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Free Hydroponic Growing Medium: Pumice (Pinagbistayan)

Corn kernel sized light colored rocks held with two hands.

Pumice is one of the best hydroponic growing medium out there. Pumice is light, inert and porous. These properties makes pumice perfect for hydroponics as these provides high drainage, aeration and promotes healthy root growth. Compared to other hydroponic growing medium like hydroton (LECA) and perlite, pumice is naturally occurring and is thus eco-friendly.

About Pumice.

Pumice is a type of volcanic rock that has a foamy appearance. This is the result of the rapid expansion of gases when material gets ejected from volcanoes and rapidly cools.

White porous stones.
Close up picture of pumice stones.

Pumice is a major component of lahar and is plentiful in areas around Mount Pinatubo. Mount Pinatubo ejected millions of tons of pumice when it erupted in 1991. Since then these aggregates has been mined and used as construction materials.

Pumice in construction.

Construction sand sourced from areas affected by the Mount Pinatubo eruption are composed of pumice. Before use, construction sand is generally sieved by construction workers before it is mixed with concrete. The remaining material called “pinagbistayan” (or pinagsaligsigan?) is often just discarded.

Small light colored rocks of various sizes.

Pumice for Free

One can find pinagbistayan in construction areas. If the construction sand being used in these construction is sourced from areas around Mount Pinatubo affected areas then the aggregates left over when the construction sand is sieved is pumice.

Be sure to checkout those construction areas for very useful stuff like pumice.

Can’t find pumice anywhere? Buy pumice from our shop!

Happy growing!

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CnS 101: How to Grow Cactus and Succulents in the Philippines

An updated version is available in our comprehensive Knowledge Base.

This is a comprehensive and newbie friendly guide to cactus and succulents growing. Growing cactus and succulents (CnS) in the Philippines can be challenging. CnS originate in areas where it is hot and arid while the Philippine environment is generally hot and humid. Humidity is the opposite of aridity! Without proper care CnS can easily die in tropical conditions.

an arid desert with little vegetation
The arid landscape of Africa.


What are Cactus and Succulents?

All cactuses (“cactuses” and “cacti” are both correct plurals of “cactus”) are succulents but not all succulents are cactus. In this post I’ll refer to both as succulents.
Succulents are plants with fat leaves and/or stems that are used to store water. Succulents have adapted to arid environments.

In their natural habitat succulents receive very little water. Rains are few and are far between and the landscape experiences dry spells. In their natural environment it is arid. The air contains very little moisture (low humidity) which means water, if available evaporates quickly. When it rains in the desert it floods. The floods carries with it rich nutrients from the desert landscape thus enriching the soil. Remember the rain is not nutrient rich. Only when it hits the ground or collect as floodwater does it get infused with nutrients which in turn gets distributed through out the landscape. Because it is arid the water evaporates quickly.

flash flood in a desert
Desert flash flood.

These are the conditions that succulents has adapted to. To survive succulents generally have the following adaptations: water storage through succulency and crassulacean acid metabolism.

Succulents Store Water

Storing water is one of the ways plants survive in arid environments. Succulents store water in their leaves and stems in the form of juice or sap. Succulent is derived from the latin word sucus which means juice or sap.

jade plant potted in a grow bag
Crassula ovata stores water in its leaves and stem.

Succulents Use Crassulacean Acid Metabolism

Plants transport water and nutrients in a process called evapotranspiration. Plants draw water and nutrients through the roots. Water move through the plant via the stem. Water then escapes as water vapor through the stomata. Up to 98% of the water taken up by plants escapes as water vapor through this process. This is something that succulents cannot afford in the dry environments where they originate. To combat this they developed the crassulacean acid metabolism or CAM. With CAM the succulent keeps their stomata closed during the day thus preventing water from escaping. To photosynthesise they used carbon dioxide they stored  previously.  Then at night their stomata opens allowing for the exchange of gases which will allow the succulent to store carbon dioxide in a form of an acid.

A diagram of Crassulacean Acid Metabolism
CAM diagram

Succulents Have Shallow But Expansive Root Systems

As mentioned earlier water is a premium in the environments where succulents originate. When water does come they must make the most out of it to be able to absorb as much water and nutrients as they can before it all evaporates.

During dry spells succulents put out roots to try and find water and make sure they are going to make the best out of the next rain. When rain does come their roots are ready to make the most out of it. They will suck up all the water they can as fast as possible and store them in their leaves and stems. The soil will soon be dry again and they will grow more roots and so on.

