A Quarter of My Mind: The Cactus Chronicles: Confessions of a Cactus Killer


This is a true-life story about how I killed my cactus and why I probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near plants.


Once upon a time in my life, I decided that I needed another living entity to liven up my home. A few options were proffered; a cat or perhaps a cute little puppy. I assessed myself and concluded that I was, as of that time, incapable of taking care of a living, breathing, moving creature. I was having a hard time as it was taking care of myself. Besides, I needed something less intrusive that didn’t require my constant attention, so I didn’t pursue any of those options.

After weeks of pondering and wondering, it became clear to me that the most suitable alternative would be a plant. I must confess, I’m really not one for plants, but I thought to myself, What’s there to keeping a plant? As a fully-grown adult, I most certainly possessed the capacity and capability to care for a simple low-maintenance plant. My mind was set. I would get myself a plant and that was the end of the discussion (with myself).

Buying the cactus
One sunny Saturday afternoon, I took a trip to a friend’s garden. It was beautiful. The serenity and tranquil were intoxicating, and more than ever, I was convinced that I had made the right decision. Today, I would take home a piece of this, I said to myself.

And thus, my search began.

I wasn’t looking for anything fancy, flowery or flamboyant. I wanted something really simple and uncomplicated. As I strolled through the garden I saw a couple of options but none of them called out to me. Almost disappointed that I didn’t find anything I liked, I was about to give up. Just then, on the periphery of my vision, something stuck out. I turned towards it to have a better look.

Perched quietly in the corner of a display table was a cute Mickey Mouse-like cactus. I was intrigued. I asked about it and was informed that it required very little maintenance. Plus, we all know that these plants flourish in the desert and are generally considered very hardy plants. I was sold!

As I left the garden with my Bunny Ear Cactus in hand, I thought to myself. I’ve got this. But got this, I certainly did not. Neither did I for a moment anticipate the harrowing ordeal that would ensue.

Watching it grow and flourish
Back at home, I placed it on my window sill, and I gave it a splash of water. My resolve to prove to myself that I was perfectly capable of caring for a plant was unshakable. Whenever I saw it, I would think to myself how very much I am like the cactus; sweet on the inside, but prickly on the outside. By all indications, it was a match made in plant heaven.

In no time I saw it bud and extend its tendrils.

Seeing my cactus grow felt like such an achievement. I sent photos of it to my friends including the one I bought it from. She was proud of me and I was proud of me. So proud that I wanted it to bud and bloom even more.

After the third month, I believe, its tendrils started to creep over the pot onto the sides of my window sill. I considered going back to my friend and having her repot the plant for me. I even thought of making a pot from old jam jars. I went as far as checking out DIY tutorials on Pinterest. I mean, things were good between me and the cactus. Until…

Falling in love and caring too much
By month four, I had fallen helplessly in love with it. I would check on it every day before and after work. My phone had dozens of photos. I felt like a proud parent. I had found an old jar I could use, but the only thing missing was extra soil for the base. I made plans to go back to Green Gold Gardens and have it all done for me.

In between my decision to do it and when I found the time to do it, work got in the way.

One early morning just before I headed out, I noticed a droop in a few of the tendrils. In my inexpert opinion, I presumed it was because I hadn’t watered it in a while. The truth of the matter is, I had no memory of when I last did. Work had been rather stressful and I had lost track of my watering cycle.

Anywho, long story short, I poured some water over it. More than a splash or sprinkle, I must admit. Three days later, the tendrils were still limp. I panicked and poured on more water. I might as well have placed it under a waterfall because it was a cactus, it needed as much water as a desert needed more sand.

At that time I was ignorant. I didn’t know that overwatering killed cactuses. Apparently, excess moisture causes fungus to form in the soil, which kills the plant. Who knew?

That was the beginning of the end of my cactus. The stem started to wilt and discolor. It looked like the cactus had come to the end of its life, but I wasn’t going to let it go that easily.

