Winter colour from zygocactus


Zygocactus, with their pretty, flattened-bell flowers, are delights of the winter garden. They’re often called ‘crab’ cactus, because of their crab-like segmented stems, or, occasionally, Christmas cactus. The latter name doesn’t, of course, make a lot of sense in the southern hemisphere where they flower in the middle of the year. Zygocactus bloom in winter because their flowering is initiated by winter’s longer nights (or shorter days). Their flowering can be severely reduced by exposing the plants to unwanted light (even household lighting).

Zygocactus (more correctly called schlumbergera, but familiarly known as zygos) are hybrids of succulent plants that grow naturally on trees in their Brazilian homeland. Due to these tree-dwelling origins, they do well in hanging baskets and enjoy good drainage, dappled sunlight and minimal fertilising. They also need to be in a frost-free position. They can be grown as houseplants in cold areas, but don’t forget they must have darkness at night to flower!

Pieces of the flattened stems can be separated where the segments join and used for propagation. Simply allow the pieces to dry, dip in Clonex Gel and push vertically into pots filled Yates Black Magic Seed Raising Mix. Leave undisturbed in a well-lit, warm spot for a few months.

Zygocactus flower in shades of pink, pinky white, red, purple, orange and cerise, with some flowers taking on yellow tones in warm, high light situations. It’s often recommended that allowing the plants to dry out in autumn will encourage flowering but scientific trials have shown the reverse to be true: water-stressed plants flower less. Light, though, is definitely a factor. Long dark nights promote blooming. If you can’t keep your zygo in a dark place (at least 15 hours each night) experiment by covering it at night with an upturned cardboard box or another more glamorous substitute. Temperature plays a part, too. Zygos prefer cool, although not freezing, conditions. Once buds have formed, don’t move the plant. At this stage they hate changes.

Try, when growing zygocactus, to re-create their natural conditions. Pot into a hanging basket filled with a good quality potting mix such as Yates Premium. A hanging basket allows the arching stems to hang down from the crown of the plant, just as they do from tree trunks in their natural habitat. Occasionally zygocactus are grafted onto an upright-growing cactus to form an unusual standard plant.

Remember, epiphytic plants need minimal fertilising. After all, they’ve evolved to survive on what falls down from above. Feed during the growing season with a gentle fertiliser that isn’t too high in nitrogen. Yates Uplift, which is totally organic, is a good choice.

Don’t overwater. Too much water can cause stems to rot and cause lesions to develop on the stems and leaves.

Watch for pests. Mealybugs are the worst but sap-sucking scales can also infest the stems. Spray with Yates Conqueror Oil to control these problems.


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