That is why it is very important that succulents receives dry spells. It is during dry spells that much of the root growth happens. The more root they have the better they can absorb water and nutrients when rain does come.

Proper Care

We now know basic but important information about succulents. To grow succulents successfully we must do our best to replicate the growing conditions for our potted plants. The conditions, NOT the landscape. For example, you can’t take a cactus out of the desert; put it in a pot using the rocks, pebbles and silt from the desert; take it with us to the Philippines; put it out in the sun and rain and expect it to grow.

First of all, it rains here too often. Secondly the air is so humid because the country is surrounded by water. The end result, the pot could stay wet for too long. Wetness is bad because it promotes the growth of microorganisms that can cause problems for the plants.

Remember, in their natural environment succulents doesn’t have to deal with wetness for very long. That is why they don’t have that much defense from water borne maladies. If they stay wet in their pot for too long. Sooner or later rot will result.

That is why it is important that your potting mix is fast draining, quick drying and airy.


Terracotta pots are the best. Terracotta pots are porous. They allow moisture to escape and thus allow your potting mix to dry faster. Terracotta pots can be cumbersome however.

Your pot should be big enough to allow the root ball to occupy 1/2 to 2/3 of the volume of the pot. When in doubt err in the side of caution and under pot. Larger pots collect more moisture and takes longer to dry.

Be sure that your pot as drain holes at the bottom. Drain holes are required because otherwise water pool inside your pot and kill your plant. It should also be at the bottom instead of the side. Side drain holes still allows a small amount of water to pool at the bottom which will supply moisture through out the entire pot.

a potted jade plant
A jade plant in a properly sized terracotta pot.

Potting Mix

There are as many succulent potting mixes as there are succulent growers. The amount and type of materials you use should apply to your environment.

Fast Draining

The mix must not retain water. Again it is important that our growing medium dries as quickly as possible. One way to check if your mix is water retentive is by comparing its dry and wet weight. If your mix become significantly heavier when wet, then it is water retentive.

crushed scoria pictured with 25-centavo coin for scale.
Crushed scoria is a medium that doesn’t retain water.

Quick Drying

The longer the pot is wet the longer the plant has to deal with the problem instead of doing other things like growing  or reproducing  (flowers/fruits/seeds). Your potting mix should be allowed to dry quickly. One way of allowing your pot to dry faster is by not using top dressing. Top dressing can prevent water vapor from escaping the pot and slow the drying process.


Plants need to breathe too. Roots need oxygen from the air. In addition, air circulations culls the growth of anaerobic bacteria (bad ones). Air circulation speeds up evaporation too. One of the signs of a good mix is when it makes a faint sound when you pour water over your pot. Those faint gurgling sound is a sign that fresh air is being pulled inside your pot aerating the roots and keeping them healthy.

Proper Watering Steps

Proper watering, again, is based on the conditions in their natural environment. In their natural environment, there are periods of dry spells. Rains (and other forms of precipitation) drenches the soil. Then it all drys up again. To water properly follow these steps:

  1. Wait until the medium is thoroughly dry.
  2. Add water until the pot is thoroughly wet.
  3. Repeat.

Make sure the pot is dry. You’ll be surprised how, even an excellent medium like pumice take so long to thoroughly dry because of how humid the environment is.

Do not follow a schedule. “Water once a week.”, is a common advice but this can be harmful for your succulent. It can take more than a week for the potting mix to dry and if it remains wet for too long  death will occur.

Proper Care Tips

Use a Test Pot

Take a pot similar to those used by your potted succulents. Fill it with the same potting media you use with your succulents. This is your test pot. To use simply water your test pot until the medium is thoroughly wet. Take a BBQ stick and stick it into the center of the potting medium. Push it down to the bottom of the pot. Wait for a couple of minutes. Pull it out and feel the stick for moisture. If there is moisture the pot is still wet. You’ll be surprised how long potted media take to thoroughly dry.

You can use it to tell if you should consider watering your collection. Water your test pot along with the rest of your succulents following proper watering steps. You can use the test pot to tell you when to water. Check you test pot for moisture to tell if it is OK to water your succulents.

Don’t Use Sprays

Spraying succulents will do no good because most of them have a waxy covering to keep moisture in and this also keeps the moisture out.

Spraying the growing medium will do more harm than good. Spraying the top of the growing medium can result in bad root development. Remember that the medium should be thoroughly wet if one follows the proper watering steps.

Don’t Use Top Dressing

Don’t use them. Unless, you are following proper watering steps or made adjustments elsewhere. Top dressing can trick you into believing your pot is dry. Top dressing also hinders evaporation. Even if your medium is porous and airy often times top dressing is not. The top dressing prevents water from escaping and can keep your medium wet for longer.

