Houseplant Hacks: Schlumbergera Propagation

Shlumbergera blooming  in our living room in February 2015.

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Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus plants may become another family heirloom.  Long lived and easy to care for, this is a quintessential ‘pass along plant’  you may be gifted with during the holidays.

Whether someone gives you one in full bloom in a little foil wrapped pot, or a well-meaning aunt insists on sending a cutting home with you, this is the season when many families enjoy a blooming cactus as a part of their holiday.

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A neighbor gave us this beautiful Christmas cactus covered in buds, last week.

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I can’t remember a time when my own mother didn’t have a Christmas cactus.  Her first one began as a gifted cutting from someone in the extended family.  At one time it had grown to a monstrous size, maybe 20″ or more around in a  large clay pot.  I never gave this ugly duckling house plant much consideration in those years, probably because hers didn’t often bloom.

Once you’ve enjoyed the vivid, decidedly odd blooms of a Schlumbergera on a wintery day, you may develop an appetite for these unusual plants just as I have.  Their extravagant flowers are meant to attract hummingbirds to pollinate them.  I love to have one in full bloom indoors when its snowing outside.

The ‘off’ bloom schedule of these beautiful tropical cacti may have something to do with their country and hemisphere of origin.  They were originally collected from the mountainous coastal forests of southeastern Brazil, where they grow in bright, humid shade.  They may be found growing high up in trees on moss covered branches, or in small pockets of soil in rocky areas at high altitudes.

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They were in cultivation in Europe by the early 19th Century, where breeders developed new cultivars for the market.  They were enjoyed both in homes and in fashionable heated greenhouses.

Although a cactus, these plants have no spines to stick you.   A succulent, they don’t require a great deal of care.  They offer a bulky green presence year round, bursting into abundant vivid bloom  between late October and late February each year.

Schlumbergera commonly turn up in grocery stores and garden centers blooming in shades of red, pink and purple.  Sometimes you may find one with white blooms touched with vivid rose.  More rarely, they can be found blooming  in shades of salmon, yellow or orange.

This is one reason it pays to know how to root a Christmas cactus.  Once you find one of the rarer colors, you might want to produce more to share, or for your own collection.

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Light pink Christmas cactus with a tiny white poinsettia on offer at a local garden center.

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Another reason is that the stems, which look like flat leaves, can sometimes be a bit fragile.  A section may break off while you are moving the plant or while you are moving around the plant.  When this happens, it feels nicer to root the broken piece than to discard it.

I’ve tried many different ways to root these odd green stems over the years.  The stems don’t really like to sit in water, though I’ve seen my mother root them this way.  They also don’t root reliably when simply stuck into some potting soil, though this sometimes works OK.  If the stars don’t align, or the temperature and humidity aren’t just right, then your efforts may be rewarded with a shriveled or mushy bit of stem with no roots to sustain it.

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I experimented with a new technique for rooting a Christmas cactus stem in extremely shallow water, on moist rocks.

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I was understandably excited when I saw a pin on Pinterest a few months ago, offering a novel way to root Schlumbergera.  The key to the wet rock method is to understand that Schlumbergera  naturally grow in a humid, coastal forest, high up in the mountains.  High humidity is the key, along with keeping the stem mostly dry, with only the growing tip in water.

Begin with a glass or small jar, and add a few inches of clean, attractive rocks.  Fill your glass with just enough fresh, cool water, to barely cover most of the rocks.  Then add your cuttings so that they rest on the rocks in very shallow water.  It works best to ‘twist’ the cutting from the parent plant rather than using scissors to remove it.

You will need at least 1 full stem section, though you may take a cutting a few inches long, like this one.  If the cutting already has flower buds, they will continue to grow as your cutting roots.

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Place your container and cuttings into a bright, cool window sill, where the cuttings will get bright light, but minimal direct sunlight.  Keep the water replenished every few days, and watch for those roots to grow.

Once the roots are at least 1/4″ long, you can pot up your rooted cutting in a peat based soil mix with a little grit.  The soil needs to drain easily.  Keep the soil just moist, but never really wet and never bone dry.

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This cutting is ready to pot up in good quality peat based potting mix.  Add a little fine grit to improve drainage.  If you plant into a container without drainage holes, be sure to begin with a few inches of gravel in the bottom of the container for drainage.

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I  feed my Christmas cactus monthly, during their season of bloom, with diluted orchid fertilizer; which keeps the buds coming.  Mine live near a large window where they get bright light during the daytime, but they also get natural darkness in late afternoon.  They like long nights and shorter days during their season of bloom.  The long nights help trigger bud formation. Shlumbergera also use more water when they are blooming, and of course thrive in a humid environment.

If your home has very dry air in winter, then try grouping them together, and consider setting the pots on trays of pebbles with a bit of standing water in the tray.

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This cutting rooted in the glass on moist rocks. After a few weeks, I planted it in its own little container to grow on until spring.

