Cactus and Tender Succulents forum: Echinocereus rigidissimus 'rubispinus' and Echinopsis backebergii indoor care

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Name: Laura G. Young
Fort Collins, Colorado (Zone 5a)
Region: Colorado
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LauraYoung
Apr 23, 2017 5:59 PM CST
Hi all --

After years of avoiding cactus (due to a childhood incident that ended up with my hands full of spines and me full of tears) I'm finally getting brave enough to try them in my home.

I have a couple newbie questions about my newly acquired Echinocereus rigidissimus 'rubispinus' ("Rainbow" or "hedgehog" cactus) and Echinopsis backebergii (a.k.a. Lobivia winteriana).

They are currently very healthy looking, and I want to keep that way! Unfortunately my many years of experience with tropical houseplants doesn't carry over in some areas, and so I hope you can help me.

First question: The plants came with a gravel top dressing. I'm used to being able to stick my finger into a plant's soil to figure out if it's time to water them, but with the gravel this is tricky! How do you know when to water? I've read that some use a moisture probe of some sorts, but is that reliable? Our climate is soooo dry I'd hate to stunt them during their growing season by not watering enough out of fear.

Second question: How much sun works for them? At 5000+ ft and almost never any cloud cover, our Colorado high altitude sun can be intense. Seeing as I just brought them home this week, I currently have them partially shaded by other plants, about 3 feet from a large southern-facing window, on the second level of our home. I think one of them is from an area of Peru that's at 9,000 ft but I'm not sure if the climate is all that similar to the inside of a home. The room currently gets 250+ days of full southern sun, with indoor day temps at 75F and night temps around 65F degrees and VERY low humidity.

Any thoughts on this would be more than welcome.


Thanks so very much. :)




[Last edited by LauraYoung - Apr 23, 2017 6:00 PM (+)]
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Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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tarev
Apr 23, 2017 7:47 PM CST
Hello Laura, you can compare the weight of the container, if plant is not too big. When watered, container will be heavier, and goes lighter as media dries out. Or you can use bamboo skewer, if you stick it in the media and comes out wet, delay watering.

Your indoor temps are good actually, a little warmer is still okay. I am more concerned with cacti getting wet and cold during winter. But during dry season, I find them easier to manage, they store the moisture they get effectively. It is the cold season one has to watch out for, since they go dormant at that time, and most of the time, it is during the stage of overwintering that most casualties occur, plant being dormant and then being watered, light levels not optimal, so plant suffers. Then with incorrect media used and containers with no drain holes, even more problem. But if media and container is right, temperatures okay, light source okay, it should be easy to handle.
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Apr 23, 2017 9:34 PM CST

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Indoor sun is kinder than outdoor sun (most of the UV is filtered out by regular window glass) so you would probably not have too much reason to be concerned about putting your cacti right by a sunny window. Your UV would be like 15-20% greater than what we get here at sea level, something like that? No great cause for concern indoors, I would think. I put my indoor succulents (including cacti) right by a SW facing window, and they seem to do best with hours of daily sun year round. As long as there's good air flow and temperatures are moderate, that kind of sun is not going to hurt them.

Lots of light will help you with the watering. You can go by weight or try a moisture meter, or use the chopstick method, whatever works for you. One thing to bear in mind is that given constant light and temperature and humidity, a pot will dry out after the same amount of time, every time. It's actually very predictable. So you don't need to keep measuring the soil moisture once you figure out the basic rhythm. More light, lower humidity, or warmer temperatures will mean more frequent watering. Most of this tends to go with the seasons so again, relatively predictable. Winter is when you want to really watch the watering.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Apr 23, 2017 9:42 PM (+)]
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Name: Thijs van Soest
Mesa, AZ (Zone 9b)
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mcvansoest
Apr 23, 2017 11:30 PM CST
Both Tarev and Baja have given you excellent advice, and I have very little to add regarding the methods on how to establish when to water, and with the sun exposure to these plants, I have to think that they should do fine in your south facing window, but I would want to emphasize that these plants will require as much light as you can give them especially if kept behind glass and in that temperature range. You will want to be a little careful in how quickly you expose them fully, but I would not wait too long before giving them full exposure, these plants require as much bright light as you can give them to look their best.

One thing to emphasize, which is very specifically different from dealing with most tropical plants, is that with these plants too little is way better in terms of watering than too much water. Both these plants probably go very long periods of time without seeing any rainfall in an environment that will have humidity levels as low or lower than yours. Since your plants are in pots that warrants slightly different treatment than from when they would be in the ground, but the main reason for the demise of many house plant cacti is overwatering, especially when temperatures are low, and it does not have to be a lot of overwatering.

