Will El Niño drown my drought-tolerant plants?, 10-29-15

Claude Geffray, the local king of cacti, holds open house events several times a year. The next one will be Nov. 6-7. This picture was taken in July 2014. Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record
Geffray’s Gardens include a protected area with smaller plants for sale. The larger specimens in his outdoor garden demonstrate what the plants will look like, over time, in your back or front yard. Heather Hacking-Enterprise-Record

I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty easy for me to love my plants too much. I’m also fairly adept at loving chocolate too much, binging on Netflix shows and thrift store shopping.

On drought plants, I learned the hard way that lavender won’t tolerate the same amount of water as hydrangea.

One helpful nursery person recommended watering my potted lavender about one-third of my normal watering habit.

Other advice I’ve heard includes grouping drought-tolerant plants in the same location, so you can take the guesswork out of how much water is needed.

If you’ve been cutting back on your water use, many of your water-intensive plants may now be dead, which takes away all the guesswork. Stop watering dead plants.

Last weekend Samantha and I ventured to the home and garden show at the fairgrounds. Susie Gillum was there, looking incredibly smart in her green apron and Chico Horticulture Society name tag.

The conversation drifted to succulents and cacti, which are all the rage right now.

Wouldn’t you know it. Now that we have invested money in plants that do not need water, we may have a normal or above-normal water year.

Some cactus will do just fine outdoors in wet weather. Others will rot.

If in doubt, protect these plants from rain. Susie suggested bringing potted plants into a protected area if winter rains are relentless. Outdoors, you may even need to throw a tarp over dry-weather plants.

Always plant cactus and succulents in cactus soil. This might mean mostly sand, which drains super fast. You can find cactus mix recipes online or buy bags at many locations, Susie advised.

Potted plants indoors are easier to monitor. Susie suggested watering just one teaspoon once a week for a six-inch pot. Another rule of thumb is to use an eyedropper or a single ice cube to water potted drought plants.


One key is to ask the right questions when you buy the plant. If you notice plants when you’re out and about, you’ll spot those cacti that live decades outdoors in this climate.

Claude at Geffray’s Gardens, http://creativecacti.com, said some plants from very warm climates will turn to mush in the cold and rain.

Any time you plant drought-tolerant plants, well-drained soil is the key, he said. You do not want water near the roots for too long. He also likes to create mounds of soil, so drainage is improved.

It’s normal for cactus and succulents to drop parts near the mother plant. The dog might scurry by or a strong wind can blow.

That’s fine. Some of these appendages will sprout into new plants.

In the spring, the plants will rebound, Claude said with the true spirit of optimism.

Some cacti will burn at the tips from the cold, he said. “That’s part of the cycle,” he said.

For this area, agave , including century plants, do very well, Claude said. Many of these look like artichokes, and grow to the size of a mastiff.

Prickly pears are another favorite. You’ll spot ginormous specimens on Cactus Avenue in Chico, or alongside the rendering plant on Highway 99 toward Gridley.

Echinopsis also do well. These are also known as sea-urchin cactus, Easter lily cactus and the small and elongated peanut cactus.

Chollas also do well. The Latin name is Cylindropuntia, and one common type is teddy bear cholla.

Those are just a few of the easiest to identify. Claude said he has many more and will be hosting a cactus open house, Nov. 6-7, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at his nursery at 741 Carper’s Court.

Many of us know Claude from farmers markets in town. Visiting his nursery is a big treat. Some of the plants look like they belong under water, on another planet, or in front of a Chevy’s in Southern California.

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