The Coastal Gardener: Succulents shows will knock your socks off

No question, the popularity of cactus and succulents has grown immensely over the past few years. It seems there is almost nobody who is not fascinated by the countless shapes, textures and colors of the nearly 10,000 species throughout the world.

If you're one of those who love succulents, you're in the right place. Southern California is likely the epicenter of the world for succulent plant collectors, hobbyists and enthusiasts.

If you're fascinated by these amazing plants you're probably craving more, but where should you go? You're already making regular migrations to local nurseries and garden centers. You know the succulent inventory at these places from memory. Perhaps you want more; what's next?

Over the next couple of weeks two famous cactus and succulent shows return to Southern California, one in Orange County, the other in Los Angeles County. Each is excellent; the Orange County show is nearby and convenient; the L.A. show is huge, but a farther drive. At both shows the Sedum searchers, Haworthia hunters, Pachypodium pursuers and Stapelia seekers will be out in full force.

Saturday is the final day of the two-day Orange County Cactus and Succulent Society Summer Show and Sale at 1000 S. State College Blvd., in Anaheim. The free show is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Then from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 13 and 14, the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden,301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, hosts the Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show. Arboretum admission fees apply.

Both shows have a variety of attractions. Each conducts a competition and display of amazing and rare plants; plants that you may never otherwise see. Bring your camera!

The show area, with each plant carefully cataloged, labeled and grouped, is where the judging takes place. In the competition area, entries compete for a maximum of 100 points: 60 for the condition of the plant, 20 for presentation, 15 for size and maturity, and 5 for the accuracy in labeling.

Blue, red and white ribbons sit proudly next to the best plants in each category. The best of the best are then carefully separated from the hundreds of entries and brought to a head table. There, throngs of curious onlookers cavort over the stunning plants.

Many of the award winners have been in the same pot for decades, and many have won ribbons at previous shows. The Inter-City Show attracts visitors from Korea, Japan, Thailand, Canada, England and elsewhere, and is often considered the Olympics of cactus and succulent competitions; akin to the Westminster Dog Show, the World Cup of soccer or theKentucky Derby.

But the other attraction is the sales area. Here, lined out for your inspection, you'll find thousands of plants, grown by small specialist vendors and serious hobbyists. The most ardent shoppers arrive as the gates open and pour over the selections, filling cardboard boxes with hard-to-find treasures. It is at shows like these that the very best cactus and succulents are found, the diversity far surpassing that found at any nursery.

On the sale tables are rare mammilla rias, colorful lobivias, miniature haworthias, senecios, lithops, aeoniums, sedums, hoyas, kalanchoes, aloes, agaves and countless others to tempt you. You may not know the names, but you'll be mesmerized by the choices.

This will be the 26th year of the Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show at the L.A. Arboretum. This is the largest cactus and succulent show in the world.

I have attended several times and am never disappointed. Last year I was nearly faint when I came across a huge, perfect specimen of a ghostly white Echeveria cante. I've killed three of these — so far.

Then I noticed a huge Haworthia truncata, the size of a dinner plate. I have one, but more the size of a tiny teacup. I left the show with a huge dose of plant envy — and you will too. See you there.

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

Ask Ron

Question: Remind me one more time. What is the little critter that is eating all my rose leaves right now?

Grace, Newport Coast

Answer: That's a little larva of a bug sometimes called a rose slug or a sawfly. It's not a slug and it's not a caterpillar, but during the summer months it can quickly skeletonize the leaves on a rose bush.

If it's just a few, you might be able to find them and flick them off or you can blast the plant with a strong stream of water and dislodge many of them. For bigger problems a biological insecticide called Spinosad is the usual choice.

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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