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In our climate, Christmas cactus thrive in bright shade on the deck all summer long.  I move them out in late April, once danger of frost has passed.  They love our humidity and grow lush with very little attention until time to bring them in ahead of the first fall frosts in late October.  By then, they have covered themselves in flower buds.

Keep your plants large and lush by adding rooted cuttings to your established pots of Christmas cactus.  They like a tight fit for their roots in the pot, but do pot them up every few years and give them some fresh, fertile soil.

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If your space allows, plant Christmas cactus in hanging planters, or set the pots up on plant stands where their drooping branches and long, pendulous flowers may be admired.   I’ve even seen a grouping of Christmas cactus pots arranged on a plant stand with layers of shelves, to give the illusion of a blooming Christmas tree.

These odd houseplants are extremely easy and rewarding to grow, once you know a few hacks to make your efforts more successful.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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One Word Photo Challenge: Strawberry

February 3, 2015 strawberry 008

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Real strawberries may be months away from ripening in our pots on the deck, yet I’ve found touches of pink and red growing now in our indoor winter garden.

Thank you for coming to enjoy these photos today, inspired by Jennifer Nichole Well’s One Word Photo Challenge:  Strawberry.

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This challenge helps us focus on the many beautiful and unusual colors which surround us each day.

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This Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, is so happy in its cool spot near a window that it continues to set buds.

This Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, is so happy in its cool spot near a window that it continues to set buds.

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I found touches of “strawberry” in new growth on our houseplants today, and also in a single Viola blossom in a sheltered area on our still-frozen deck.  I thought you might enjoy it in the same vase photographed last Monday for Cathy’s Vase Challenge.

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February 3, 2015 strawberry 016

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Although last week’s Violas and snowdrops didn’t stay fresh for the entire week, the two white Hellebore blossoms continue to swell and will open later this week.  Forsythia branches have responded to the warmth indoors and have begun to show color.  The blueberry buds remain tightly closed, which isn’t surprising since they open much later in the spring than the Forsythia in the garden.

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February 3, 2015 strawberry 015

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While you’re here, I need to share something with you that we learned earlier today.  It seems a neighbor of ours suffered a robbery while he was sleeping last week.  But there were no signs of forced entry.  It was as though the robber somehow had a key…. and the crime remains a mystery so far as has been told to the community.

We heard a related story on our local news this afternoon about a website which allows one to order duplicate keys from a photograph.  Would-be robbers can simply take a photo of your house key with their phone, upload it to a particular website, and order a duplicate key for less than $10.00.

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This newly opened Philodendron leaf is nearly 'strawberry'....

This newly opened Philodendron leaf is nearly ‘strawberry’….

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As much as we love the conveniences technology offers, now we must all be vigilant and careful with yet another bit of our daily routine.  The days of leaving our keys in plain sight, whether on our desk, clipped to our belt or purse, or even loaned out to a valet or mechanic’s shop, have passed.  Any unscrupulous person may quickly snap a photo and help themselves to duplicates of our keys.

Even a workman coming into our home could quickly snap a photo of our keys left lying on a counter, and then sell our house key and our address.  Please don’t think I’m overly paranoid in sharing this with you.  We just all need to be very smart and mindful in these interesting times in which we live.  We weren’t aware of this  online “service” until we heard the story today; and you may not have heard of it yet, either.

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New spring growth on a cane Begonia

New spring growth on a cane Begonia

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Here is the story from our local news, and another from New York.  Keysduplicated.com, which provides this service, offers these safety tips to help you protect yourself from an invasion of your privacy:

  • Keep keys in a pocket, purse, or anything else worthy of guarding your credit cards.
  • Don’t leave your keys unattended, even on your desk at work.
  • Be careful who you let borrow your keys, whether it’s a friend, mechanic or valet. Only hand over the necessary keys, not your whole key-ring.
  • Buy (or have your landlord buy) high security locks
  • Don’t post pictures of your keys on Twitter, Facebook, or other online services.

We have ventured a bit far afield from a photo challenge post today, and I appreciate your patience.  If you were hoping for a bit of poetry, I’m sorry to disappoint.

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Our Amaryllis is coming along nicely.

Our Amaryllis is coming along nicely.

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Assuming I’m finally able to get out of the house tomorrow, it will be to pick up a quart of strawberries.

And once we have some fresh strawberries in the house, I’ll hope to show you something delicious made with them.  When it’s too wet and cold to dig in the garden, there is always the kitchen to play in…

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Ah, June....

Remembering June….

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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February 3, 2015 strawberry 012

Winter Solstice

Grape Mahonia

Grape Mahonia

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Today is the winter solstice,the shortest day of the year.

We will enjoy just over nine hours of daylight today in Williamsburg, which is still five hours more than those in Iceland will see.

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Orchid in bud

Jewel Orchid in bud

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The sun hugs the horizon on these short, winter days, ascending to its lowest point in the sky all year, before falling back towards the sunset.

Instead of rising in the east, as it does at the Spring Equinox, the sun rises in the southeast at the furthest point along its seasonal journey.

