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Getting Christmas cactus to bloom

Q: I purchased a Christmas cactus last year in bloom and it’s been growing really well for me since. Can I get it to bloom again? What do I need to do? – G.Z., Albuquerque

A: I’m a little late with this teaching, but you can easily get your cactus to bloom again if you follow a few steps religiously for the next several weeks.

If your cactus is living in a spot that has lots of light all day and into the evening hours and is being kept warm, I suggest you find another spot for the time being. You want to have the cactus living in a place that will be totally dark for 12 hours a night and be kept a smidgen cooler. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room that isn’t busy and isn’t kept as warm yet has good daytime light, that would be perfect. If you can’t comfortably move the plant, find a cardboard box that will cover it completely and can be removed daily without harming the cactus. You want the cactus to stress a bit, too. Offer it a smidgen less water when you do water but don’t dry it out completely.

Every evening at sundown turn off the lights and draw the curtains, or if you are using the box, cover the cactus. Every morning throw open the curtains, or uncover the cactus. No light should be allowed to hit the plant for 12 hours in each 24-hour period for the next 28 days. What do I do? I cover at 6 p.m. and then uncover at 6 a.m. Once you’re in the habit it’s not a difficult process but you need to be faithful with the process. Keeping the cactus cooler and a little drier will help immensely with what’s called triggering. You are changing the plant’s habits and, since it’s stressing some, it thinks it has to bloom to save itself.

Then, after your 28-day triggering, set the cactus back to its original spot if you had to move it or stop covering the plant nightly. Bump the watering back up like you had been and in a couple more weeks your cactus should set and grow flowers. First you should notice wee pinkish-green buds start to appear that will explode into the cheery flowers you had last year when you first got your treasure. It’s just a matter of consistent behavior when getting your cactus to come back into bloom. Be faithful and I’m confident it will rebloom for you.

Usually I suggest beginning this process in early October so the plant is ablaze by Christmas. Your cactus’ bloom might be a little behind as far as being in bloom for the Christmas season but should be spectacular in time to ring in the New Year as long as you start the triggering this weekend.

Q: We have been invited to Thanksgiving dinner with friends and don’t want to show up empty-handed. We know this couple is good at gardening and the house is filled with plants. What would be easy for us to do and be appreciated? – H.G., Albuquerque

A: That’s easy! This weekend get thee to a nursery or garden center and find an amaryllis bulb, either a loose one that you’ll pot or a kit that contains everything you’ll need to start one growing. Planted soon, the bulb will have settled and begun to grow its green strap leaves soon, followed by a bloom stalk that will wear trumpet-shaped, long-lasting flowers to grace their home for weeks. Easy is the key word and knowing your friends garden, a potted amaryllis just beginning to grow to its potential would be perfect Happy Digging In.

Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.