Fistfights and Forgiveness in the World of Xerophiles
By: John Castro and Seth Jones
The topic and subject of succulent and cacti soil mix recipes is an often contentious and combative affair. I have on three occasions witnessed “normal” horticulturalists engage in hand-to-hand combat over this subject. The first time was at the annual Horticulture Club awards banquet in Uvalde, TX, when two elderly denizens grappled in the civic center foyer over sphagnum peat moss. The second was many years later at a duck-camp near the bayous of New Orleans, and the last was only three weeks ago when my friend Brian Leo and I loudly aired our innate grievances of the other’s opinion of vermiculite in arid-mix, while standing in line at the Wendy’s on West Beach Blvd. in Biloxi, MS.
Paradoxically, I have witnessed two socially estranged Opuntia hybridizers at the national R.E.O. convention in Cincinnati embrace and cry, after years of bitterness, and admit to the other that they never truly believed “the rumors”— all because they discovered that they both use the same subalpine fir bark in their epiphyte mix.
Yes, that is right. You must be careful to whom and in whom’s company you divulge your secret recipe.
But I have a secret to purvey— the Jungian secret of succulent soil mix resides collectively in the human unconscious.
That’s it. Deep down, buried within the recesses of the human brain is the cosmological constant called “The Proper Succulent Soil Mix Recipe”. We all have it, though most of us are unaware of it.
The most basic cactus neophyte, and we all know who we are, has at one time or another (typically while in our horticultural youth) used whatever potting soil or “dirt” we had on hand to pot our Echinocactus grusonii— only later to find out that the reason it rotted was because we used clay dug from the back yard and because there were no holes in the bottom of the pot.
Now while it is the case that 100% clay used as planting media for E. grusonii is likely a bad idea, it is also the case that using straight Miracle-Gro Potting Soil in a terra-cotta pot is not. Why is this? Frequency and amount of watering is the answer. If one were to use straight MGPS with E. grusonii, it can be highly successful if the grower is aware of soil hydration.
As far as I can tell, there are three main schools of thought among woke and semi-woke growers concerning cacti and succulent soil:
1. Just use any soil labeled “Cactus and Succulent” that you find on the retail shelf.
—Fact— You can have great results with this method.
2. Use the same C&S soil, or perhaps even MGPS, but mix a bunch of perlite or maybe some sand in it.
—Fact— You can also have great results with this method.
3. Only use the “Recipe”— if not, a grevious sin will transpire.
—Fact— This will probably give you the best results… If you know how to wield its power.
Concerning option 3, I have a Facebook friend who lives in College Station, TX. He is a highly successful cactus and succulent grower; in fact, he is highly admired by his Facebook followers for his C&S prowess. He uses a strict and proven media mix recipe of: potting soil, expanded shale, pumice, and a brand-name product called Turface— I should reach out to him and see if he would like to share his precise top-secret recipe with us.
The thesis of this media-mix tell-all is, it does not necessarily matter what your media/soil mix is. What is important is to have some amount of comprehension of the dynamics of your chosen recipe. Furthermore, the grower, if aware enough to do so, should ask “What am I trying to achieve by using this mix with this plant?”
If the answer returned is “I just don’t want my prickly pear to die”, well… you can more than likely succeed with any branded retail C&S mix. If the answer returned is “I’m winning Nationals in Las Vegas this year with my hybrid Trich”— you might want a more specialized mix that perhaps more closely mimics the substrate of its indigenous habitat.
So there it is. My theory of philosophy of cactus and succulent soil mix. And the next time you think about getting in a fist fight with your next door neighbor or a complete stranger over their philosophy of C&S soil mix… Just pause. Have some humanity. Put yourself in their gardening-gloves and ask yourself “Are we really that different after all?”
-June 1, 2021
This inaugural article for the Murvaul Blotter was written by Seth Jones and John Castro with Max Perkins as editor.