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    Save the Date: Perennial Plant Society’s 30th Plant Sale is April 4, 2020, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the new Expo 3 Building at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Here’s where you can find the newest varieties of perennials, shrubs, vines and annuals from local growers, along with long-time, never-fail favorites, ready for spring planting. Learn more at the PPS website.

     

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‘Cactus’ blooms for the holidays

My Christmas cactus always blooms early, sometimes before Thanksgiving. Is this normal? How can I keep it blooming longer?

holiday-cactus-thanksgivingIt’s possible the plant you call Christmas cactus is actually a Thanksgiving cactus – yes, there are two slightly different varieties. Look at the stem segments: if the margins have two to four sharp serrations along each edge, the plant is Schlumbergera truncata, the botanical name for Thanksgiving cactus, which blooms slightly earlier. If the segments are more rounded, the plant is S. bridgesii, Christmas cactus. That’s the one more likely to bloom in December or later.

Both are photoperiodic plants – they respond to the change in proportions of light and dark, and begin to form buds as days shorten and nights begin to get longer. They also thrive in the same conditions: bright light and a moderate amount of water, and a dose of balanced fertilizer every now and then. (In her book The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, houseplant expert Barbara Pleasant suggests once-a-month feeding in winter.)

Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are generally easy-care plants. They benefit from being outdoors during the summer, but bring them inside when nighttime temperatures drop to 40 to 50 degrees. Place them out of bright sunlight, then when buds begin to form, bring the plant into the bright light.

One other thing to know: when the plant is full of buds, it sometimes seems to resent being moved, so once it’s placed in a good spot for winter, try to avoid moving it. “Once plants begin blooming, they may drop their blossoms if exposed to any kind of stress,” Barbara Pleasant writes. A stable environment should keep those blooms going longer.

They are easy to share. Schlumbergera propagates easily from stem cuttings, and a plant can live for several years, even a decade or two.

Hellebores for winter blooms

Every year I see Lenten roses blooming in my friends’ gardens in December, and I intend to grow some in my own garden. When is the best time to plant them?

Hellebores The Garden Bench

The blooms of Lenten roses – hellebores – are welcome in a garden when everything else is dormant. They are tough plants, with evergreen foliage and flowers that bloom in January and February (or, as you note, as early as December). The flowers of established plants generally last well into spring.

Middle Tennessee plantsman Troy Marden includes hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) in his Southern Gardener’s Handbook, in the chapter on Perennials for the South. He notes that fall is a good time to plant Lenten roses. They can grow in a bed that’s partly shady, and they do best in rich, well-drained soil.

Hellebores may grow slowly at first, but once they’re established they quickly get bigger. Marden suggests a dose of composted manure or organic fertilizer in spring to encourage lush growth and abundant blooms the next year. They also self-sow, and the young seedlings can be dug up and transplanted in spring.

Reminder: It’s tree-planting time

Fall’s cooler weather signals the start of tree-planting time.

“It’s better to plant while the tree is dormant, after the leaves are gone,” says Randall Lantz, landscaping and horticulture superintendent for Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation. Strong root growth is important for the tree’s survival, and after leaf drop, the trees can put their energy into growing roots without having to support the top, he explains.

ball burlap treesSurvival also depends on planting the right tree in the right place.

“Look at your neighborhood and see what’s thriving all around, and also determine what kind of space you have,” says Lantz. “Think about whether you need a small tree or a ‘canopy’ tree, which can be very large.

When it’s time to plant, keep these guidelines in mind:

∙ Most trees need good drainage, so make sure the spot you select drains well.

∙ Don’t plant too deep. A young tree with its root ball wrapped in burlap should be planted a couple of inches higher than the soil level. “Trees tend to settle after they’re planted,” Lantz explains.

∙ Dig a hole that is several inches wider than the root ball (ideally, it should be about twice as wide), with a flat bottom, at a depth that is an inch or so less than the height of the root ball. Place the root ball in the hole and backfill with native soil.

∙ Finally, water the newly planted tree well to settle the soil around the root ball. Trees planted in fall and winter will be ready to grow and thrive next spring.

In Saturday’s Tennessean: Belmont Mansion’s Central Parlor goes back in time; Adelicia would feel right at home.

Enjoy the crisp fall weather. Tap here for a list of garden tips & tasks for November.