Pruning a Christmas Cactus
“When is the best time to prune my unruly Christmas cactus? It’s budding out and will have tons of beautiful flowers on it before it is done blooming, but I’d like to shape it up better as it’s very out of control at this point. I’m a little hesitant though because I don’t want to risk killing it.”
Nicollettel, Paden City, West Virginia
The best time to pinch, prune or shape a Christmas cactus is when the new growth begins in March or early April. In addition, the best time for repotting a cactus is in February, March or April. However, keep in mind the plant will flower best if it’s kept in a container where it’s pot-bound.
Pruning a Christmas Cactus to Add Volume
“My Christmas Cactus has quit blooming finally and I noticed it looks kind of leggy. How can you get a Christmas Cactus to fill out more? Is it even possible?”
Dean, Woolwine, Virginia
Sure it is! And it’s easy! Give the plant a few weeks of rest then just cut off a few segments from each stem – which you can easily determine. Don’t let the fleshy segments scare you off. This pruning, like any other plant, will help the plant become bushier and fuller next year. You can also plant those cut off segments to propagate new plants very easily, so don’t pitch them in the garbage!
When propagating any plant from cuttings, don’t forget to give it the nutrition it needs to help establish those early root systems. By mixing Monty’s 2-15-15 at rates as low as 1 drop per cup of water you can provide the nutrition it needs to root and begin growing successfully. You’ll soon have enough plants to give starters to your friends, just don’t forget to give them a little Monty’s when you do. That will be the gift that keeps on growing!
One last reminder, pruning – even during dormancy – can still be a form of stress for the plant. Make sure you help your plants deal with this, and any other, stress by providing the nutrition they need. One ounce per gallon of water of the appropriate Monty’s plant food for the current growth stage will help your plants and landscape perform at their peak.
Saving your Poinsettia
“I still have my Poinsettia from the holidays and it still looks very nice overall. I always repot them right after I buy one because it seems like the water runs right through the soil, which seems to be the norm for retail Poinsettias. Regardless, my plant lives on a window sill in bright, indirect sunlight, but some of the leaves are developing black marks on their leaves. What could be causing that? I know they are not getting sun burned.”
Cailley, Greendale, Indiana
The leaves are probably touching the window itself and the cold is damaging the leaves. You are right on about the bright, indirect sunlight, but make sure it is away from cold room drafts, heaters or anything hot or cold that can come in contact with the plant.
One last note, anytime you repot a plant, “root dip” the plant in a solution of Monty’s 2-15-15 at a rate of 1 oz. per gallon of water. Once transplanted, you can water-in your plant with any remaining solution. This is true whether you are repotting, or transplanting potted plants to a more permanent home in your landscape. This one step will go a long way toward eliminating transplant shock.
Spots on Dracaena
“Why does my Dracaena have whitish brown spots on the leaves?
Kristin, Black Diamond, Washington
Sounds like you have some direct sun hitting the leaves of the plant and burning them. Take notice of how the sun is coming in through the window and move your plant accordingly. Even a light sheer on the window will help too.
Signs a Plant Needs Repotting
“How do you know when a plant needs to be repotted other than the obvious signs of seeing more roots exposed in the pot than dirt that should be covering them?”
Caren, Lombard, Illinois
There are actually three pretty obvious signs that will tell you when a plant needs to be repotted – and you can see it through their leaves.
- Dead leaves are one obvious sign. If you are starting to get too many of them on a plant despite your normal care, chances are the problem is much deeper in the pot – literally. The roots are growing too large and choking out the plant’s nutrients. The dead leaves can also promote mold in the container and pests love that environment, so you can compound some problems here very easily.
- Yellowing leaves usually prelude the obvious dead leaf sign, so pay attention to what your plant is telling you before you encounter the extreme.
- The hardest sign to read is if a plant just doesn’t seem healthy before their leaves actually turn yellow and completely die. If your plant suddenly starts to lack luster, stops growing and doesn’t respond to fertilizer, the plant is most likely root bound.
When repotting, make sure the new pot is at least four to six inches larger than the current one. Be sure to loosen the roots up, knocking off the old soil to free them up so they have more breathing room and making them easier to spread out before repotting the plant.
The plant has been starving, due to its root-bound state so feel free to trim some of the roots back as well. Then, as always, feed it with Monty’s 2-15-15 at first to help it recover from stress and to promote the development of new roots and more importantly those fine root hairs that are essential for your plant to be able to absorb water and nutrients. After it is reestablished you can move to one of the higher nitrogen formulas from Monty’s like 8-16-8 or 4-15-12 depending on the amount of top-growth you are trying to achieve.
A good rule of green thumb is anytime a plant has gone through any stress like transplanting, drought, flooding, or insect pressure, baby it first with 2-15-15, then help it grow with 8-16-8. Take care of the roots and the plant will respond.
Terra Cotta Pots
“I was abruptly awakened out of a sound sleep recently when one of my large terra cotta pots full of Peace Lilies split, broke and fell apart. What would have caused this right out of the blue? I’ve since repotted the plant, but didn’t use my usual terra cotta container as a choice, going to a ceramic pot instead.”
Hannah, Anaconda, Montana
I prefer the terra cotta pots myself because they come in so many different affordable sizes and shapes, but the drawback is that they will break very easily. The larger ones are also quite heavy by the time you get your potting soil and plants in them and they do soak up water very quickly. Your pot just may have worn out between the pot being watered and drying out, which can cause stress on those older pots. Even the stress of the root ball pushing as it grows against the pot and the combination of it all can cause sudden breakage. By switching to a ceramic pot the glaze will act as a seal on the pottery a little better, but you won’t get away from the weight. They’re also a bit more expensive but come in beautiful shapes and unique glazing patterns that are hard to resist.
“What is rust on a plant? What does it look like? Is it brown like rust?”
Rachael, Windsor, Colorado
First of all, rust is a fungus. The symptoms are orange-yellow spots on leaves, followed by orange, fuzzy-looking spots on the underside of the leaves. Not all plants are susceptible to it, so that’s one good thing. However, cypress and plants in the rose family such as crab apple, apple, hawthorn, hollyhock, pear and rose are. Keep in mind that if one of your plants gets rust on it, get rid of the plant entirely to keep it from spreading to others around it. That includes cleaning up any debris or infected fruit. There are also fungicides on the market that can assist with any major infestations, but look at the label because not just any all service fungicide will take care of it.
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