Read at : Google Alerts – drought-tolerant plants

Ruth’s Tips: Hardy aloes, tasty prickly pears

Walnut Creek’s Ruth Bancroft is a national authority on drought-resistant gardening. Twice a month, she and her staff share their knowledge with readers.

Q My wife’s birthday is in December, and she likes aloes. So I planted one for her in our garden in Walnut Creek, chosen because it comes into flower in December. It started to put out a flower stalk in November, but the flowers froze during a cold spell in early December, before they even had a chance to open. The plant itself is OK, but can you recommend another choice with more cold-tolerant flowers?

A We can relate to your problem with cold-damaged aloe flowers, since the same cold snap ruined many blooms at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. An exception was Aloe mutabilis, native to the high plateau in northeastern South Africa, near Johannesburg. In full flower in December, it came through unscathed while others around it did not.

Q I just read the Ruth’s Tips column relating to prickly pear cacti (Dec. 7) and would like to know the following: Can this cactus be planted in a large pot? What species and type of soil are best suited to ensure growth and fruit production? Where can this plant be purchased?

A Prickly pears are quite easy to grow, and do well in containers, as long as the soil has good drainage and the pot is placed in the sun. However, the pot should not be located where it might be brushed against by passers-by, since the many tiny spines (glochids) could wind up embedded in the clothes or skin of people who come into contact with them. One protective measure is to place other pots around the prickly pear, to provide a barrier. Occasional applications of small amounts of fertilizer will ensure good growth and flowering, as well as fruit production.


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Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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