Dream Up Your Succulent Oasis From Pasadena’s Rare Cactus Seller to the Stars

Thursday, September 12, 2019 | 3:18 pm

The California Cactus Center in East Pasadena lays low, adjacent to a Starbucks drive-thru, and can be mistaken for a residential property nestled behind inviting green gates. But for over forty years now, the family run business is a goldmine for green thumbs looking for the rarest of the rare exotic desert flowers and a hotspot for A-list celebrities.

So what can one find here on any given day when regulars Martha Stewart, Barbara Streisand, Diane Keatons, and television producer Ryan Murphy aren’t dropping in for potting inspiration?

Maybe it’s the 100-year-old South African Fockea or the decades old Madagascar Elephant tree, both of which are just a couple rarities that virtually only exists there in Southern California and possibly beyond.

Regardless of your succulent experience or level of curiosity, The California Cactus Center is undoubtedly a space novices and experts can go to dream up and take home custom cactus creations with no pressure attached.

Arree Thongthiraj and her five sisters have helped run the business since childhood when their parents, Thai immigrants who came to America in the 1950, opened the nursery in 1976.

Now 43 years later, the nursery designs contract grows cactus for institutions such as the New Getty Museum, Google, and Disneyland, among others.

Anyone who walks through the doors will be graced with expert potting techniques and tips and tricks for custom creations.

“Creating beauty through art and designing potted gardens is my absolute favorite thing to do,” explains Arree Thongthiraj, California Cactus Center Creative Director.

Thongthiraj process is done in just a few steps.

“I look for color and texture in both plants and pot. For well worn pottery I like planting echeveria with fine leaf sedums like sedum gold moss. Playing with different colors, textures of leaves and sizes of plants adds interest and creates the illusion that the design is older than it really is. For more modern themes I look for plants that are sculptural and plant them in pottery that have clean lines,” she says.

The secret touch aside from decades of experience may just be the special California Cactus Center soil mix which was created by her father decades ago and perfected in a lab by JPL scientists–one of the nurseries many clients.

“It’s simply exceptional. We use it for all of our plants. You really can’t beat it.”
Here are some tips for succulent care:

Bright or filtered light. If indoors, place plants near a sunny window.

Water once a week or when the soil is drying. If indoors, water cacti about once every two weeks or when the soil is dry.

Fertilize once a month with a water-soluble fertilizer or every three months with a time-release granular fertilizer.

When the succulent gets too root-bound, replant it into a larger pot (about one size larger) during spring-summer. You can water the rooted succulent after transplanting.

Air Circulation
All succulents need plenty of good air circulation.

The California Cactus Center regularly uploads instructional videos for caring for specific plants, potting tips, and more on their website.

Stop by the California Cactus Center Wednesday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at 216 S. Rosemead Blvd, Pasadena.

Desert Cactus Container Garden Video:

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