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Sharp Like a Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

by Malachy - Horticulturist CountryLife Dungarvan | Aug 10, 2015
Cacti

As you may have noticed from my bio each week or if you talked to me in the CountryLife garden centre, I have a passion for cacti. I started growing them when I was about five years old and it has been a passion that has carried on right to this date. They really caught my imagination with all their spikes and unusual shapes. I used to imagine how any animal could even think of trying to eat them and how desperate you would need to be to even try!

The original plant that started my collection is still alive and well in my house. At its height my collection grew to include about 200 others over the course of a few years. I really caught the bug for cacti at ten when I brought one of my prize specimens to a cactus show in Dublin and won first prize and a silver spoon from the Royal Horticultural Society. I remember the antics of trying to get a large spiky cactus onto a train in Waterford and on Dublin Bus to Rathgar without causing a prickly situation with any passengers trying to squeeze by!

My favourite ones are really the flowering, small and easy to grow plants such as Mammilaria and Rebutia. These are so easy to grow and will reliably flower every year in early summer. When they do flower they are submerged under a blanket of vibrant colour.

Two other cacti with very amusing common names to look out for are Mother-in-law’s tongue and Mother-in-law’s cushion. Now I would never offer a reason for these names but I will let your imagination run wild. Mother-in-law’s cushion is the more iconic cacti looking of the two but Mother-in-law’s tongue is an equally great cacti. Both are very versatile and would sit well in any room of the house.

Cacti like to be watered from mid-March to the end of September and not at all for the rest of the year. When you do water them you need to really drench them and then leave them to dry out completely before the next watering (I find this to be once every fortnight). I give them a feed with tomato food once a month in spring and summer. This will keep them in good flowering condition

It is important to monitor your cacti and they should be re-potted once a year into a slightly larger container with good drainage holes. I find terracotta pots not only work very well but look great too.  Free-draining compost that is roughly one third gravelly sand and two thirds potting compost will allow the excess water to drain away quickly and enables water to be absorbed after dry periods.

As you would imagine they need a good bright position to grow in. However they don’t always appreciate being cooked in a conservatory on a hot day when you are away so good ventilation is needed to keep the temperatures down.

Cacti are a fuss free plant that more people should grow in their homes. And as long as you treat them right, just like you would treat your mother-in-law you will not run into any prickly situations. 

Written by Malachy

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Malachy's Bio 

I have been gardening since I was 5 years old when my mother gave me a part of our garden as my own. I have studied horticulture in the National Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin and was a winner in the young horticulturist of the year competition. I have worked in Several plant nurseries and garden centers such as Mount Congreve in Co. Waterford. My special interests are plant propagation and Cacti!