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Hello my little succulents out there, and happy Wednesday. Welcome to the Good to Grow plant blog, and thank you for being here.
As most of you know, I have a small plant care business (Good to Grow) here in Albuquerque. I take care of plants at offices and homes around town. I love it – I have a flexible schedule, my clients are fantastic, and the plants don’t talk back.
Usually, the job runs smoothly and there’s not much to it, other than being attentive to the plants’ needs (watering, fertilizing, dusting, pruning, soothing, cajoling, cheerleading). Sometimes, though, the plants present me with a problem that needs to be solved.
Like in the case of the cacti growing at the local television station.
I inherited this account a few years ago. One of the first things I noticed when I took over the care was the a few of the cacti were just about to hit the ceiling. Hmmm, I remember thinking, I wonder what will happen if those do hit the ceiling.
I was very interested to find out, so I left them alone (well, I kept watering and fertilizing, but I didn’t do any pruning). Turns out, they began growing sideways when they hit the ceiling. Cool! Well, not cool, because it can’t be particularly healthy for the cacti, but it was so cool for me to watch! I was fascinated – plants are amazing, aren’t they? It’s like the cactus said to itself, “that stupid ceiling isn’t going to stop me from growing!” Wow!
When one of the cacti fell over from its own weight, I knew I couldn’t let my experiment continue. It wasn’t fair of me to compromise the health of the plant just because I was curious to see what would happen.¹ It was time for me to get help.
That’s when I called my great friend Tina. You might recognize Tina from our Friday Ask the Experts panel. Here she is:
She’s so cute with her sunflower head! Tina also has a small plant business here in Albuquerque. I called her and told her I had some crazy cacti that had grown so big that they were growing sideways along the ceiling. I’ve never cut a cactus of that size before, and I definitely didn’t have the tools for it, so I asked if she could help. I was in over my head!
I brought her to the television station and showed her the cacti. Now, she’s never cut cacti of this size before either, but she did have tools – an electric saw being the most important.
So together, we set out to overhaul the atrium. The first step was to cut chunks of cacti off, then clean up the tangled mess of Euphorbias that had grown together while I was fixated on the other plants. There was also a huge Aloe in the atrium that had birthed dozens of babies – we had to separate those out as well.
I would’ve liked to photograph the actual cutting of these monsters, but I couldn’t because as she held the electric saw, I held the top of the cactus – HEAVY! I used a ladder to reach the tops as she cut away.
After each piece was cut, we used paper towels to soak up the goo oozing from the cactus. And believe me, there is a lot of goo. We were very careful to avoid getting any of the sap on our clothes or hands – it can be very toxic to skin and it will stain clothes.
I was amazed by how each cut cactus looked. I think this one is beautiful – a perfect star. Gooey, yes, but such a gorgeous shape!
I never liked geometry in high school, but these cacti have me loving it. How come Mr. Rehm couldn’t have made geometry this interesting in class? I don’t remember the last time I was so enthralled by a square. A square!
We made lots more cuts, using lots more paper towels to soak the goo. We also untangled the huge Aloe plant in the atrium and separated out several pieces. Most of those I transplanted into other containers. One big one we replanted in the middle of the atrium.
None of the pieces that were cut off went to waste. After a few days, the fresh cuts scarred over and I was able to plant them straight into the dirt – they didn’t need to root or anything.
This is what the atrium looked like yesterday. There is still much work to be done. The cactus on the right that is leaning against the wall will be staked to stand up straight, as will the Euphorbia on the left. Still, it’s so much healthier than it was a week ago.
Sadly, the electric saw was traumatic for the plants. When I checked on the atrium yesterday, three big branches had broken off in the days since our work. They couldn’t handle the jolting and shaking the saw caused.
I was fascinated to see the interior of the branch, but I felt badly for the cactus. I wouldn’t like it if one of my arms fell off! Especially with such a brutal tear and not a clean slice that comes with a blade.
I made a clean slice and set the branch aside. In a few days after it scars over, I’ll plant it in the atrium next to its parent cactus.
I love shiny things, so of course, I had to throw some colored glass around the ground to brighten up the atrium. Not that anyone but me will notice.
Whenever there is a big job like this, you can’t expect to complete it in one fell swoop. We didn’t want to chop the cacti down into little pieces – that would’ve been even more traumatic. Baby steps! I’ll be working on this atrium for weeks to come, but the hardest part is done. The cacti can breathe a sigh of relief – there are no saws in sight. Hopefully they can spend all of their energy putting new growth where the cuts were made.
I’ll keep a close eye and camera on this atrium in the coming months, and will show you how resilient plants are – there will be a ton of new growth in here. I’m excited for them – they can stretch and grow to their hearts’ content.
Have you ever cared for a plant that got too big for its own good? If so, what did you do? I hope you were as lucky as me to have a good friend you can call for help. Thanks again for your help, Tina! You rock!
Tomorrow is garden bloom day, so I’ll be back with lots of pretty pictures (yay, Spring!). Until then, happy gardening everyone!
¹ Is it professional of me to let a couple of cacti hit the ceiling in the spirit of experimentation? No, not really. But quite frankly, I knew I could get away with it. No one pays any attention to this atrium. Sure, it’s next to the front door, but it may as well be invisible. Most employees use the back door, and the ones who do use the front door ignore the atrium. Now if I experimented with a plant in one of the offices, and that plant got say, one yellow leaf, I’d be told about it by 20 different employees: “This plant is DYING,” “Ohmigosh, you have to see this plant – it looks TERRIBLE,” “There’s something wrong with this plant – you have to HURRY and help it!” But some cacti hitting the ceiling in an atrium – not a peep from anyone. Go figure.