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Cholla Cactus Planting

Cacti skeletons transformed into a planter with a freshly planted display.

This tabletop planter uses a zigzag cactus mounted inside chunks of cholla cactus skeletons to make a wild centerpiece or an extraordinary display for a credenza. Or hang it on the wall for a cool vertical garden.

As cholla cacti die and decay the skeleton, or woody interior, remains intact. The skeletons can be found in flower markets, select plant nurseries, and online. They are wonderful for crafting or just displaying on their own. The trailing stems of the zigzag cactus mirror the geometric cutouts of the cholla skeletons. Other epiphytic cacti that you could use would be disocactus or an epiphyllum.

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Zigzag, rick-rack, and fishbone orchid cactus are just a few of the descriptive names of Cryptocereus anthonyanus. The most pronounced feature of this night-blooming cactus is its long arching stems covered with serrated leaf nodes. The plant originates in the tropical rain forests of Mexico and is a tree-dwelling species. It’s an ideal houseplant for a novice gardener because of how tolerant it is of a little neglect. You may want to wear gloves when handling the cactus—it has tiny hairs that can lodge in the skin and cause discomfort.

The cholla cacti chunks do not have an end that is sealed, so this project calls for sphagnum moss to be wrapped around the cacti roots in order to keep soil from falling out and to help retain moisture. Even so, there are a few precautions you should take because of the nature of the materials. Before returning the planting to a tabletop or other surface, either allow the soil to dry completely after watering the plants or place the planting on a tray. Also, if you want to protect the surface the piece is displayed on, place felt pads or a corkboard underneath the cactus skeletons. All of the materials in this project are organic so the piece will decompose over time.

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MATERIALS

  • Sphagnum moss (A)
  • 3- to 4-foot cholla cactus skeleton (B)
  • 20-gauge aluminum wire (C)
  • 6-inch zigzag cactus (D)

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TOOLS

  • Bowl (E)
  • Hacksaw (F)
  • Large tweezers (G)
  • Wire cutters
  • Needle-nose pliers (H)
  • Gloves (optional)

Soak the dried sphagnum moss in a bowl of water for at least an hour.

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Using a hacksaw, cut the cholla cactus skeleton into 5 to 10 pieces that are 4 to 6 inches long.

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If there is any debris inside the cactus skeleton pieces remove it with the tweezers.

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Arrange the cactus skeleton pieces in a composition you like.

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Use several lengths of wire to attach the cactus skeleton pieces together snugly at the top, stringing the lengths through openings at the top of each piece. Use the needle-nose pliers to twist the ends of the wires together and tuck them out of the way.

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Remove the zigzag cactus from its pot and separate the individual plants.

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Wrap the roots and a small amount of soil in the moist sphagnum moss. Wrapping the soil will help prevent dirt from spilling out of the holes of the skeleton cactus.

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Insert the wrapped roots into the individual cactus cavities. If you have trouble fitting them in the cavity use less sphagnum moss. You can also use the back of the tweezers or your fingers to press the moss into the cavity.

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WATER

Like orchids, zigzag cactus prefers humid growing conditions, so mist it a couple of times a day to give the plants more humidity. Like many cacti it prefers to dry out in between waterings. When the sphagnum moss dries water the plants with a watering can, gently shower the whole piece, or plunge the whole construction into a tub of water. Allow the water to soak in and repeat one more time. Once the skeleton wood has dried the arrangement can be put back on display.

LIGHT

Zigzag cactus thrives in bright indirect light but can take periods of direct sun.

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FERTILIZER

Fertilize with a water-soluble orchid fertilizer.

PROPAGATION

Propagation is really easy: simply take a fresh cutting and allow it to dry for a few days. Once the end has callused over insert it into a peat-moss mixture and allow to grow. During the initial growth give the new starts light moisture and indirect light.

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CAITLIN ATKINSON