If You Love It, Let It Be
If You Love Your Christmas Cactus, Let It BeMs. Grow-It-All
By Audrey Post
Q: Every year, I get a big, beautiful Christmas cactus as a gift from a relative, and it’s usually a slimy, dying mess by spring. I anticipate getting another one this Christmas and I’d like to keep it alive — and hopefully get it to re-bloom for the next holiday season. What have I been doing wrong?
It sounds like you’ve been drowning it, and I suspect you’ve been keeping it too warm, too. Christmas cactus, botanically known as Zygocactus, is really an easy plant to grow, and it’s all too easy to kill it by paying it too much attention.
When you first receive your beautiful plant, put it in a spot with bright but indirect light that is free of drafts. The blooms actually last longer if the plant is kept in a cool place, so the fireplace mantel is not the spot for this beauty.
If your plant comes in one of those pots wrapped in colorful foil-paper that creates a stand-up collar, get it off as soon as you can. It traps air and moisture and encourages mold, fungus and other nastiness, which ultimately will cause your plant to decline and die. If you don’t like the look of the bare pot, set it inside a decorative one that’s slightly larger.
Keep the plant moist while it’s blooming — once water runs out of the bottom of the pot, it’s had enough — and pick off the spent blooms when they start to wither. Once the Christmas cactus has finished blooming, it’s time for a little benign neglect.
Put the plant in a cool place with indirect, fairly low light and leave it alone. A spare bedroom or even an unheated garage with a window is OK. Do not keep it moist. It will cause it to rot. Let it dry out. Once the soil is completely dry — and you can determine this by sticking your finger deep into the soil — you can give it a little water, but don’t drench it. Check on it every two or three weeks and see whether it needs another sip. If you’re not sure, err on the side of doing nothing.
Once the weather warms, move the plant outside to a shady spot. A porch that gets a little morning sun is OK, but midday and afternoon sun are too strong. Too much sun causes the leathery, green, segmented “leaves” to develop a red tint. Move it to a shadier location if that happens. If there’s a danger of frost, bring your Christmas cactus back inside. It’s a tropical plant and it can’t take cold.
Water your plant when it’s dry throughout summer; in fall, changes in the light as the days get shorter signal the plant that it’s time to get ready for flowering again. Our climate is really in synch with Christmas cactus’ internal clock, so we don’t have to do a lot of manipulation to force blooms, such as covering with boxes. Remember to bring it inside if temperatures are forecast to drop below 40 degrees Farenheit.
Bring your plant back indoors when flower buds have formed, place it in a cool, draft-free location and enjoy the show.
Q: I’d like to plant some citrus trees in my yard. Are there specific varieties for our area?
Yes, most citrus varieties that grow in Central and South Florida will not survive our frosty winter nights. You want citrus that has been grafted onto cold-hardy rootstock, usually a type of trifoliate orange. This keeps the plant dormant in winter, so it’s not as susceptible to freeze damage.
Kumquats and satsumas are the most cold-hardy, but you can find tangerines, oranges, limes, lemons and grapefruits that will grow well here. No matter how cold-hardy, though, all citrus needs to be protected during the first two or three years it’s in the ground. A two-layer system of fabric and plastic works best, but make sure the plastic doesn’t touch the plant or it can “burn” it. And remember to remove the covers the next day as temperatures warm.
If you want to grow tender citrus, consider planting it in pots, which you can move indoors when frost threatens.
Whichever you choose, buy your citrus from a reputable local nursery, where the staff can tell you the tree’s rootstock and preferred growing condition. If a salesperson can’t answer such questions, take your business to someone who can.
WINTER TO-DO LIST:
Plant cool-weather annuals such as snapdragons, pansies and petunias; cool-weather herbs, including parsley, cilantro and dill; and winter vegetables such as lettuces, greens (collards, turnips, kale), carrots, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower in sunny locations.
Plant trees and flowering shrubs, so their roots will be well established by the time hot weather returns next spring.
Plant bulbs for spring bloom; be sure to pre-chill those that need it, such as tulips and hyacinths.
Divide daylilies, irises and hostas.
© 2011 Postscript Publishing, all rights reserved. Audrey Post is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon County. Email her at Questions@MsGrowItAll.com or visit her website at msgrowitall.com. Ms. Grow-It-All® is a registered trademark of Postscript Publishing.