Christmas cactus need light, dark to bloom well

How can I be sure my Christmas cactus will continue to bloom? Should I re-pot it?

— Denise

Christmas cactus is a relatively easy plant to care for if you follow a few simple rules.

While these guys need bright, indirect sunlight to grow well, they are light-dependent for their blossoms. They need a number of uninterrupted hours of darkness each night to trigger their bloom. Consequently, if your Christmas cactus is in the family room where you normally have several lights on throughout the evening, it may not be getting the “dark time” it needs in order to generate budding.

Though this is a member of the cactus family, its segments are more succulent-like and require more water than most cactuses.

That said, avoid overwatering. Give your plant a nice soaking, then allow it to dry slightly before watering it again. Use a good houseplant fertilizer (Miracle Gro works well) once or twice a month.

If you are having a problem with getting a consistent bloom year-to-year, check the lighting and overall care of the plant.

Sometimes folks rush to repot their Christmas cactus, but I’d like to caution you about that. Most Christmas cactuses actually prefer to be more crowded than not. I’d suggest re-potting more as a last resort if all else looks fine.

My new ficus tree is losing its leaves. What is wrong, and what can I do?

— Mary

Join the club! Ficus trees, also known as weeping fig, are finicky houseplants that are very sensitive to environmental changes.

Basically, these plants are fuddy-duddies that don’t like change. They like the same monotonous, boring routine day after day after day. Ficus tell us that they’re unhappy by dropping their leaves.

Without knowing specifics, there are a few things you could check on that could cause it to lose its leaves.

First, has it been moved recently? Are there any drafts nearby? If you’ve had your ficus in a spot it seems to like, even moving it a few feet may traumatize it. We find that true even here in our greenhouses.

They prefer moderate to warm temperatures, free from drafts of any kind (keep them away from the heater vent, the swamp cooler, and especially doors to the outside where they could get a blast of cold in the winter or hot in the summer) and medium to bright light.

Next, check the watering. Ficus need the soil kept evenly moist. If they’re too dry, or sitting in drained water, they could drop their leaves.

Leaf drop is actually a symptom of a plant under stress. The plant kind of shuts down so it can cope with the change. During this time, it’s not drawing in water at its normal rate. However, most of us see leaves falling and assume the plant needs more water when, in fact, we’re just adding more stress to its system. This is when it’s most in danger of being overwatered.

Finally, use a good houseplant fertilizer. You can use Osmocote, a slow-release fertilizer, once every three to four months, or Miracle Gro once or twice a month with your watering. If all those factors seem fine, give us a call and we’ll see if we can’t find out what else may be going on with your ficus.

 

I have some ornamental grasses that are mashed by the snow. Can I cut them back now?

— Jane

It’s OK to cut them now, because they are dormant. I’ve found that the easiest way to cut them back is to tie string around them just a bit above where you want to cut. It keeps the grass together and makes it easier to cut.

I use a wood or hand saw to cut the clump, which is a lot easier than using pruning shears. Once it’s cut, you have a neat bundle to dispose of.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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