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Published: Tuesday, 11/12/2013

IN THE GARDEN

Christmas cactus keeps on giving

With right touch, yours could be in full bloom this time next year

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
GARDENING COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE
Kelly Heidbreder Kelly Heidbreder
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Don’t you love to open a Christmas present early? That’s what Jean Powell gets to do this year. The Christmas cactus in her South Toledo home is in full bloom, giving her an early holiday gift.

“It is nearly three feet across,” she said. “And every stem has a bloom and some even two.” Mrs. Powell, 86, has shared her gift with many friends and family members over the years. “I think this plant is actually from another cutting I planted a long time ago. I haven’t bought a new Christmas cactus in years.”

To get this winter bloom, the cactus needs some time in the dark. Keep it in the bright sun during the hot summer months. Once the evening temperatures cool off into the 40 degree range, it is time to bring it inside. Let the cactus dry out and stay in a room that gets dark after the sun goes down.

“They are so beautiful. I think the bright reddish orange color is spectacular. Even the cuttings are in bloom,” Mrs. Powell said. Her gigantic cactus has spent time on her patio during the summer and she brings it back in the house in mid October before frost.

“Once I bring it in, it starts to set its buds,” she said. The ends of the stem start to swell. That’s where the blooms sprout. Put the Christmas cactus in a sunny window and let the show begin.

 

Green thumb secrets

The magic touch for Jean’s plant is being able to move it outside for part of the summer. The unfiltered partly sunny day gives the plant an extra boost. Mrs. Powell thinks one of her techniques with this plant is that she doesn’t give it too much love.

“It has a mind of its own and I go along with it. I don’t do much to it during the summer. My husband built a plant stand for my cactus on the patio. I just give it regular plant food and it is in a regular plastic pot. But it must like it because it is growing like crazy,” she said. “When it is outside, it is facing south, and gets about four hours of sun a day.”

She and her husband love to putter around with tropical plants and other annuals. “I have always enjoyed plants and used to have a lot of them like begonias, shamrocks and other cacti and always bring them in to our enclosed garage in the fall.”

 

More gifts

This flowering beauty is so easy to take care of that it can slowly become the giant houseplant that takes over a corner of the room. There are a few ways to keep them growing strong. Like most cacti, they like to have their roots tight, almost like a newborn baby that likes to be tightly swaddled in a blanket. They can stay in the same pot for years.

But when it starts to wilt, dry out quickly, or gets too big to move, like Jean’s, it might be time to do some surgery.

The key is being able to move it. I have seen Christmas cactus so large that the gardener has to put the pot on a small dolly to wheel it outside. To divide the plant, wait until it is done blooming in February, or just after it comes out of dormancy in the early fall.

Slide it out of the pot and gently pull the roots apart. Re-pot it in clean containers with a light potting soil. Tuck it in tightly, then water it. Make sure it is able to completely dry out before watering again. Cactus don’t like to have their feet wet.

You can also take a cutting. These tropical beauties have flat legs that are the stems that are fun to look at all year. By clipping these legs and sticking them in a light potting soil, you will coax roots to grow. Once they begin to thrive, you can give the cuttings away.

“I have three babies right now and will put them in a church sale or give them to friends,” Mrs. Powell said.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com 



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