Fat plants

Mother-in-law's pillow - Echinocactus grusonii

The mother-in-law's pillow

Cactacea widespread in cultivation originating in the arid areas of Mexico; the botanical name is echinocactus grusonii, and about ten species belong to the genus, all originating in Central America; the name echinocactus derives from the Greek Echinos, or porcupine; and in fact these cactuses look a little like porcupines: they have a rounded shape, only slightly columnar in very old specimens; the surface is crossed by rather evident ribs, covered by spiny areoles; the thorns of the grusone they are typically light yellow in color, very large and pointed.
Plants have a slow development, and take several decades to grow; the grusoni bloom hardly in pots, above all because before they bloom they must reach maturity, that is a diameter of at least 30-35 cm. The flowers bloom in spring or summer and are pale yellow.
The other species of echinocactus they have thorns often dark, brown, and produce yellow or pink flowers; most of these cacti have a very slow development, which is why it is easy to find specimens grafted onto faster-growing plants.

How to cultivate the grusone

These cacti are cultivated in the typical way for most cacti, held in a well-lit, possibly sunny position, with a semi-summer shade, in the hottest hours of the day; they prefer a very well drained soil, consisting of soil mixed with sand, pozzolana, or lapillus, so that drainage is excellent and that the substrate does not retain excessive humidity.
Watering is provided only when the soil is perfectly dry, and only when the plant is kept in place with temperatures above 15 ° C.
The grusoni are grown in the garden, from March-April until September, or even on the terrace, in a very bright and well-ventilated area; when autumn arrives watering is suspended and the plant is placed in a sheltered place, where temperatures are above 7-10 ° C, then in a cold greenhouse or in a stairwell.
We avoid growing these cacti in apartments throughout the year, because the light is definitely too little, and over the years these plants tend to mummify, or at least develop in an unhealthy and pleasant way, and to be attacked from pests or diseases.
Not all of us can afford a greenhouse, especially if heated, but often it can be placed on a balcony facing south or east, with the walls of the house behind it for protection and without watering; to try to make our grusone left open in the open, first of all let's stop watering and the ground already in September-October, then we position the vase in an area where it doesn't receive the rain water, so that the substrate can stay dry until the end of winter; in case of intense frost, we cover the plant with non-woven fabric, even in several layers if we believe that the temperatures will be very low.
These plants have very slow development, and a fairly reduced root system, which is why it is not necessary to intervene with repotting too frequently.

The problems of cacti

Typically, those who cultivate a couple of cacti at home go against typical problems, which recur and recur over the years; surely these plants are particularly prone to attack by particular pests, but often very significant infestations and problems of any kind are favored by the cultivation method.
In nature the cacti are used to survive in environments with a really poor climate, with temperatures even higher than 50 ° C, which at night can drop below zero; poor or no rain for long periods of time; strong sunstroke.
This causes sometimes they tend to adapt to the climate of our stay: 20 ° C all year long; almost no thermal excursion between day and night; no precipitation even for years; absence of mineral salts in the soil; lack of brightness and air exchange.
Therefore it often happens that these plants manage to survive for years in conditions poorly propitious to the life of the plants; and after years of suffering, they encounter a rapid decline, caused by a parasite, or a blow of air, or by a sudden abundant watering during the winter.
To best cultivate a plant it is always advisable to know the plant's living conditions if it were transported to its place of origin.
Grusoni, like many succulent plants, can survive long periods of drought, using the water they store in their tissues, but they cannot live without water forever; therefore from May to September we water regularly, when the soil is dry. This means that the grusone that we keep entering in May will need a watering per week; but if we move it to the garden, in full sun, in June it will need watering every two or three days, because the air and the sun will completely dry the earthen bread around the roots.
Poor ventilation favors the development of scale insects and mites, which can ruin the roots and stem of the plant.
Excessive watering can favor the development of rot and mold, especially if supplied during the winter.
A poor insolation can favor a phenomenon called etiolation: the plant, deprived of sunlight, turns yellow, due to the lack of chlorophyll production, and in search of light develops in an unpleasant length, assuming strange shapes and often producing soft tissues and unhealthy.

Mother-in-law's pillow: Some advice

So if we can avoid growing our succulent plants always at home, always in the same position; if possible we prepare shelves on the balcony, where we shelter the plants in summer, but also in winter, with a cover of non-woven fabric, to prevent them from being exposed to intense frost.
Let us remember to water the plants placed in the sun, every time the ground is well dry, from April to September; instead we avoid watering for all cactaceae grown at home, and especially those grown in greenhouses or outdoors: the colder it is and the less water they want.
We provide the right brightness: in nature the cacti grow in dry places, without broad-leaved vegetation, and therefore enjoy very few hours of shading per day, and only if they develop alongside a rock.