How to trick a Christmas cactus

Backyard Q&A

December 14, 2003|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

Last December I received a Christmas cactus in full bloom as a gift. It still looks good, but it is not blooming this year. Why?

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is an epiphytic tropical plant that grows in the trees of some South American forests. As with other flowering plants, bud formation and blooming in Christmas cactus is triggered by day length and outdoor temperatures found in their natural environment. When plants are taken out of their natural environment and placed in very different conditions, they may not bloom. I would bet that this is what happened with your plant.

You can induce your plant to bloom next winter in one of two ways.

The first method involves shortening the day length. On about Sept. 15, move your plant to a location where it is in total darkness for 13-14 hours a day. The room must not have any artificial light. If necessary, you can put your plant in a closet each night and bring it out each morning. With this shortened day length, your plant will bloom in mid- to late December.

You can also induce your plant to bloom by placing it where the nighttime temperature is about 45-55 degrees for four consecutive weeks. Because these temperatures are typical for Baltimore in September and October, you can induce your plant to bloom by leaving it outside for four weeks during this period. Be sure to bring your plant in before first frost.

I am planning an outdoor event for this summer and would like to know more about the 17-year cicadas. Do you know when they will come to Baltimore?

Actually, the 17-year cicada is already here. For the past 17 years, the insect has been feeding on the roots of trees while living in a juvenile state called the nymph stage. In middle to late spring, the nymphs will emerge from the ground, molt once more to become male and female adults, and shortly thereafter begin mating.

The females will lay eggs in tree branches and then die along with the adult males. Six to 10 weeks later, the newly laid eggs hatch to produce nymphs. These young nymphs will fall to the ground and then burrow down to feed on tree roots for another 17 years.

The specific date for the adult cicadas' emergence is not known, but it will likely be sometime between late April and mid-May, and they will annoy us for about six to eight weeks.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic.


1. Do not stack firewood near wooden structures and do not store it indoors. Firewood may harbor wood-boring beetles, termites and other structural pests.

2. Put Christmas tree lights on a timer. Light timers are very inexpensive and will turn your lights on and off while you are asleep or away from home.

3. Keep compost bins covered to prevent waterlogging and leaching of nutrients from the compost.

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