Cactus/Succulent Tray Landscape

Last weekend at the Park Avenue Art Festival I came across Dan Soles, another artist selling hypertufa pots. He hand crafts and sells them from his business Tranquility Hill Greenhouse (www.tranquilityhillgreenhouse.com) in Clifton Springs, NY. Hypertufa pots are porous made from cement, perlite, sphagnum and fiberglass fibers. They weather nicely and tend to easily grow moss because of the sphagnum. They are a popular item in gardens and are often planted with dwarf conifers, alpines or sometime annuals.

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The hypertufa pots were a bit heavy and too crude for my taste in bonsai, however the plant material he had planted in the pots were quite interesting. I purchased two of his hypertufa pots which I’m going to carve down to make thinner and a bit more refined. Then, they might be suitable for a literati style bonsai or accessory planting.

I’ve wanted to create a cactus/succulent tray landscape for a long time, but it’s difficult to find interesting plants of the right size. I asked Dan to bring me a few plants in plastic pots rather than take them out of his planted hypertufa pots. He brought a nice selection and I finally had suitable plant material for a tray landscape.

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Today I assembled a few containers, weathered stones and a couple of odd succulents which I’ve had for a long time, just kicking around. Together with the new cacti and succulents I had everything ready. Three brown unglazed oval containers were selected for the tray landscape. I selected the smallest size because it was a bit deeper than the others. It had a “belt” design around the sides which presented a more shallow size than it actually was.

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The container only had three drainage holes. Cacti and succulents are not known for having a compact root system so it was necessary to tie them into the container. For best holding, the tie wires should originate near the edge of the container, not from the three centered holes. I took two thin bamboo chopsticks and attached four sections of copper tie wires to each. Then they were secured to the bottom of the container using one wire through the two outside drainage holes. The center hole was not used for tying the plants into the container.

Bonsai soil, combined with Pro Mix was used for the medium. Normally I arrange the stones then add plants, however, this time both were positioned at the same time. It was a bit difficult to tie the wires with the stones in place, so I removed the stones, tied the wire and replaced the stones. There were a few wires left over which were not needed, but it’s better to have extra than not enough.

Finally a thin layer of a tan colored gravel was used as the soil covering and the new cacti/succulent tray landscape was thoroughly watered. I placed it directly in a full sun exposure hoping what heat we have left this season will stimulate new roots to establish the plants.

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Hopefully the plants will grow slowly and not outgrow the container. However, when they reach the desired size I’ll use a trick to keep the plants at the same size without pruning. Simply take a hot needle and insert it into the growing tip of each plant.

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