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  Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society

Growing Succulents in the Desert Column

(List of Growing Succulents in the Desert columns)

Trichocereus terscheckii: the Argentine "Saguaro" by Kevin Barber

Photos by Kevin Barber and Mark Dimmitt

(This article may only be reprinted with the author's permission.)



Many of us would love to have a large stately Saguaro in our yard, but aren’t lucky enough to have one already or don’t have decades to wait for a small one to grow up. The alternative could be an Argentine saguaro (Trichocereus terscheckii, Figure 1). Also known as Echinopsis terscheckii, it is called cardón in its native land. Not only is this a beautiful plant in its own right, it is extremely fast growing if given a little TLC. Who says cacti are slow growing? Extra water, good soil and a smidge of fertilizer will make this plant rocket at over a foot per year in average growth (Figures 2, 3). (I have seen them grow 18 inches a year –MAD).

The plant has beautiful golden spines that seem to grow larger and more colorful as the plant matures. Give it a western exposure and it will glow in the afternoon and evening (Figure 4). This arborescent cactus loves full sun and is hardy to at least 15 degrees F; it shouldn’t have much of a problem anywhere in the Tucson area. It will eventually reach upward of 25 feet and will form numerous branches.

Remember this plant is going to get big! Don’t plant it close to other plants even when small. Dig a good size hole (shallow and wide) and add some coarse soil mix to ensure good drainage and allow for root growth. A little slow release fertilizer (Osmocote) will foster rapid growth during the first season. During our dry periods give it some extra water to keep it growing. The plant will let you know if it needs water. You will be able to see the pleats in the plant shrink noticeably. Your objective is to keep it plump and happy to maximize its growth. Once it’s large enough to satisfy you, it needs only a watering once a month during the warm season to keep it flowering. (They like more water than saguaros.)

Saguaros flower almost every day in May and June with 3-inch flowers borne near the tops of the stems. Trichocereus terscheckii blooms all over its stems with huge flowers up to 8 inches across (Figure 5). They open after dark and stay open until the next afternoon. Individuals vary in abundance of bloom. The best clones flower in waves several times from April through October if well watered. It is available in a variety of sizes at many Tucson Cactus and Succulent nurseries. I suggest getting one (or more) at a foot or so in size. Add water and watch it shoot up!






 

List of Growing Succulents in the Desert columns