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Hummingbirds have flown, so bring in feeders

Q: I have been very faithful about keeping my hummingbird feeder fresh, even lately, and wonder when should I take it down for this season? – E.B., Albuquerque

Tracey FitzgibbonA: I’m having a hard time deciding when to do this, too! I have been blessed with a woodpecker of sorts that comes daily to my feeder and I want him to have the nectar available he seems to enjoy.

As long as you haven’t seen any hummers for several weeks at your feeder it’d be OK to take it down now. Most, if not all, of the hummingbirds have gone south for this year and won’t be back until spring. I have always left my feeders up through October so any travelers have a way-station available to refuel, but haven’t heard or seen any of the jewels for weeks.

So this weekend I’ll bring in my feeders and await next year’s crop of amazing birds. I know the woodpecker will be disappointed but I’m confident he’ll figure things out.

Q: I was given a Christmas cactus in bloom last year and have enjoyed it since. So how do I get it to flower again? F.L., Westside Albuquerque

A: I’m late with this info and you might not have blooms on your Christmas cactus for the impending holiday season. But having the plant create flowers, especially during winter’s gloom is a good thing!

So like getting a poinsettia to come into flower, you need to create a bit of stress for the plant. First if the “cactus” lives somewhere nice and warm, sunny and cheerful, it’ll need to be moved. Aim to find space that is cooler and will have darkness for at least 12 hours a day for each 24. If moving it isn’t an option then cover it nightly with a large paper bag or cardboard box. It’s important to remember to throw open the curtains in the cool room or uncover the plant daily.

I was written to years ago by a gentleman who had a plant that wouldn’t set bloom and yet at first ignored my suggestions. But he figured “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” covered his cactus nightly with a box and said it was quite the conversation piece as the cactus lived on his coffee table. Well guess what? By doing only the light/dark therapy that made enough stress that his cactus came back into flower for him. Being tickled pink, he even sent photos as proof.

It’s making stress that triggers a response within the plant to need to bloom. Don’t keep it as well watered as usual during the 28-day trigger period. I’m not saying plunk it in a new space and forget about it completely for nearly a month, but don’t give it the usual consistent care it’s been used to. It’s the a bit less water, cooler environment, light/dark therapy that’ll startle the plant into thinking “Wow, I need to flower!”

After your full 28 days of triggering get the plant back into population where it lived before or stop the nightly covering and begin taking care of the plant as you did in the past. Sometimes applying water soluble “Bloom Booster” style fertilizer (higher middle number in the product), diluted to half strength, will give a much needed kick in the pants, too. But you need to be sure that the plant has been watered thoroughly before offering fertilization. Remember, you NEVER fertilize a plant if the roots are dry! Ever!

If all goes according to plan and the plant stays happy it should within two, maybe three weeks after triggering show baby buds on the tips of the leaves. Then as the season advances they’ll explode into a riot of color for you.

I apologize for not being a bit timelier with this info but it now being the beginning of November, by doing the triggering for the next 28 days, you could have a plant at least showing young buds at the tips just in time for the Christmas holiday! Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103, or to