How to care for your Epiphyllum (orchid cacti) plant
Most commonly known as Orchid Cacti, these beautiful plants are native to Mexico. Commonly bought as house plants in the UK, they have fantastically fragrant flowers that can span up to 8 inches wide on mature plants. The body of the epiphyllum is made up of broad flat leaf-like stems with serrated edges, with occasional cane-like stems on some species. They are easy to care for but require pruning if you want to keep them looking full. Alternatively you can let the plants trail over a hanging basket placed in a porch or shaded part of a conservatory where their stems can grow up to 4 feet long.
Caring for your epiphyllum
Your epiphyllum needs bright light but not direct sunlight as this can cause their plump leaves to shrivel and discolour. They should be kept away from drafts in a location that is around 15°C -25°C during the daytime and 10°C -15°C at night. While your epiphyllum is flowering, leave it in the same location, as changes in light and temperature can cause the process to stop.
You should keep your epiphyllum moist but not too wet, and never let it dry out completely as this will cause the leaves to shrivel. Every 2 weeks add half-strength high potassium fertiliser when you water your cactus – this will help to encourage more flowers. Epiphyllums like a humid atmosphere, and a simple way to achieve this is to fill a shallow tray or saucer with gravel, add water to just below the top of the gravel, then stand your plant in its pot on top of the gravel.
Pruning your epiphyllum
To keep your plant to your desired shape and size, it may require occasional pruning. It's best to do this just after the plant has flowered.
Tip: Always use sharp and sterilised secateurs. You can sterilise your secateurs with boiling water.
First, remove any damaged or unhealthy leaves. Once this has been done, you can move on to shaping your plant by removing any overly long leaf-stems. New shoots will grow at the point where these stems have been cut. Long cane-like stems can be cut back to their bases.
It is very simple to grow a new epiphyllum from cuttings.
Choose a healthy leaf of approximately 15cm (6 inches) long and cut it off at the base. Make sure that you label your cutting with the variety so that you know what it is when you come to potting up – use a soft felt-tip pen to write on the leaf.
TIP: Use a cloth to hold the leaf as you are taking the cutting. This will prevent the spikes from getting into your fingers.
Once you have your cuttings and they are all labelled up, leave them to callus over by placing them in a cool, shaded location. Make sure they still receive some light but not direct sunlight as this can cause them to shrivel up.
After around 2 weeks the calluses should be thick enough for you to plant your cutting. Use a mixture of half potting soil and half perlite for potting and plant the cuttings around 2 inches deep.
NOTE: Planting cuttings that don't have a thick callus can cause them to rot.
Don't water your cutting straight away; instead use a spray to keep the soil and leaves moist for around a month. As with your main epiphyllum plant, place them in a well lit spot but away from direct sunlight.
After around 3 – 6 weeks you will notice that the leaves will start to fatten, and you may even notice new growth at the top of your cutting. At this point your epiphyllum cutting will have started to take root and can be watered as normal.
New epiphyllum plants grown from cuttings will usually take around 3 years to flower.
Encouraging your epiphyllum to flower
Epiphyllum usually produce their flowers in April, May or June.
The blooms will come from last year's leaves so it's important that your cactus is always given a winter rest. Do this by watering it less and moving it to a cooler place in winter to prevent too much growth. As your cactus will receive less light in the winter, any new leaves that grow will often be too weak to produce flowers the following year.
Re-potting your epiphyllum
You should re-pot your epiphyllum every 2 to 3 years using a slightly bigger pot each time. Do this when your plant has finished flowering.
Epiphyllum produce the best flowers when they are pot-bound, so before moving your plant into a larger pot make sure that it has outgrown its current one. You should be able to tell that it has been pot-bound when you remove it from its current pot – you will see white roots showing on the outside of the soil where they have been up against the inside of the pot.
As with cuttings, use a mixture of half potting soil and half perlite to provide your cactus with good drainage. Fill your pot halfway with the soil mix then add in around a tablespoon of fertiliser. Before placing your plant into its new pot, loosen some of the compacted soil to free the roots. Once your plant is in, fill up the rest of the pot with your soil mix, making sure that it's just firm enough to support your plant.
After re-potting your epiphyllum, don't water it for the first week to give any damaged roots a chance to heal. The first time you do water it, use slightly less than you normally would.