“Holiday” Cactus

"holiday" "cactus"

Another holiday plant some have trouble with is the poorly named Christmas Cactus.  For one thing, the genus schlumbergera is neither a cactus nor does it naturally bloom at Christmas.  It is a succulent, which means it needs a little more water than a cactus.

Originally, these are native to Brazil, and there, they grow in humid, shady regions in the trees. They are epiphytic, like many orchids.

Plants should never dry out completely (they are not cacti); and they should be kept in a fairly shady window. Bright indirect light–just like the poinsettia likes–is great for them.

They set their buds in relation to day length and temperature so again, a darker, cooler window is better if you want them to bloom earlier, or a brighter, (but not sunny) warmer one is better if you want them to bloom later. I find that as soon as we turn the clocks back in November, mine form buds.

Holiday cacti in bloom

And, of course, because we keep our house very cool, they bloom shortly thereafter. Here is my west window  this Thanksgiving weekend. If it has been a particularly cool and dreary October, I may have one or two in bloom by Halloween. But it is rare that I still have a plant in bloom at Christmas, unless I buy it that current season as I did with the one in the cream colored pot.* It’s no matter. There are enough other lovely things decorating the house at Christmas.  The house plants are often over looked at that time anyway.

*Cute story about the Spoiler. I walked into his den carrying that plant just after I had put it into the cachepot. He asked what it was. I think I replied “Christmas cactus.

“Oh, no water?” he asked. You see how pervasive the myth of these things are–or perhaps it’s just the problem of its common name “cactus.”

The Queen of the December Plants–the Poinsettia


This is one plant that I cannot grow in my house. I can only have it in my office because my house is far too cool for this tropical beauty.

You may wonder why I don’t grow it in one of my south windows–that would be too much sun for it–at least at my house.  It also wouldn’t really be warm enough, even there because the big bay windows get very cool in the evening when the glass gets cold.

But oddly enough the plant is very happy in my bright office at work, behind my computer which throws off a good amount of heat. So it’s a perfect office plant–for my office situation.

But what about poinsettias in general? What conditions do they need?

Keep them warm–these plants are native to Mexico. That means if you are buying them in a cold weather region, make sure the store wraps them for you or bag them yourself. And don’t, for any reason, run a bunch of errands with these plants in the car. You’ll wonder why they “mysteriously” die on you a few days later.

These are plants in the euphorbia family so they want to be kept “evenly moist”–think begonia care. Don’t let them dry out completely and do not, under any circumstances, over-water!

After the holidays, if you don’t want to simply compost, follow these instructions:

(i). Cut them back.  You can do this as soon as you are sick of looking at those brightly colored bracts.

(ii) In March, begin feeding.  I only use organics.  You can use whatever fertilizer you prefer.

(iii) By September, get them to an unused room where you do not turn lights on in the evening. I have a guest room that I use.  I don’t obsess about this. If I need to go in once in a while I will put on the light.

(iv) By early December, you should see the bracts beginning to turn color again.  They will not be as full and lush as the “store-bought” ones, but you will have the joy of knowing you made your own poinsettia bloom!

Hibiscus Heaven

Tropical hibiscus

This year I have an abundance of hibiscus at my house. In addition to the perennial shrub type hibiscus which I’ll show in a minute, I got this tropical variety (hibiscus rosa-sinensis) (which is also perennial somewhere–in Florida and Hawaii for example, but certainly not in my climate unless I bring it in and put it in a very sunny window!).

My plan was to put it near the “pollinator pots.” You see the zinnia right behind it–and to use its color to draw the insects in than for any real value to pollinators. But just last night the Spoiler was raving about how much he liked what I have done with the containers this year so he is at least pleased. The jury is still out about whether I’ve helped the pollinators.


This hibiscus ( a type of hibiscus syriacus) is my powerhouse for pollinators. You can see the pollen dripping from the center of this flower. Unfortunately, it’s a messy plant and it seeds itself everywhere. But heck, I guess I can put up with that for its wildlife value. It is, after all, in the wildlife garden.

wildlife garden

This is a segment of that garden where the hibiscus is growing. You can see a few remaining black-eyed susans that I didn’t pull out when I did the renovation and added all the echinacea. Their foliage is pretty much untouched by that insect–so far–and completely disease free, despite the over-crowding.

double variegated hibiscus

This is Sugar Tip hibiscus, the other type of hibiscus is have. It’s spectacular in every way–leaves, flowers and maybe best of all, it’s sterile so I am not forever pulling up literally hundreds of seedlings every spring from underneath it.

But of course, there’s a trade-off. Although I see lots and lots of bumble bees inside these flowers, there’s no pollen. I feel terrible. I feel as if I am “tricking” them with this plant. They could and should be other places in my yard. It makes me want to take the plant out just for that reason.

Sugar Tip flower

Here’s a close up of the flower. Notice the pretty variegated leaf as well. It’s heart-breaking.



My Newest House Plant Obsession–Air Plants!