Unperturbed, I trimmed off the dying bits and replanted the seemingly unaffected sections into the same fungus-infested pot. Genius. My determination to keep it alive was without restraint (and clearly devoid of wisdom).

Looking on helplessly as my cactus died
After days of praying over the cactus and saying nice things to it, I saw nothing but death in the pot. Out of desperation, I burst out, “It’s okay, if you want to die, die!” And died it did. When I realized what I’d done, I repented and apologized, but it was gone. Gone past the possibility of resurrection.

I was sad.

To soothe my sorrows, I went through my cactus’ photo album on my phone and reminisced on the wonderful times we had together. As I sat there feeling like a murderer, I decided that this will not be the end of me and cactuses. As with all serial killers, it’s never one and done.

Unrepentantly, I willed in my heart to give it another go, and about a month after, purchased another cactus. (Ominous tone).

Bonus content
Yes, I bought another cactus. It was the same species, only slightly more colorful. Now I knew better and would certainly do better. At least, that’s what I thought.

Going by the lessons learned with my first victim, I decided to ease back on the watering. One month, one splash. About 6 weeks and 2 splashes later, I noticed that there was absolutely no growth. My previous victim had shown promise within 2 weeks! Anyhow, afraid of over-watering it, I let it go for another week or two. After a cursory glance one evening, I determined that the soil would appreciate a sprinkling or two. And that I did.

What ensued next still haunts me today.

From nowhere (by that I mean the base of the pot) came a small army of ants and other creepy-crawly insects. What did they want with my plants?

Reflexively, I reached for my insecticide and sprayed a generous amount all over the damn thing! Making sure to kill all the ants. How could they? I immediately put the cactus out in the sun to do its thing, then I jumped on YouTube to find out why there were ants in my cactus.

I learned that the juices in the cactus, also called succulents (need I explain further?), are a delicacy for ants. Who would have thought?

There were a couple of suggestions on how to deal with them. None of them being insecticide spray. Oops. The seasoned plant keepers suggested sprinkling either peppermint leaves or cayenne pepper around the pot to keep them away. Being the overachiever that I am, I raided my kitchen cabinet, found both, and emptied half of each bottle’s contents into the pot. Yes, into, not around, as was instructed by the YouTube video.

Two weeks went by. No more ant invasions. Alas! Victory was mine! I was proud of myself, the ant conqueror that I am. But what was this discoloration I was seeing on the side of the plant? It gave me great concern, but I stayed positive. Days went by. I waited and I watched and watched and waited until the discoloration started to spread. What in the blazes was going on? Did I just commit double ‘cacticide’? Surely this plant could not be suffering the same fate as the first. It was the army of ants. It had to be. Not me.

Lessons learned

The jury is still out on the verdict and the true moral of this story is still being investigated. However, one can firmly conclude that if there’s anything such as a ‘brown thumb’, I have it. The reverse Midas touch, if you will, when it comes to gardening.

Nevertheless, I’m still working on turning my thumb green. Until that happens, don’t put me in any position to see to the greening of the earth. I can guarantee that Global Warming will happen faster under my watch. Also, if you keep a nice garden in your home, it might be in your own interest to keep your precious plants very far away from me. I shall not be offended. I shall stand at a distance and observe them from afar, lest they turn brown after my shadow is cast over them.

My humble prayer
It may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m still hopelessly optimistic about keeping a garden in my home someday. I may need divine intervention to make it happen, though.

So join me in faith as I pen this confession in hopes of this bright future I envisage living in harmony with plants (and maybe ants).

Dear God and Creator of all Plants,

Forgive me, for I have sinned.
I confess that I have broken your commandment
not to kill.

I, your humble servant, hereby repent
and beseech thine grace on this green course of mine.
I know that every evidence points to the fact that
I am unable to care for plants, but I pray for a miracle.

I pray thee for a green thumb so that I too may
one day keep my very own garden with roses,
sunflowers, tulips, gardenias, including even plants of
very delicate nature, and much much more.


>>>The author is a writer, poet, and pocket philosopher

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