The Coastal Gardener: Cactus and succulent show this weekend

During one weekend every December, some of the most beautiful, bizarre and unusual plants take over the Fullerton Arboretum.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Orange County Cactus and Succulent Society will hold its annual winter show and sale, and the public is invited. If you're an aloe addict, have an echeveria itch or are addicted to agaves, you've probably had these dates marked on your calendar for months. If your conversation is peppered with words like caudex, glochids, monstrose, fasciated, cresting and variegation, nothing is wrong with you — you're just a cactus and succulent addict.

In the past 10 years cacti and succulent plants have evolved from two dozen varieties, mostly grown in small pots near the windowsill to their current status as a garden mainstay. Today, cactuses and succulents are available in an incredible array of choices and are readily available at reasonable prices. Cactuses and succulents have moved from the realm of novelty or curiosity plants to becoming common members of almost any local landscape.

Their ease of care, tolerance to neglect, reduced water needs and especially their huge diversity of colors, shapes, form and sizes have endeared cactuses and succulents to legions of modern gardeners.

Cactus and succulent shows have two main attractions. First and foremost to the participants is the competition and subsequent display of a huge variety of amazing and quite rare plants; plants that you would never see otherwise. The show area, with the plants carefully grouped into displays of related species, is where the judging takes place. Blue ribbons, red ribbons and white ribbons sit proudly next to the best exhibits of each group. The best of the best are then brought to another series of tables, called the head table, where curious onlookers cluster in greater numbers.

Like viewing a rare Monet or seeing a Picasso at a trip to the Getty, the crowds at this show will oooohh and aaaahh just the same, pointing and critiquing the collection of "living art" on display.

These "show" plants, from collectors and enthusiasts throughout Southern California, are on display for the public to enjoy, although transiently. These incredible plants, most meticulously primped and pampered for years, and fussed over as much as most pets — or even some children — will only be here until Sunday.

The other great attraction of a Cactus and Succulent Show is the sale area. Thousands of plants, grown by small vendors and expert hobbyists, fill dozens of tables. Attendees arrive early and pour over the selections, reading the labels and filling up boxes with new treasures as they very slowly pass by the tables.

The diversity of plants available in the sale area is a great attraction of a Cactus and Succulent Show. On these tables are plants that you might not find anywhere else: rare mammillarias, colorful lobivias, miniature haworthias, senecios, lithops, aeoniums, sedums, hoyas and kalanchoes. Too many to name. You may not know their names, but like the cute kitten outside the drugstore, you'll find many of these plants hard to resist and want to take some home for yourself.

The Orange County Cactus and Succulent Winter Show will be at the Fullerton Arboretum, 1900 Associated Road, Fullerton, just off the Orange Freeway at Yorba Linda Boulevard. The show and sale go from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and the arboretum is open to the public to enjoy as well.

RON VANDERHOFF is the nursery manager at Roger's Gardens, Corona del Mar.

Ask Ron

Question: The fuchsias in my hanging baskets are looking pretty sad and you once told me about pruning them, but I have forgotten. Please remind me.


Newport Beach

Answer: Hybrid fuchsias in baskets or other containers need to be cut back each fall. Right now is a perfect time to perform this important chore. Most people do not trim fuchsias aggressively enough and by the second or third year they end up with a woody, bare and unattractive plant.

In a basket, cut all the stems back to the edge of the basket. You may end up with almost no leaves left, but don't worry. Afterward, begin feeding the plant with a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as liquid fish fertilizer. Within a couple of weeks new buds will begin growing just below your cuts. As the new leafy stems grow to three or four inches, pinch off the very tip of each one. This will cause the stems to branch. In three or four weeks, pinch again and the stem will branch once more. Keep pinching and feeding until about March, then switch to a more balanced fertilizer and stop pinching. A month later you'll have a lush, full plant loaded with hundreds of blossoms.

ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger's Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail, or write to Plant Talk at Roger's Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.

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