In the Garden: Reblooming poinsettias and Christmas cactus

Gardeners like the challenge and sense of accomplishment when trying something new. Forcing poinsettias and Christmas cacti to rebloom provides one such opportunity.

These plants need 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night to set flowers for the winter holidays. Cover or place your plants in a dark place every night from late September to October 1st. Protect them from any outdoor, street or reading lights that may delay or prevent flowering.

Each morning, uncover your plants or move them back to a brightly lit spot. Growing the plants in a cooler spot, especially at night, and keeping the soil slightly drier will help stimulate flowering. Some experts believe this is all that is needed to get Christmas cacti blooming again. A combination of the two treatments seems to produce the best results.

The colored parts of the poinsettia are the bracts, often called the flowers. These are sheets that discolor after dark treatment. The true poinsettia flower is the gnarled yellow growth that appears at the center of the variegated bracts at the top of the stem.

Continue the dark treatment until the poinsettia bracts are fully colored or your Christmas cactus is covered in well-developed buds. Put the flowering plants in a cool, bright place without hot and cold drafts. Continue to water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil slightly moist during flowering. This is especially important to prevent buds and flowers from falling off on Christmas cacti.

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Consistently providing the required dark period is key to flowers for the holidays. Every missed or interrupted 14-hour night is delayed by one day. You don’t have to give up after a few broken nights. Just enjoy the event when your poinsettia blooms. Their colorful bracts brighten up every winter day.

If your poinsettia isn’t blooming, you can still enjoy your plant this winter. Just add some artificial poinsettia flowers, berry sprays or other floral decorations. No one needs to know that wasn’t the plan all along.

Don’t be surprised if flowers appear on your Christmas cactus on Thanksgiving. Although sold as a Christmas cactus, it really can be a Thanksgiving cactus or a mix of both. The true Christmas cactus has small segments with smooth edges and blooms later than the Thanksgiving cactus with jagged or jagged segments.

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Luckily, the growing needs and care of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus are basically the same. The plants will be fine; They bloom only during various holidays. Both are native to the tropical rainforests, not the desert as their common name suggests. Both prefer bright light, high humidity, and thorough watering when the top few inches of soil begins to dry out when actively growing.

Enjoy the experience as well as the results. As with all gardening, the fun is in trying something new.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including this one recently Gardener’s Handbook of the Midwest, 2nd edition and small space gardening. She hosts The Great Courses”How to Grow Anything Instant Video and DVD Series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website

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