Air plants

Any time I wind up killing more than one of anything, I become obsessed. So when my tillandsia ball and another ball of mixed species of tillandsias suddenly up and died on me this winter, that was it–I was hooked. Clearly, I had to know what I was doing wrong and how to fix it.

air plant

Now in my defense, these two events happened months apart and I’m fairly sure I know exactly what happened in each case.  I have since confirmed it by reading Zenaida Sengo’s excellent book, Tillandsias: The Curious World of Air Plants.  Sorry there’s no photo, but I read it, as I read most things these days, on a device and not in paper.

I also talked to an air plant vendor at the Flower and Garden Show at the Convention Center a few weeks ago, specifically about my mixed ball of tillandsias, which I’d had less than a year.  The first one I’d had over five years and it literally bloomed itself to death, I think. So I’m not too concerned about that one.

air plant

His analysis was that the plants had dried out (and indeed, that pretty much seemed to be the case for at least one of the plants) because of my watering practices. So I’ve changed those up a bit–longer soakings–and I’m giving the plants a bit more light, although light in my house isn’t usually too much of an issue, particularly now that winter is over! The container of air plants shown above is one I purchased from him recently.

What I also learned from the book is that theses plants are epiphytes (like orchids, they like to hang on trees and absorb nutrition from the air–hence the name “air” plants) and they belong to the larger bromeliad family. Interesting.

The book also gives many fabulous suggestions for containers, for placements with other plants, and even for mounting (which I don’t think I’ll try, even after I’m sure I’m not going to kill them again, thanks so much!)

There are actually 3 different types of tillandsias, but this is a bit complicated. Some, which come from the desert regions, tend to be silvery in color and may be covered in a particular coating that helps them retain water more readily.

Bulbous air plant


Others are from more temperate regions. And then there are the bulbous types which look different from most of the others.

According to Sengo’s book, so long as the plants are receiving sufficient light, it’s really hard to over-water (within reason, of course) but they should never be left to sit in water.

And that’s the short course in air plant survival!

Wordless Wednesday

I remarked last week that I had brought in all the house plants and that I was out of windows.

Well, that’s never the end of the story, is it? I’m still moving things around and shifting things and deciding what’s staying and what’s going–a few last-minute tweaks before things settle down for the season.

As all of this is going on, the Spoiler keeps asking about something that’s still outside. I can’t for the life of me imagine what he means. He keeps referring to it as “that nice pot with the matching bottom,” or something vaguely similar.

As more and more plants came in, I figured whatever it was had come in as well–but no. Once again, over the weekend I got the question about the pot with matching saucer, this time.

Finally I asked him to show me what he was worried about. This was what he pointed out.

The "forgotten" planter

What’s interesting about this is that I do bring in and over-winter the red dracena because I can’t always find one when I want one. But everything else? The begonias go dormant–and need to do that to rejuvenate themselves for next year. The torenia and calibrachoa are true annuals and won’t over-winter, particularly in my chilly house. So even were I to bring in that planter just as it is, it wouldn’t look like much in a month or two!

Still, it’s sweet of the Spoiler to care. Some years I guess he doesn’t want summer to end either!

Wordless Wednesday–I’m Out of Windows

I mentioned Monday when I talked about Fall Gardening that I didn’t even want to think about bringing in the house plants. Of course that’s what I did all weekend.

West Window

One of the joys of summer is being able to see out of my windows–when the blinds or shutters aren’t drawn against the heat, of course. Now my windows are full of plants.

south window

Clearly I make use of every available inch of space.

East window

Although there is certainly room to shoehorn some more plants onto this windowsill when I acquire some–and that’s when and not if, of course.

south bay window

Over the years, the plants I’ve brought in have gotten larger, so I bring fewer in each year. Once it was over 200. This year, it’s 91. But as I said, there will be more as the year goes on–and I am planning a longer trip at the holidays, so probably so of these will succumb as well.

Who knows what will go back outside next spring?

What A Supermarket Display Can Tell Us About Bee Preference

I was on my way in to my local supermarket when a garish orange flower caught my eye. Being a gardener of course, I had to detour over to take a look.

Mystery tropical

I’ve no idea what this is–of course it wasn’t labeled. It’s quite eye catching. But even were I so inclined to buy it, I wouldn’t and here’s why. Every buzzing thing on the table was avoiding it like the plague. Who wants that in a garden?

Actually, some later research indicates it’s a tropical called crossandra. And that it’s a shade plant. Interesting since it was in full blazing sun. I wonder if it will still be there this week and fried to a crisp?


Of course, I couldn’t investigate too carefully because the plants were interspersed with these lovely blue agastache–a brilliant marketing scheme, as well as great color design. Of course, I happened to take the one shot where there wasn’t a bee on the flower. But every other flower stalk was literally covered in bumble bees and honey bees. I’ve got to set the brightness on the camera so I can see what I’m doing, clearly (no pun intended!)


As I headed toward the store door, I was again stopped, this time by the pentas. What had me transfixed this time, however, other than the lovely pinks and reds of the flowers, was the fact that these plants were covered in hornets (or yellow jackets–I wasn’t stepping in too closely to try to tell the difference!)

Again, lovely plant–but not necessarily something you want to bring home if it’s going to attract these visitors. And really, you’re going to have to be careful how you even reach for this one. No wonder this flower display is so lush and full–no one can reach for any of the plants!