- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Pete Boudriault grows some prickly plants. In the back yard of his home in Bowie, Mr. Boudriault has a greenhouse with about 200 cactuses and succulent plants.

While the cactuses and succulents spend the winter indoors, during the summer he places a few of them on his front porch or back deck.

“I personally like the variety of forms and flowers that cactus have,” Mr. Boudriault says. “To me, they are living sculptures. I like the fact that each year they continue to grow and look beautiful.”

Although most people are used to seeing cactuses and succulents in photographs of the desert, some of the varieties can adorn a home or yard. Many people enjoy growing them because they require less attention than other plants.

Most cactuses are succulents, but not all succulents are cactuses, says Kathy Stevens, conservatory manager at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton.

Succulents can store water, Ms. Stevens says. They are divided loosely into three groups: stem succulents, leafy succulents and caudiciform succulents, depending on which part of the plant contains the moisture.

Cactuses, in the family Cactaceae, are a type of succulent with aureoles or spine cushions. The cushions on cactuses can have spines or flowers, while most succulents that aren’t cactuses usually have branches and leaves.

“It can be tricky to have cacti in the house,” Ms. Stevens says. “The most common problem is overwatering and low light.”

As a member of the National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society, Mr. Boudriault is part of the group that meets once a month from September to June at St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Northeast. He is one of about 50 members who take part in the group’s discussions and plant sales. The organization will have a special sale at Brookside Gardens May 20 through 22.

“Botanists have determined there are at least 10,000 different species of cacti and succulents that have been described in botanical literature,” Mr. Boudriault says. “They are easy to grow once you know the secrets.”

During the summer, Mr. Boudriault waters his plants once every two weeks. In the winter, he waters them just once every six weeks to two months. Most cactuses and succulents bloom in the spring, when the temperature rises and the length of daylight increases.

Researching the specific variety of cactus or succulent a person is growing is important, he says. The gardener should know the plant’s exact needs.

“There are three factors that really need to be kept in balance: sunshine, water and nutrients from the soil,” Mr. Boudriault says. “You want sunshine to be the driving factor in growth. Too much water without enough sunshine is asking for trouble. It’s a recipe for a dead cactus.”

One mistake people shouldn’t make is keeping a cactus or succulent in a dark corner of a room or on a coffee table, says Bob Stewart of Hughesville, Md., former radio talk-show host on WMAL’s “Garden Show.”

The plants should be kept in the best sun exposure possible, such as on a windowsill or on the floor next to a floor-to-ceiling window, he says. He owns about 400 cactuses and succulents.

“We have a house with double windows on both floors that face the south,” Mr. Stewart says. “It allows me to move the plants inside during the winter. After the danger of frost is over, we move them outside. I call it the great plant shuffle.”

In addition to the plants Mr. Stewart moves with the seasons, he grows hardy cactuses and succulents. Some of the plants, including some yuccas and agaves, remain outdoors year-round because they can withstand winter weather.

Also, the Eastern prickly pear, which is native to Maryland, can be found on the beach or in sandy areas, growing about 6 inches high.

“The thing people usually notice the most in the garden in the wintertime are the 3- and 4-foot-tall cactus plants that are covered with snow,” Mr. Stewart says. “People just stand and stare at them.”

Ever since Ingrid Fritze of Perry Hall, Md., received a cactus as a gift about 50 years ago, she has been collecting the plants.

“I had never seen one before,” she says. “Here was this little, round, ugly thing, looking like a porcupine. I really fell in love with it.”

Today Mrs. Fritze is the president of the Cactus and Succulent Society of Maryland. The group meets once a month at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore.

In her spare time, Mrs. Fritze tends about 1,000 plants in two greenhouses in her back yard, which her husband built to get the cactuses and succulents out of their house.

Among her plant family are euphorbias, agaves and echeverias. Her largest cactus is 4 feet tall. She also has three large barrel cactuses, which are 15 inches across.

“My favorite cacti are mammillarias,” Mrs. Fritze says. “They are beautiful plants. They are white and hairy.”

Growing cactuses and succulents from seeds is a fun part of the hobby, says Robert Petza of Jessup, Md. He is a member of both the Cactus and Succulent Society of Maryland and the National Capitol Cactus and Succulent Society.

He has two small shelves in the basement with fluorescent lights where he grows seedlings. He also has plants in a greenhouse attached to his home, with a total of about 1,000 cactuses and succulents, the tallest of which are columnar cactuses that grow about 8 feet tall.

“I don’t have a favorite cactus,” Mr. Petza says. “I like all of them. That’s my problem. I have too many plants. When I bring the plants inside for the winter, they are in the rafters and all over the floor of the greenhouse.”

Although some gardeners enjoy growing roses, Stephen Jankalski of Baltimore would rather be growing cactuses and succulents any day. He is editor of Aureole, the newsletter for the Cactus and Succulent Society of Maryland.

“I call them ‘neglectors’ items,’ ” Mr. Jankalski says. “You can forget them for a week, and they will still be there. Anything else, like ferns, African violets, they would be dead. I’ve gone that route, and you get frustrated.”

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