Sunday, 6 March 2016

I Should Have Known Better

"Cactus" as purchased
When I bought my so-called cactus (since identified as a Pachypodium Saundersii) in the spring of 2015 my decision was made despite some serious discouragement from my mother who didn't want a plant with dangerous thorns invading her personal space.

It wasn't long before I started to wonder whether I should have deferred to her better judgement. Although I knew exactly what I planned to do with my "tree", the prospect of actually doing the job filled me with dread and I kept putting it off as if hoping that the work would do itself.

Eventually in February I took the easy way out and took it to a workshop where the hardest part was done for me.

"Cactus" pruned and planted in bonsai pot - February 2016

By the time it was safely tied into its bonsai pot my doubts had intensified and I was already contemplating the possibility of selling it or if necessary putting it on my club's raffle table. But I still held on to the hope that in time I'd learn to love it, and even took inspiration from this comment from one of my Reddit readers: "Kind of looks like bonsai from another planet."

At that stage my attention turned to gathering information about the species and working out how I was going to keep it alive during the upcoming winter. Although our winters are relatively mild, I have to protect some of my more sensitive trees from cold winds and frost, but it sounded like this one would be more tricky than most.

Meanwhile I left my "cactus" in a shady spot to recover from the trauma of root pruning but, with so many other trees to care for, I didn't pay it as much attention as I should have. About a week ago I became aware that its leaves were starting to dry up and in the days that followed I became increasingly concerned that something had gone horribly wrong.

On Thursday I saw the man who ran the workshop at which it was repotted, so I told him what had happened. He suggested I remove it from the pot and let it dry out for a couple of days. I was reluctant to handle those thorns more than necessary and put off inspecting it further until today, when I discovered that the base of the trunk had become extremely soft, a sure sign of root rot. Clearly this was the effect of over-watering.

Dead cactus - March 2016

I've seen this happen to other people's baobabs, which is one of the reasons I've never bought one. In some cases their owners have been able to save the trees by cutting off the part which has rotted and treating what's left of their tree as a cutting. I decided to see if I could do the same with this succulent, but it proved to be a lost cause. It was too far gone.

So, in answer to the question "Can I bonsai a cactus?", which I posed in my earlier post, the best I can say is perhaps with the right treatment it can be done, but I won't be trying again.

In closing it's only fair to admit that although she's never grown bonsai, sometimes Mother does know best. I certainly wish I'd taken her advice and resisted the temptation to buy a plant I knew nothing about.

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