by Marina Welham
Plants have been flowering away for several weeks in shops and garden centers. You bought one, attracted by the lovely flowers, and soon after you got it home, all the buds and/or flowers fell off. You may wonder why.
Christmas Cacti are big business in the horticultural trade, with millions of plants being sold every year. Commercial growers can bring the plants into flower well before Christmas by adjusting the temperatures carefully and deliberately shading plants so they have shorter days earlier than would normally be the case. These shorter day lengths help to trigger flowering. Some adapt to this treatment better than others.
For plants you may have had for a while which have been allowed to develop their flower buds naturally, they will rarely lose many buds indoors provided they are either grown indoors all the time or are brought indoors from the greenhouse during September. This allows the flower buds to begin to develop in the location where the plants will be kept during the flowering period. If you leave it too late and bring the plants indoors during late October or November when the buds are half developed, you are likely to lose some or all of them. Moving the plant when buds are forming, in other words, is the main cause of buds and flowers dropping off.
If you notice signs of pests such as mealy bug, it is not a good idea to spray or water them with insecticides. In particular, when the plants are in bud, do not use a systemic type insecticide (which is watered into the soil as opposed to being sprayed on the plant). This can cause the loss of many or all of the flower buds. The only answer to the bug problem at this time of year is to use a little soap and water on a small brush or cotton swab and remove them by the old-fashioned ‘touch and kill’ method. The plant may have mealy bug in its roots but do not worry about that until after it has flowered. You can then give it a dose of one of the many systemic insecticides or … if you do not like using these products, you can do as I do. Add a little liquid dish-washing liquid to the water, and water the soil with that. In any case, do not use pesticides in the home. They are far too dangerous. Wait until spring when you can put the plants outside and treat them there.
Be careful not to over-water your Christmas Cactus. You want the soil to be moist with any excess water having quickly drained off and been disposed of. The difference between moist and soaking wet is the difference between a sponge that is soaking wet as opposed to being just moist after having been wrung out. If your soil is constantly soaking wet, then your soil mix is not porous enough. The soil must also be allowed to dry out a little between waterings.
A plant which has flowered really well will have been weakened by the effort, so do not be surprised if a few of the branches drop off. This is when it is important to continue the feeding program you began in September when you should have begun to feed the plant with a diluted house plant fertilizer with trace elements. Don’t think because the flowers have gone that the plant no longer needs to be fed.
What about that plant you bought that lost its blooms? Sorry. It probably will not bloom again until next year.
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