Gardening Articles: Health :: Houseplants

The Holiday Cactus (page 3 of 3)

by Jack Ruttle

Bringing on Flowers

The end of summer is the time to start inducing flower buds for the coming holidays. The crucial time is the fall equinox during the third week in September, when nights become longer than 12 hours. In early September, stop fertilizing until flowering is finished. Cool nights outdoors are also ideal, though not critical, to bud set.

Once the longer nights arrive, the plants must have total darkness every night for at least three weeks. Keep the plants outdoors or move them to a room where you can maintain darkness for the bud-forming period. Short bursts of light don't matter much, but avoid them if possible. Commercial growers prevent bud formation by using only 40-watt light bulbs for 4 hours each night. Outdoors, street lights or even porch lights can inhibit bud set. Indoors, draw the window shade if outdoor lights shine in.

Two to three weeks after the equinox, pinpoint buds will start showing on the branch tips. When the buds reach about 1/8-inch long, the new crop of flowers has set, and the absence of light at night is no longer critical. When you move plants indoors, however, try not to shock them with drastic changes in light or temperature. If you are growing the plants outdoors through the fall, very cool nights will intensify colors. Pale yellows, for example, may develop orange or reddish tones.

Display plants when the buds are well enlarged and showing strong color. Don't worry if a few buds drop. Place the plants on a pedestal or table in good light where the flowers can show their colors best.

Jack Ruttle is a former editor at National Gardening.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

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