Don’t Use Terrariums

Don’t use them. Unless you’re quite experienced in succulent care. Terrariums act like a humidity dome that traps moisture in. This is one of the worst place for succulents to grow.

Drainage Holes at the Bottom of the Pot

This is very important. Without this your plant will sit in water and drown (roots need oxygen from the air) or rot.

Drainage holes to the side is OK as long as you make sure that water doesn’t pool at the bottom of the pot.

Use Terracotta Pots

They can be cumbersome but are the best option. They are porous and it wicks away moisture from your medium and exposes it to the outside of the pot thus increasing the rate of evaporation. If you are in hurry to dry them up you can use a fan to speed this up further. Air movement increases the rate of evaporation.

Use a Dry Box

It is just a box with a dehumidifier inside. You can buy dehumidifiers from hardware stores. The more you put in your box the more arid the conditions will be inside the box. That is because dehumidifiers removes the humidity from the air thus the name. This increases the rate of evaporation of your pot. It is best to do this overnight so that you don’t deprive your plant of sunlight.

Water in the Morning

Following proper watering steps. If you water in the morning your pot and succulent will be exposed for up to 12 hours of warm temperature and sunlight. Water evaporates faster when it is warm. In addition, succulents (and other plants) generally do a lot of work at night. Topping them up with watering the morning makes sure they are ready for the day ahead.

Give Them as Much Sunlight as You Can

Succulents (generally) are not indoor plants as many would lead you to believe. They live outdoors in the middle of the punishing desert heat. They are not used to receiving very little sunlight. If they do not receive as much sunlight as they need they will etiolate in an effort to find more. They stretch, become less compact, and their stems become weak. Etiolation is not a normal thing. It happens because they are desperate for sunlight. Etiolation means they are not healthy and this makes them even more vulnerable to rot caused by overwatering.

Fertilize in Moderation or Not at All

In the desert, succulents generally survive in poor soil and nutrients are only brought in by the occasional flooding. To adapt to this environment most cacti grows slow. If they grow slow they won’t need that much nutrients. Pumping your pot with fertilizers could be harmful. Always start at half dose and increase gradually until your reach the recommended dose or a sweet spot you are happy with. In most cases you can forgo adding fertilizers because succulents are used to growing in areas with very little nutrients in the soil.

Put Succulents Inside an Air Conditioned Room at Night

Desert nights are cold. Air conditioning also lowers the room’s humidity which can aid in drying up your pots. If you spend your night sleeping in an air conditioned room, consider taking your succulents with you. Cold nights are perfect for your succulents and can give them their trademark stress coloring. In addition, colder nights trigger flower production in some succulent species.

Common Misconceptions

Succulents Photosynthesise at Night

No they don’t. Photosynthesis require light, so like other plants they do photosynthesis during the day.

Succulents Grow Indoors

No, most succulents cannot survive indoors. Succulents require lots of light in order to survive. Growing them indoors will result in etiolation and very likely death.

Succulents Can Grow on Rocks

No, they can’t. Succulents can survive in environments with very little nutrients but like most plants they can’t survive without them. Only the Mexican giant cardon (Pachycereus pringlei) and a few others have developed to ability to extract nutrients from rocks.

Additional Questions

What is humidity?

Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. Humidity dictates how fast water evaporates. The higher the humidity the longer it takes for water to evaporate. The Philippines is surrounded by water which makes the air very humid which means wet stuff tends to stay wet for longer.

Can I use SNAP on Succulents?

Definitely. If you’re using a totally inert media like pure pumice or scoria you can use diluted SNAP working solution to supply their nutrient needs. The left over nutrient solution you collect after harvest works well.

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How to Grow Pitaya (Dragon Fruit)

Rip dragon fruit

In the Philippines the epiphytic, fruit bearing, cactus of the Hylocereus genus, are known as pitaya. The fruits are known as dragonfruit. Pitaya, like all cactus species, is native to the Americas but has been naturalised in many parts of the world. Pitaya can be grown as an ornamental or for it’s fruits. Cactus and succulent enthusiast grow them because their stems make excellent root stock for ornamental cacti. I’ll teach you have grow pitaya and share my experience with these fascinating cacti.