These plants will probably require slightly different watering/care regimes - in my experience the Echinopsis will take potted live in not quite ideal conditions a lot more readily than the Echinocereus will. Echinocerei in general are somewhat finicky, especially when it comes to watering and having wet feet for too long, compared to Echinopsis. That does not mean you cannot grow an Echinocereus in a pot indoors, but it does mean that getting things not quite right may have negative consequences more quickly.

I do not have the specific Echinopsis you have, but my experience with many other Echinopsis type cacti is that they are quite forgiving when it comes to watering (they will suffer a little overwatering especially if it is hot), and they are also pretty good at taking cold especially when dry. Most Echinopsi make quite extensive root systems so they tend to do better in a larger deeper pot, they almost want to be slightly overpotted (ie. grow in a pot that is a bit on the large side for it), but the soil still needs to be very fast draining and drying. In the ground some of the larger Echinopsi can get used to full Phoenix summer sun exposure, but the smaller ones always like some shade during the afternoon in the summer, which to me means it should do just fine in your area especially behind glass.

However you should keep an eye on the Echinocereus - your temperature range seems a little lower than ideal for that cactus, which in its natural environment experiences long stretches of 90-100+ F daytime temperatures and probably a span of time where it might not go much below 75-80 F at night during the summer monsoon season. So watering that one correctly could be a little tricky, not so much as when to water, but to make sure it dries out quickly enough given that that plant probably does not like to have wet feet for very long at your temperatures, so if it was my plant I'd probably check carefully on the soil mix that is hidden under the top dressing.
I have a couple of these and I put them in the ground a couple of years ago, but before that I grew them outside in a pot. Here in the Valley of the Sun they are quite happy in about half a day full sun and shade after that, but we get quite a bit hotter than where you are at, with UV and humidity also crazy high and low respectively, most of the year (~310 days of sun a year, with about 6 months of 90+F or higher). Here are a couple of pics:



Name: Laura G. Young
Fort Collins, Colorado (Zone 5a)
Region: Colorado
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LauraYoung
Apr 24, 2017 8:58 AM CST
Thanks so much for the helpful info, everyone!


Tarev -- The gravel in the pots make them feel heavier than I'm used to, but you're probably right; in time I'll be able to tell by weight. I like the skewer idea; will try that when I check on them today. I think the problem is that, since I just purchased the plants, I'm not sure about when they were last watered and how much. The garden center I got them from is great for landscaping, but the houseplant section is somewhat lacking in cactus-knowledgeable staff. E.g., when I pointed out that several cactus had dried strawflowers attached to them, I was told that no, those were the cactus's actual flowers (never mind the fact that I could see the hot glue gun residue gummed underneath.)

Baja -- I'm encouraged to hear that these plants can take the light/heat. I think I've been wary because I've had Schlumbergeras get badly sunburned in that window. That being said, I had them nearly right up against the glass and those plants are usually under filtered forest canopy light.

Mcvansoest -- Wow, those are some beautiful plants! How inspiring. I have some family in Mesa, so I know your climate well. Much, much hotter summers than here by far (one week when I stayed there it got up to 120-122F!) and the winters are almost pleasant. Now you've got me thinking: perhaps I should put these plants outdoors just for the summer? It'll be mostly in the 75-85F range, perhaps higher if I place them on the covered south-facing concrete porch. My only concern is that they are quite small plants, in 3.5 and 2.5 inch pots, and the wind could blow them away. (I have a pine tree in a ten gallon container that I had to surround with bricks to keep it from getting knocked over, as wind gusts off the mountains can be fiercely sudden.) And then there's the temperature drops at night. And the hailstorms.

Hmmm. I'm starting to understand why there aren't many Colorado members in this forum... ;)







[Last edited by LauraYoung - Apr 24, 2017 9:07 AM (+)]
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Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
Always count your blessings in life
Cat Lover Houseplants Plays in the sandbox Region: California Orchids Plant Lover: Loves 'em all!
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tarev
Apr 24, 2017 9:47 AM CST
Hello Laura, with cacti, there are the desert cacti and tropical cacti ones. Schlumbergera falls on the tropical cacti type, so they need light but in shadier conditions than the desert cacti which loves more extensive duration of heat, light and drier conditions. The watering aspect is different as well. Schlumbergera can take it a bit more moist in a well draining media but best grown in warm part shade. And you are right, they will burn if exposed in way too much direct sun.

If you are wondering about some Colorado members, some are into another type of succulent, the alpine succulents called Sempervivums, which has another forum of its own too.
Name: Laura G. Young
Fort Collins, Colorado (Zone 5a)
Region: Colorado
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LauraYoung
Apr 25, 2017 10:35 AM CST
Tarev -- Yes, the desert cacti have different light requirements, for sure. :)

I may look into getting some grow lights for my new acquisitions, as the more I research this, the more I think these plants need more warmth and light than my plant room can currently give them.

Thanks again for your help,

L






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