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Vermont Garden Journal: Christmas Cactus

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Friday, November 8, 2013 at 5:57 p.m. and Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. I'm Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal. This common flowering houseplant is native the southeastern, coastal mountains of Brazil. It flowers in May in the Southern hemisphere in response to the shorter day lengths. Europeans starting breeding this plant in the 1800's and now it's one of our most treasured symbols of the holidays. It's the Christmas cactus.

Christmas cactus is actually a misnomer. This plant can bloom from November to March and it's not really a cactus. Christmas cactus are epiphytes, like moth orchids, and grow on the bark of trees in their native environment. Most Christmas cacti are hybrids of a few species that may bloom at different times. If your cactus is flowering now, like mine, they probably have a dose of Thanksgiving cactus in their blood. If you have some that bloom closer to New Years, these are the traditional Christmas cactus. If you have some that don't bloom until late winter, you may have the Easter cactus. The fun part is by purchasing some of each, you'll have flowers all winter.

Christmas cactus are easy to grow. Plant them in peat moss rich potting soil and place them in a cool room with filtered light. Christmas cactus develop flowers in response to shorter day lengths and cooler temperatures. Place your cactus in a cool room or porch in fall, not letting them get exposed to freezing temperatures, and keep the soil dry. You can also place the plants in a room that stays dark 14 hours a night with no artificial light, but is brightly lit during the day.  Once the flower buds form, avoid hot or cold drafts or the buds may drop. Repot over grown cactus after flowering and feed them with an organic fertilizer.

And now for this week's tip, once you build your compost pile with layers of green and brown materials, cover the top. Moisture is critical to piles heating up, but too much water will cause the pile to go anaerobic and break down slowly.

Nest week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about earthworms. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Christmas Cactus Q and A
Christmas cactus video

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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