Pitaya can be grown from seeds but a mature plant can be realised faster if one is to grow them via cuttings. If cared for well it will grow to be big enough to start bearing fruit. Growing pitaya from cuttings is very easy. All you need to do is bury around 10 cm (3in) of the cutting to the ground and wait for it to grow. You don’t even need to water. The cutting will be spending most of its time developing a root system and you won’t even know if something is happening. Be patient. Start watering when you start seeing shoots. Depending on the size and health of the cutting new shoots will form in 1-3 months. Frequent rains during the rainy season may cause the cactus to rot at the soil line. Just let it be. As long as the vascular bundles are intact, they usually callus and the cactus let the fleshy parts rot. You can either train the plant or let it just go about its business of growing. The fruiting season usually starts late May until September. The size of the cactus tells if the cactus will bear fruits in the fruiting season. Just make sure your cactus is healthy and thriving during the fruiting season and they’ll reward you with fruits.

a large pitaya plant sprawled over a wall
Our pitaya plant last July 2017. The cacti growing on trellis was grown from cutting the previous year and is now bearing fruits.

Pitaya’s are epiphytic, they grow on trees, in nature. They are used to shade because they grow in the shadow of a trees’ canopy. As you can see in the picture below. Parts of our pitaya plants that are exposed the direct sunlight are turning yellow while parts of it that spends part of the day under the shadow of our house is a healthy shade of green.

Picture of a pitaya plant viewed from above.
Stems exposed to full sun is turning yellow.

During the fruiting season the pitaya plant bring forth buds that develops into flowers.

A picture of a small pitaya flower bud
A young pitaya flower bud.

However, not all buds develop into flowers. Buds may sometimes turn yellow and fall off. This happens when the plant doesn’t feel like it will not be able to develop the fruit due to issues like light, water and/or nutrient availability.

A yellowed pitaya flower bud.
This flower bud has been “abandoned” by the plant. It fell off after a few days.

Flower buds develop quickly and can open in 2-3 weeks. Flowers only open at night. The surest sign that the flower will bloom during the night is if it looks like it’s going to burst and you can see parts of the white petals.

A mature pitaya flower.
This pitaya flower will open during the night.

The flowers are large, showy and fragrant. It opens around 8PM. Bloom peaks around 12AM to 3AM. By 4-5AM it is already starting to wilt. The video below is a time-lapse of the nocturnal pitaya bloom.

Pitaya’s only bloom at night because in their natural range, the unforgiving desert heat keeps pollinating insects away during the day. By morning the next day the flower has served it’s purpose and the plant abandons it.

a wilted pitaya flower
A wilted pitaya flower. The green parts near the stem ripens into dragon fruits.

The wilted flower will drop off or rot away and the remaining parts develops into dragon fruit over a few weeks.

A red and ripe dragon fruit.
A ripe dragon fruit with parts of the flower still attached.

Dragon fruit stops developing when it is taken of the pitaya plant so making sure that the fruit is ripe during harvest is important. Ripe dragon fruits have a bloated appearance. Depending on the variety, the color of the peel varies. My pitaya has a red peel and red flesh. Wait for the ripe color of your fruits to be the dominant color until only the tips of the protrusions remain green or yellow. You can also give the fruit a gentle squeeze. It should be soft but offer resistance. To harvest gently twist the fruit off. You may use snips if you don’t want the peel to be damaged. The sharp protrusions can be trimmed off.

A hand peeled pitaya fruit.
Just be showing off the pitaya I peed using my hands.

Our pitaya only gets attention when it’s flowering and fruiting yet it thrives and rewards are efforts (or lack of it) with fruits. It’s one of the easiest fruiting plants to grow. In the future I’ll be posting about how to train them. I plan on starting a separate grow where I’ll be giving the plant proper care and grooming and see how much fruits it will bring me.

If you have any question please feel free to ask. Good luck and happy growing!

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My First Grafting Attempt

Back in March I decided to give away some of my hybrid columnar cactus seedlings because it’s becoming quite a chore to take care of them.

individually potted columnar cactus seedlings
Columnar cacti I raised from seeds.

A couple of kind hearted individuals decided to pick them up to adopt them and in return gave me a number of colourful cactus pups.

tiny and colorful cactus pups
Tiny and colourful cactus pups.

That was the first time I’ve seen colour variegated cacti in person which filled me with joy. I decided to read more about them and learned that I need to have them grafted if they are to grow. Thus, my first grafting adventure started. My columnar cacti seedlings happened to be one of the best cacti to use in grafting.

A couple of them (not pictured here) failed to take hold but overall I’m quite happy with the results.

I’ll be removing the pups growing from the stocks and try to graft them or root them.

Grafting sure takes a lot of practice and patience. I’m hoping to graft do more practice runs soon. Wish me luck!