Monday, 22 February 2016

Gardeners' Diary - February 2016

Image R. Moulds




At the February meeting Jane D. gave a presentation on Epiphyllum cactus (information and graphics taken from wikiHow).

Taking Cuttings:
You can buy epiphyllum cactus cuttings from a garden centre or an online plant store. Cactus cuttings are sections of a mature stem which are planted and used to grow a whole new plant. If you already own an epiphyllum cactus that is stong and healthy, you can make your own cuttings. Choose a healthy leaf of approximately 4 inches (10cm) and cut it off at the stem below the base of the leaf. Repeat this process until you have obtained the desired number of cuttings.

Store cuttings in a cool, dry place away from the sun for 10-14 days. Good places include a garden shed, bathroom, or basement. Because the epiphyllum cactus is a succulent plant, cuttings can remain good for up to a month. Storing the cuttings will allow them to cure. The purpose of curing the cuttings is to allow calluses to form over the ends of the cutting. These calluses protect the cuttings from rotting. If you purchased the cuttings and don't know exactly when they were made, cure them for a week before planting.

Plant three cuttings in a 4-inch pot with a drainage hole in the centre of the base. This will allow adequate room for the cactus to grow while the drainage hole will prevent over-watering. Plastic pots are preferable to terracotta pots, as they will allow the soil to retain moisture for a longer period of time. Choose potting mix for epiphyllum cacti. This consists of three parts potting soil, mixed with one part of coarse non-organic material such as perlite, which is also referred to as sponge rock. Alternatively, you can plant the cuttings in pure perlite. However, once the cuttings have developed roots, you will have to move them to epiphyllum potting mix. The potting mix should always be damp, ever wet. This will ensure healthy and faster growth.

Refrain from watering the cuttings until they are well rooted. If you water them too soon, the cuttings will rot. To check for rot, tug gently on each cutting. If you feel any resistance, this is good because it means the cutting is rooting. You can water the cutting. If a cutting has rotted, take it out of the pot, cut away the rot, cure the cutting and pot it again.

Place the epiphyllum cacti in hanging containers in filtered sunlight. Epiphyllum cacti love growing in hanging containers, and doing so will provide a good base for the pendulous growth of the plant. As an added bonus, hanging containers make it harder for snails - the number one epiphyllum pests - to get to the plants.

A shady spot under a tree or beneath a shade structure made of cloth or lath provides the right amount of light. If grown in direct sunlight, cacti can get burnt. If set in too shady an area, the cactus can become overly lush and will be shy to produce flowers. Also, the long stems won't be strong enough to hold themselves up and may fall over, sustaining damage. If possible, choose walls or eaves that face east or north for the best lighting. Ensure good air circulation, but protect the plants from storms and strong winds. Windstorms may cause hanging baskets to swing against each other and long stems to whip around, causing breakage.

Water your cactus every few days or every day in hot weather. The soil should never be completely dry, but should also never remain wet after watering. Check the soil regularly to gauge whether you need to add water. When you water, make sure to add enough water so that any excess water flows out of the drainage holes. This will rinse out the soil and prevent the accumulation of soluble salts in the soil.

Lightly fertilise your cactus with time-release fertiliser. Epiphyllum cacti bloom best when you give them regular, light fertiliser applications. Feed your epiphyllum cactus at each watering time from May to late August. After this period, only fertilise every other watering time. Only use about one-third to one-half the amount of fertiliser that is recommended on the label. Since cacti naturally grow in relatively low nutrient environments, they won't require as many nutrients for healthy growth. During the winter, fertilise with a low or no nitrogen fertiliser. The most optimal time to plant cacti is during the period from September to April. This will ensure a warm, sunny atmosphere while also avoiding direct sunlight that my hinder growth.

Clip off flowers after the blossoms expire. Make your cut just below the flower head. Pruning dead parts of the plant not only improves its appearance, it will encourage new growth and healthy blossoming.

Cut all dead, diseased and broken stems back to the point of origin on the main stem. When you locate a stem to remove, follow it back to the base of the stem and make a straight cut just outside the joint of the parent stem. 

Immediately disinfect shears after trimming dead or diseased stems. This will keep the disease from spreading throughout the plant. It is best to assume that any dead stem died as a result of disease. Disinfecting after each pruning session may require more bleach, but it will keep your cactus healthy and beautiful.

Remove any long stems that disrupt the balance of the epiphyllum. Trace them back to the parent stem and cut at the base. These stems are usually located along the outer edges. Remove stems as needed until all sides of the plant are fairly uniform.

Inspect your cactus for mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites. Snails are fairly simple to spot and remove (use store-bought snail bait), but the aforementioned bugs require specific measures for preventing infestation. Mealybugs have a waxy, white, cottony appearance. They are slow moving and usually are in clusters along leaf veins or spines, on the underside of leaves, and in hidden areas at the joints. Scale insects resemble small, cottony dome-shaped shells. They attach themselves to stems and leaves but can be pried off. Spider-mites are hard to see with the naked eye, but signs of infestation include webbing and small brown dots, especially on younger growth. If you tap the affected area of the plant over a piece of white paper, spider-mites will resemble dust. These insects tend to suck the plant's juices resulting in weak, wrinkled, or shrivelled leaves. Severe infestations can result in the death of the plant. First symptoms can include stickiness or black mould on or near the plant.

Spray with insecticides to kill bugs and stop serious infestation. Use insecticides like Neem or pyrethrum products for visible bugs. Systemic insecticides such as Hortico's Imidacloprid are best for controlling pests that aren't easily accessible. Consult the label to see how much you should use on your cactus and whether or not prolonged use is safe.

Editors Note: For mealybugs a cotton bud dipped in methylated spirits and dabbed onto the bug also works a treat but only if there are not a lot of them!

The reward for taking such good care of your cactus is the most beautiful flowers.


Many thanks to Jane for her presentation.

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