This alphabetical series of columns is coming to an end, and the last few letters of the alphabet present a challenge.
Today we deal with the letter X, and the only word that comes directly to mind is xerophyte. These are plants that are adapted especially to withstand long periods of drought, or to grow in conditions where there is sparse moisture through the year.
Most of these plants grow naturally in desert or semidesert regions, and also can be found along the shore and in windswept places.
Probably the best known xerophytes are cacti, and they are familiar to us chiefly because the characteristics that are adapted to growth in their native sites also make them good candidates for house plants, where their liking for warm, dry conditions fits well with average home conditions.
The easiest way to propagate a cactus is by cuttings in a soil mix made of equal parts of coarse sand and peat moss. Just cut a section of the plant with a sharp knife and let it dry in the sun for a few days, and then insert it into a small pot of the moistened potting mix.
You can dip the raw edge into rooting hormone if you have some on hand, but it will do well enough without.
Mist the cutting daily to provide extra humidity and keep the soil moist. While rooting, the pot should be in bright light but not direct sun. Within a few weeks, the roots should be well established.
It is possible to grow cacti from seed, although some varieties take months to germinate. Seventy degrees is the favored temperature for germination, and the tiny seeds require a fine soil mix with free drainage.
Fill a container and firm down the soil, sow the seed thinly and sprinkle a thin layer of sand over the seeds. Keep the potting mix moist, and put the container in a warm place out of direct sunlight.
A pane of glass or clear plastic covering the container will keep in moisture, but turn it daily to prevent condensation. Add water as needed with a mister so that the seeds, and later the seedlings, are not at risk to be dislodged.
When the seedlings appear, move the pot to bright light.
Many years ago, I suffered through various science projects with my children, and more recently with the grandchildren, and the ones that made the most lasting impression on me involved cacti, for some reason.
I remember one effort to graft, which was successful only with the assistance of straight pins and Super Glue. Not a recommended method. But we did manage to grow a few cacti from seed in another experiment, although I can't remember them living longer than the science fair.
I cannot resist mentioning my son's all-time greatest science project. On the evening before judging he wrote "The History of Flight" on a poster board, illustrated it, and had the nerve to turn it in next day. I don't remember the grade, but it probably was nearer to X than the other end of the alphabet.
Sedums also are classified as xerophytes, and although the specimens in our gardens, such as the ever-popular Autumn Joy, receive water along with their companions, they are able to withstand drought.
In a dry spell, they will grow proudly amid the drooping leaves and sagging stems of other plants. Those who enjoy growing fairy gardens, inside the house and outside, have come to depend on the many, many varieties of sedum. These succulent perennials are hardy, and with their shallow roots and creeping habits, as well as their ability to live in dry conditions, are well suited to rock gardens, dish gardens, cracks in walls and the like.
So there's X out of the way. Y won't be too bad and, for Z, there's always zucchini!
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.