Volume 15, Issue 3 ~ January 18 - January 24, 2007

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

A Cactus for All Seasons

A little care now will help your Christmas cacti to bloom again come Easter

Treat your Christmas cacti right, and it will flower for you again, possibly for Easter.

Christmas cacti grow and flower best in a sunny, south-facing window in a cool room.

Because they are a member of the cactus family, Christmas cacti need only be watered at two- to three-week intervals. Allow the plants to dry out between waterings. When you water, irrigate so that excess water drips from the bottom. When watering from above, always flood the surface of the rooting medium to the rim of the pot and allow the water to drain through. Better yet, plunge the pot in a basin of water for 10 to 15 minutes, and allow it to drain before returning it to the window. Frequent light watering of cacti is a recipe for disaster.

As soon as your Christmas cactus finishes flowering, repot it into fresh rooting medium of equal parts LeafGro, peat moss and sand. Add two tablespoons of dolomitic limestone to a gallon of rooting medium and blend. When repotting, first shake away existing loose soil from around the roots. If there are roots circling around the outer edge of the root ball, gently pry them loose without breaking them. If you can afford the space, shift the plant into a slightly larger pot.

Place fresh rooting medium in the bottom of the pot, then position the root ball. Using your fingers, work the new potting medium in and around the roots while tapping the bottom of the pot sharply on a solid flat surface. Allow at least a half-inch of free space between the surface of the potting medium and the edge of the pot for watering.

Within three weeks after repotting, break off the ends of all branches at a node or joint. This will stimulate all branches to initiate growth at about the same time, giving you a more uniform-shaped plant and more flowers. Also, rotate the plant one-quarter turn weekly to keep it growing symmetrically,

Apply fertilizers only when new buds develop at the ends of the branches. When new buds form at the ends of most stems, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer at monthly intervals.

If you are fortunate, that same plant may flower again at Easter. If so, you can tell your friends you have an Easter cactus. Easter cactus and Christmas cactus are one and the same.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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