Turbinicarpus is a genus of very small to medium-sized cacti, which inhabit the north-eastern regions of Mexico and are extremely popular among collectors. Certainly their small size and readiness to flower attribute to their popularity. As is typical of any group of plants that receives a lot of attention from hobbyists and researchers, many names are described for plants with even the slightest difference. This can be either at the level of subspecies or species.
The plants in this genus have small stems, often growing hidden in the soil in habitat. In cultivation, the plants are often solitary globose stems with distinct tubercles. Spines vary considerably from species to species. Flowers arise from the stem tips and range from white to dark pink.
Light: Turbinicarpus prefer to be in a well ventilated position in full sun to maintain a good body color and spinal development.
Water: The golden rule when it comes to watering Turbinicarpus species is "never water when the compost is still damp". This is the one error that will certainly kill any plant! Watering should commence in the spring late March to early April depending upon the weather conditions at the time. The plants should initially be given a light spray to gently encourage them into growth. A number of species those with papery spines e.g. (Turbinicarpus schmiedickeanus) have the ability to absorb water through their spines. Never introduce water too quickly as the plants may take up too much and split. However, should this happen dust the wound with 'Flowers of Sulphur', and allow to form a callous. The plant should survive but it may take many years before the wound disappears below ground level. Once the plants have swollen after their winters rest amounts of water can be increased. Water thoroughly at each watering, this should be about every two weeks. Water sufficiently to ensure it runs from the bottom of the pot but try not to water over the plant, especially if it is a hot sunny day as this can scorch the plant. Always choose a bright sunny day to water and do so in the early morning to allow excess moisture to dry up as soon as possible. As I mentioned earlier, but well worth repeating, don't water again until to compost has completely dried out. If you are in doubt don't water. During a hot mid-summer period, the plants may go into dormancy for a short time, during this period reduce the water levels. Reduce watering early September and stop watering completely by the end of September – early October depending on the weather. The plants should then remain completely dry for the autumn and winter period.
Temperature: Turbinicarpus species are all able to withstand high summer temperatures and indeed benefit, providing accompanied by good ventilation. Do not be tempted to overcrowd the plants, they will be far happier with a little space to allow the air to circulate. Winter temperatures can be set as low at 44-46 °F (7-8 °C) and providing the plants are kept dry and the humidity levels are also kept low, by good ventilation on bright days. Indeed the plants need these low temperatures to ensure a sustained dormant period resulting in good growth and flowering the following growing season.
Fertilizer: Do not overfeed! Overfeeding and indeed over watering will produce bloated unnatural looking plants looking nothing like the species in habitat. Remember these are miniature plants and should therefore remain so. I endeavour to grow my plant to closely mimic their appearance in habitat and not to get the biggest plants. One liquid feed per year using a general cactus fertiliser applied during the spring is probably all that is needed.
Repotting is best carried out once every two years in early spring although this can actually be at any time of the year with caution. Either clay or plastic pots can be used remembering clay pots will dry out quicker. The majority of Turbinicarpus species will require a deep pot to accommodate the taproot once the plant has matured, up to this time shallow pots can be used. Always use a dry compost mix especially if choosing to re-pot during the dormant period. Always ensure the plant is dry in the pot before attempting to re-pot.
Unfortunately as the majority of the species are solitary they do not produce offsets there cuttings are not an option. Fortunately the majority of the species are easily propagated from seed and success levels are generally quite good. Seedlings tend to grow away quite quickly and can produce flowering sized plants within just a few years.
Pests and Problems
From my experience Turbinicarpus species do not seem to be that susceptible to pests although I have experienced red spider mite and mealy bug over the years. The one disease that all Turbinicarpus species are susceptible to is rot, which can easily kill any plant within just a few days.
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