As long as Austin’s weird, there will be cactus and succulent container gardens hidden through backyards and nurseries all over town. These plants are some of the easiest, weirdest, non-edible things you can grow in Austin.
As long as you have good drainage and the right light conditions, “absolutely anyone” can grow these small, hardy beauties. The proof was on full display at the Annual Cactus and Succulent Spring Sale at the Zilker Botanical Gardens last weekend.
Wandering through the indoor sale, where small specimens could be purchased for as little as a few dollars, succulent fanatics and casual browsers alike inspected the wide variety of textures and colors. Just in time for the warm weather, the sale inspired Austinites looking to add some interest to a yard, patio, or even a sunny window.
If you’re planting outside, the key is drainage and light. Naturally, cacti that like the sun tend to do better with less water than their less prickly cousins, the succulents. All prefer less water and fertilizer in the winter months. In fact, you can practically ignore them in winter – just a splash of water once a month is adequate. At least that was the word from many of the helpful vendors.
Both plant types thrive in pots, which is one reason everyone likes them. Cacti and succulents can be dressed up or down, depending on your style. Depending on the container, they can look funky or elegant, the perfect plant for eclectic Austin’s outdoor style.
Back to that drainage issue: If there’s one common way to kill a cactus or succulent, it’s by overwatering or allowing the roots to stay soggy. It’s a sure way to turn a succulent yellow and mushy. Although they look great in any unusual “pot” that suits your fancy, you may need to drill some holes in the bottom of the container. Check out these ideas from East Austin Succulents and let your imagination guide you to pairing the perfect plant with a unique pot.
Rick Van Dyke displayed his pots, handmade in his Austin studio, and created for superior drainage. Many of his textured and animated pots (grinning mouths and open eyes amidst fantastic textures) were artistically planted with plants that seemed perfectly matched to its home vessel. The empty pots for sale showed dozens of drainage holes on their bottoms, alerting the novice gardener just how much drainage these plants really need. “I’ve never seen pots like mine,” the artist and succulent expert shrugged. “That’s why I make them.” You can purchase Rick’s pottery at East Austin Succulents.
If you want to bring them inside, the dry indoor air creates perfect conditions near a bright window like the one at which Lisa and Paul Kibler were stationed near the back of the main building. Owners of Paul’s Desert in Schertz, Texas, the couple brought hundreds of plants to Austin for the semi-annual sale at Zilker. Some of their more fascinating plants were the pink clumping cacti variety called Mammillaria, a Mexican native with a crown of pink flowers around its upper half. Lisa assures customers that the plant will eventually begin to multiply. Once it takes off, it looks like a cluster of fur balls happily nestling together for a nap in a dry garden bed.
Cactus and Succulents are popular because they have that astonishing otherworldly vibe that attracts curiosity, they take up less room than the average houseplant, they’re easy to grow in containers and, well, they’re easy to grow. Period. Nice for newbies who want to try their hand at a small container garden.
If you missed this sale and hope to catch this feast for the eyes next season, you’re in luck. The Austin Cactus and Succulent Society is an active group of avid fans and growers. Check out the calendar of events or simply wait until late summer, when Zilker will host another sale. Well-timed at the end of the natural growing season just before these plants go dormant, this semi annual sale promises to be bigger and better than ever.