CO-Horts

CO-Horts

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Epiphyllum

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County


Epiphyllums are wonderful and mostly low-maintenance houseplants. Epiphyllum is a genus in the cactus family CactaceaeThey’re also called “orchid cactus” (even though they are not orchids) -- and to the afficianados, they are affectionately dubbed “epis”. Epiphyllum are tropical (rather than desert) cacti, from oak forests and rainforests across Mexico and Central and South America. They are epiphytes (which are plants that grow on trees, but are not parasites).

 I have a big specimen that stuns me every year with knock-out flowers.   Mine just got done blooming a few days ago (sadly, each enormous bloom only lasts a couple of days).
Epiphyllum "Unforgettable" in full bloom.
However, I always have a problem with some of the buds dropping off before they bloom.  As the buds form in late winter, I gleefully count them in anticipation of a big show, but I’m usually met with some disappointment, since all but about 4 or 5 of them usually shrivel up. 
Shriveled bud about to fall off

 This year, I decided I don’t want to put up with that in the future, so I looked more carefully into their care.

The first tip is to make sure the soil is well-draining, yet holds some moisture.  One suggestion is to use three parts potting soil mixed with one part of coarse non-organic material such as perlite. Check. 

The second is to stop watering entirely in November until buds start to form in March (this is only for blooming-size plants). I have been following this practice for years, although the first year I was nervous that I would kill the plant. Once the buds form, the advice is to water regularly, imitating the rainy season, but to not overwater the plant. Thinking I may have inadvertently overwatered last year by giving them their regular watering, I watered quite sparingly after bud formation this year, and still had the same issue. The rest of the year, water when the top part of the soil dries out.  Check.

The third is to keep the plant in an area with cool nights (mid-thirties to mid-fifties) and bright, indirect light while buds are forming in in the winter. Check. The room they are in gets down to the high fifties every night, and that seems to work fine.

Next tip is that the plants bloom best when they are root-bound. One group of 'epi' fans say to only re-pot if absolutely necessary, and another suggests repotting every year to replenish the soil. I have followed the advice of the first group, probably mostly due to laziness.

The last tip is to fertilize regularly during the growing season, and I think this is where I need some fine-tuning.  I fertilize pretty minimally, and have never paid too much attention to it, so I think here might be some room for improvement.  The flowers form on the active growth from the previous summer, so a regular fertilizer and watering regime is supportive at this stage. 

After researching a bit, I plan to feed each watering time from May to late August with a balanced formulation like 10-10-10 or 5-5-5. From August to November, I will try only fertilizing every other watering time (that’s going to be a challenge to remember!). Because epiphyllums are used to low nutrient environments, I plan to only use about one-third to one-half the amount of fertilizer that is recommended on the label. From August to November, I’ll use a low or no nitrogen fertilizer ( i.e.; 2-10-10 or a 0-10-10 formulation).

And we’ll see what happens sometime next May!




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