely no compost in there nor perlite or aquarium gravel. The size is often referred to as 0-2 mm but what it is is small pumice stones with pumice sand. Both Kakteen-Haage and Cono's Paradise sell it, if you're in Germany/EU, but it is also available on eBay or in stores specialized on bonsai. I tried Akadama, by the way, and it was a bad idea (the stuff they sell here is full of chemicals and slime). Do not use lava stones with holes in them for decoration either or you will never get rid of mealy bugs that hide in there. And if you use decorative quartz as top layer you will not be able to know whether your plant already has been watered recently or not and will keep watering it unnecessarily (believe me I know). In short, it's all pumice, all the way. Below is how slightly moist pumice looks like straight from the bag. I do not wash or microwave it. I only microwave the pumice I use for sowing (650 watts/1 kg/3 min).

You know how lithops like to rot? In pumice it rarely happens. The way it works so well is that the plants don't get "wet feet". Pumice does not retain moisture in a way compost does, making a swamp. Wet pumice, while sucking in water, does not let the roots actually be "in the water". The roots are semi-dry (no swamp) while the plant can still pull the moisture out of the stones when needed. This not only prevents rot but also is a safeguard against overwatering because it dries quicker. One wrong watering (that's often all it takes for your plants to start stretching) in pumice is less likely to be as dramatic as in other substrate. I refresh the substrate every 3 years or so.
It is also important that when you buy a plant that's already in a pot, you immediately pull it out, wash it, let it dry and transplant it into dry pumice where it will stay unwatered for at least a week. Even if you buy a plant from a specialized nursery and think that they use appropriate substrate and want to keep it - don't. What works in a greenhouse will not work on a windowsill. Any trace of plant food or compost will lead to stretching when there's not enough light to support the boost of growth (see No 1 Rule). 

For adult lithops plants I use square plastic containers (with drain holes of course) that measure 5x5x8.5 cm. Anytime I tried something bigger I lost the plants to overwatering. You have no control in bigger pots. 5x5x5 cm pots would work very well, too. Lithops roots go deep though and the depth of 8.5 cm seems to be good for them. Kakteen Haage and Kakteen Schwarz (wholesale) in Germany offer them. The main thing is that the pots are small and you squeeze as many plants (of the same species and age/size) in one pot as possible without them touching each other. One-plant-per-pot approach is for greenhouses.

It is not only space-saving but also another overwatering safeguard. What one sleepy lithops cannot drink up, its neighbor will; what one greedy lithops could have consumed all by itself, it now has to share with others - no rotting roots and no stretching. Normally I have 4 one-headed plants in one pot or 2 two-headed. Below are 4 two-headed plants happily living in a 5cm pot. I can squeeze up to 16 seedlings into those 5 square centimeters - it only does them good.
Also, use plastic, not clay. It dries quicker, is lighter and transplanting is much easier - just squeeze and pull. Thank me later.

3. Watering

This is the most tricky part. And the most important. You will have to summon all your power of observation and self-control to figure it out. Here are some pointers.

The first thing to remember is that once a year lithops need to change their leaves. The regeneration is a long process that takes several months to complete and during which old leaves completely dry up while the new leaves feed of them, recycling all the moisture. Unfortunately lithops are opportunistic and don't know what's good for them. If water keeps coming old leaves will never dry up and then stacking begins. At the end the new leaves choke on the old ones and the plant stretches, rots and dies. So much for the background.
Our task is now to support the regeneration. In northern hemisphere it means to stop watering completely mid- or late October. The last splash of water comes with a wilting flower. Once you stop watering the roots will become inactive and the old lithops leaves will get wrinklier and wrinklier. This is exactly what we want to see. Winter is a period of active growth, in fact - underneath, deep inside the plant, the new leaves are growing. The wrinklier the old leaves, the bigger the new ones. Around April the old leaves will be gone and the new fresh leaves will emerge. It can be earlier, it can be a bit later. This indicates that you can start watering again. If the old leaves are digested earlier it's better not to start watering until the weather stabilizes (many consequent sunny days). If the old leaves are not fully digested until June, cut off what's left of them and pretend they are. The roots will quickly re-grow and the plant will react to water after the second watering at the latest.

The second thing to remember is that between April and October you can not water by schedule. There is no schedule like "water all your lithops every two weeks". Now your power of observation comes into play. You look at every each of them, one by one, and decide which one gets watered and which one doesn't. Just looking is not enough, you also have to touch them. If they are wrinkly and soft (sometimes even hiding in the stones) - you may water. Otherwise you may not. When in doubt - don't water, re-evaluate in a week. Sometime during a Summer heatwave you might notice that the plants are wrinkly but hard as a stone. They are resting and no water is needed then. This is supposed to encourage flowering but who knows. Flowers on the windowsill are an exception, not a rule.

How much water do I give them? To illustrate, this is the watering can I use. For watering of one pot, no matter how many plants are in it, I use half of it.

I do not fertilize. Because I always forget. When I do remember, I do it in August or September. The beginning of the year feels too risky (stretching).

4. Sowing and seedlings

You guessed it, I use the same place and the same substrate for sowing. All my plants live together on the windowsill, including newly hatched seedlings. The difference is that I microwave the pumice before sowing and use 4x4x4 cm small pots (mainly because 20 of them neatly fit into my mini hatchery, formerly known as "jewelry box"). Bigger Ferrero Rocher boxes work well for sowing, too.

The method is simple: label the pots, fill them with pumice, make it wet, spread seeds on top, cover with a transparent lid and wait. No artificial light needed. You should sow either in February or in September though, when it's colder. In my experience germination starts one week later. Sometimes I get new seedlings after one month. Don't get discouraged. The "3 days" info you find online is fairly unrealistic. For the first few months the pumice surface should stay moist at all times. It does not mean you need to spray every hour. It stays moist automatically because the lid is on. Keep the seedlings under the lid until you feel they are strong enough to move out or be transplanted. Wait until the first true leaves to be on the safe side (about 4 months).

You will see a significant change in their surface structure after the first leaf change. It will be much firmer and stronger, it might already have some color that will keep them safe from strong sunlight.  It's safe to remove the lid and let the pumice surface dry between waterings now. From there the care is basically: when you see them shrivel a bit, give them water, all through the year, even in winter. They are not on the yearly leaf changing schedule yet and will regenerate whenever they like, several times a year. It's how they grow.

This is how they will look like after 2 years. Yes, if they are at this size (4 mm?) you're doing it right. After two years they should be close to the yearly lithops life cycle and at the age of 4 they should start looking like adult plants. Do not believe the info online that they will flower when they are 3 years old. Can you imagine these tiny kids flowering? In a year they won't be much bigger.

Be patient. This year the seedlings I grew from seed 10 years ago are flowering for the very first time. And oh how rewarding this is!