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A walk in the garden finds evidence of buds and new life everywhere.

A walk in the garden finds evidence of buds and new life everywhere.

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Here, it rises 30 degree further south than it will in March.  Likewise, the sun sets in the southwest at Winter solstice, at its furthest point from due west.

The further north one observes from, the more the points of sunrise and sunset converge in the southern sky, and the lower above the horizon the sun appears at noon, if at all.

In the far north, the Winter Solstice is a time of darkness as though the sun has withdrawn from the world.

And yet today is the turning.  It is the beginning of a new solar year as the sun begins its return.

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Cane Begonias are blooming now indoors.

Cane Begonias are blooming now indoors.

 

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We are fortunate that at Winter solstice we are actually closer to the sun than we are in winter.  Even though the Northern Hemisphere is turned away, we are over 3 million miles closer to the sun than we will be in June, due to our elliptical orbit.  We are getting less solar radiation than we do in summer, but our close approach to the sun almost compensates for our shorter days, keeping our middle latitudes energized.

 

Christmas Cactus is blooming right on schedule.

Christmas Cactus is blooming right on schedule.

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And, we are surrounded with the promise of new life, a fresh beginning, a new year to live, and a new opportunity to nourish abundance and joy in our lives.

A simple walk around the garden offers abundant evidence of the seeds, buds, cones, and fruits which hold the promise of new life.  Even in winter, the trees are alive with birds and squirrels.  The deer graze in the ravine, and geese fly overhead calling to one another.

 Happy Winter Solstice.

We offer you our best wishes for good times, good health, good fortune, and abundant love

at this time as we celebrate the return of the sun, the turning of the year, and the festivals of light.

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December 17, 2014 wreath 007

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All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

Visiting the Homestead Garden Center

December 13 2013 poinsettias 004

We visited Homestead Garden Center today to pick out one of their beautiful Christmas trees for our own.  We love the freshness of these trees.  They are  picked on a farm in the mountains and brought here early in the season, and then kept in water until sold.  Each tree has its own little dish of water.December 13 2013 poinsettias 002

Although there are only a few trees left, they are all beautifully grown.  The small table top trees are especially nice.

Wreath making is underway in the workshop and greenhouse, each a beautiful combination of evergreens and decorated with cones, fruit, and berries.

Poinsettias fill the shop.  There are so many hybrids now it is hard to choose which one to bring home.  Whether you love the creamy white ones, or prefer red, pink, spotted, or marbled; they are all healthy and ready to go home and bloom for the next month or so.

December 13 2013 poinsettias 003Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family, native to Mexico and Central America.  Poinsettias were introduced to the United States in 1825 by our first Minster to Mexico, Joel Poinsett.  In their native Mexico these plants grow as shrubs or small trees.  Some of the leaves, known as “bracts”, begin to turn red, orange, white, pale green, or pink when the days grow shorter.  They need several weeks of nights 12 hours or longer to change colors.  The actual flowers are actually tiny and yellow, located in the center of each bunch of colored bracts.

A light pink poinsettia in the Homestead Garden Center shop.

A light pink poinsettia in the Homestead Garden Center shop.

Poinsettias enjoy bright sunshine during the day, warm temperatures, and a steady supply of moisture.  They can live outside during most of the year, but are brought in to protect them from frost, which will kill them.

The poinsettia industry in the United States dates to 1900 when the Ecke family began raising poinsettias on their dairy farm near Los Angeles.   The family began selling them from street stands around LA, later developing a special growing technique to produce color on every single branch of their bushy, compact plants.  They were the only growers in the nation with the secret for growing florist quality poinsettias, until the 1990s when a university researcher discovered their technique and published it.  Poinsettias are now grown all over the United States.  They are also popular in Turkey, Egypt, Central and South America, Australia, and Malta.

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These Rose series poinsettias come in several different colors.

If you want to keep your poinsettia after the holidays, make sure to keep it watered and in bright light until the weather settles in spring.  Poinsettias prefer morning light.  Prune the plant after the holidays to remove all of the colored leaves and tiny yellow flowers.  Keep the plant fed and watered all summer, protected from afternoon sun, and watch it grow into a small shrub.  It will probably need a new, larger pot in early summer.  Poinsettias enjoy moisture, but must never sit in water.  They require good drainage.

Bring the plant indoors before first frost to an area where it will remain in darkness for at least 12 hours each night.  Soon, the leaf bracts will begin to turn bright colors again and you can enjoy it for another holiday season.

A whole new palette of plants comes available in December for those of us who love to keep flowering plants indoor during the winter.  Cyclamen are in their prime now, as they enjoy cool indoor temperatures.  They grow best near windows where they enjoy the bright winter sunshine and cooler air.  Christmas cactus are in bloom now as well.  And the first perennials of spring, little Primulas, have shown up for sale at Homestead.  The gardening year rolls on and on, with something beautiful close at hand to greet each new day.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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