These house plants are wonderful, reliable plants, but they often bloom at times that disagree with their holiday names of Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus. I've had some of my flowering succulents for more than a quarter of a century-hauling them from house to house over the years-and they are old, old friends. My plants are free spirits that bloom and bloom, but only on their own schedule.
I grow a variety of similar succulents, including Schlumbergera in various forms, Epiphyllum x ackermanii (Orchid Cactus) and a Hylocereus "Queen of the Night". I got this one twenty-two years ago from the Volunteer Park Conservatory, in Seattle. The park doesn't grow the mother plant anymore, but the daughter is flourishing for me. The Hylocereus is huge (8 feet or more) and quite homely when not blooming. Mine is one that has buds the size of softballs and water-lily like flowers as big as dinner plates with an aroma that shouts louder than a Wagnerian singer: "Here I am, insects. Come and pollinate!"
"Daughters" of succulent houseplants are easy to create. They root eagerly from cuttings and you can create lots of plants from one small one if you try. Cut off a few inches of leaf end and bury it halfway in damp sand. Keep it moist and in a bright window. Voila, new plant!
One reason that I have so many of these plants in my collection is that they are EASY to grow as well as to propagate. Despite all the advice from greenhouse experts, I just give them the same care as my foliage plants and let them bloom when they are ready. Don't be fooled by the common nickname "cactus" in their names-Schumbergeras don't want to be dry as a bone like a saguaro.
All these indoor bloomers like at least bright light if not a full sunny southern exposure. If your indoor growing space is dark and dreary, you will have difficulties getting them to bloom. Even though I put my succulents in an uncurtained south-facing window for the winter months, I think the reason they bloom best for me in summer or early autumn is that they spend May through September outside on a porch enjoying the air and light with a bit of shade from the hottest sun.
Most of these blooming "cactus" seem to be epiphytic plants (air dwellers) from the crotches of trees in the tropical forest where they get lots of rain, but it drains away fast.
My succulents get a commercial potting mix with extra sand worked in. Water them often but don't let water sit in the saucers to rot the roots. (This is sound advice for almost all houseplants.)
Late February is a great time to tune up all houseplants for the spring growth spurt. Through winter, fertilizer gets applied very sparingly (if at all) but when the light strengthens and days lengthen, growth starts again. At this time of year, I fertilize all houseplants with a very weak solution of low-nitrogen water-soluble plant food. Throughout summer, I fertilize often, but weakly, so that no one's roots are burned by too strong a solution. in clean soil. But I believe that the flowering succulents could go for a long time with no supplemental feeding and still do quite well.
What these plants don't like is repotting. They are happiest when their roots are pot-bound. My Queen of the Night sulks and won't bloom for at least two years whenever I have to move it to a new pot. She teeters there in an impossibly small, out-of-scale pot like a frumpy old lady in too-small high heels. I have to tie her canes to the railing to keep her from being blown over by summer winds. The others mostly hang from the rafters and so it doesn't matter that there is a huge plant in a small pot.
You can see some of these plants in public conservatories where you get the feeling of Victorian décor and plant selection. For specific plant questions, you can call the Master Gardeners at (206) 296-3440 for King County, (253) 798-7170 for Pierce County and (425) 357-6610 for Snohomish County.
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