How to Grow Night-Blooming Cereus

Updated on September 21, 2018
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

Night-blooming cereus flowers bloom once when the temperatures are low. By morning the petals are beginning to wilt.
Night-blooming cereus flowers bloom once when the temperatures are low. By morning the petals are beginning to wilt. | Source

While I was taking the Master Gardener course, a fellow Master Gardener was transporting a gangly Night-blooming cereus plant. A piece of it broke off and he offered it to me. He said it would be big and ugly, but that once a year, when it bloomed, it would fill my home with a wonderful fragrance.

Having completed the propagation class, I was eager to try my new skills and root this exotic houseplant. I was successful and the cutting rooted, but it didn’t grow much and didn't bloom at all. I blamed it on the poor light in my house.

A few years later I moved into a townhouse with a kitchen that faced southeast. Bathed in sunlight, the scraggly plant came to life. It grew and grew and grew. Finally one night, it gloriously bloomed, filling my home with an incredible perfume as promised.

The first flower
The first flower | Source

What Is a Night-Blooming Cereus?

The name Night-blooming cereus is used for many different flowering cacti that only bloom at night. Some, including Selenicereus grandiflorus, bloom just once a year for a single night. A few will bloom up to three times a year. All of them have white or cream flowers that release an intense fragrance and open after dark. By dawn, they have begun to wilt.

The most common Night-blooming cereus is Epiphyllum oxypetalum, also known as the gooseneck cactus. It grows up to 12 feet and flowers from the late spring through the late summer. Larger plants can flower more than once during a season.

Other common names for this flower are princess of the night, Honolulu queen (for Hylocereus undatus), Christ in the manger, dama de noche, and queen of the night.

Are they poisonous?

A cat that nibbles on this plant's leaves may experience some lethargy, but the plant is not toxic to animals.

Why do they only bloom at night?

Plants that flower at night are adapted to attract nocturnal pollinators, like bats and moths. Their pale coloring, which might not draw birds and insects in the daytime, works just fine at night.

When do Night-blooming cereus bloom?

These plants bloom in the summer or fall. They flower best when they are slightly pot-bound, meaning that the roots are a little crowded in the container. This usually happens after a plant has been growing in the same pot for a few years. So if your plant hasn’t bloomed yet, it may still be growing and filling its container.

Night-blooming cereus flowers will fill the room with an intense, sweet scent.
Night-blooming cereus flowers will fill the room with an intense, sweet scent. | Source

How to Care for a Night-Blooming Cereus

These are tropical plants that are hardy in growing zones 10 through 12. Those of us in northern climates grow them as houseplants.

Propagating the plant yourself

You can purchase a plant or, if you are fortunate like I was, you may receive a cutting from a friend’s plant. The cuttings root very easily. Just use a little rooting hormone, place the cutting in a container of potting soil, and water regularly. Be sure the soil is sandy and gives the plant good drainage.

Sun vs. shade

If you're growing Night-blooming cereus as a houseplant, make sure it gets plenty of sun. Southern exposure is best. If grown outdoors or if you move your houseplants outside during the summer, Night-blooming cereus prefers light shade. Make sure to wait until the night-time temperature is above 40⁰F before moving the plant outdoors. And don’t forget to bring it inside in the fall when the temperatures fall into the 40s!

Water

It may be classified as a cactus, but this plant doesn’t like to be dry. Be sure to water it when the soil surface is dry. Sprinkle water on the soil surface, making sure to keep the leaves dry. If your plant is in a pot, give it enough water so that you see some drainage in the saucer. If it's in the ground, the top six inches of soil should be damp.

Fertilizer

You can fertilize this plant every two weeks or so with a water-soluble plant food. I only use organic fertilizer.

How to encourage flowers

Don't re-pot this plant too often. They like to be root-bound and will flower more under those conditions. To encourage annual flowers, don't feed the plant during the winter and reduce watering during this time too. Let the soil go slightly dry between waterings.

Pruning and growing your cuttings

These are very heavy plants. I have mine tied to its plant stand to prevent it from falling over from its own weight. If you want to prune your plant, cut 6" to 9" cuttings during the spring or summer. To propagate from these cuttings, wrap them in a paper towel and let it sit in a cool area for a few days. Wait until the cut end become calloused.
Place cutting upside down (with the calloused end up) into a pot of moist potting mix. Place in a bright but shady spot. Make sure the soil doesn't dry out. In 3 to 6 weeks the cuttings will have put down roots. Water them weekly during the growing season (spring through summer) and once a month during the winter.

My plant has started growing again since I re-potted it into a larger container.
My plant has started growing again since I re-potted it into a larger container. | Source

Re-Potting a Night-Blooming Cereus

Since the plant flowers along notches in the stems, the more stems it has, the more flowers it will produce. To encourage more stems, you should repot your plant into a slightly larger container when it becomes completely pot-bound. The so-called experts say repotting should only occur every 7 years, but I wouldn’t wait that long if the roots are pushing up through the top of the soil or growing out of the bottom of the container.

My plant bloomed two years in a row and then stopped. I noticed that it also stopped growing. I repotted it into a larger container and it has started growing again. it started growing again. My patience was rewarded with three beautiful flowers this summer.

A Night-blooming cereus bud emerging from a notch in the plant's oblong leaf.
A Night-blooming cereus bud emerging from a notch in the plant's oblong leaf. | Source

Questions & Answers

© 2017 Caren White

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    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      2 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      If your plant is outdoors, my guess would be that the missing leaves were eaten.

    • profile image

      Ben Ward 

      2 months ago

      We have a Very old plant...at least 50 years old. She has bloomed very well for years. This year “Audrey” from little shop of horrors, had one lead that had 5 buds. She is outside. Some of the other leaves have buds that have already bloomed. The one with 5 disappeared. We are thinking they were eaten, unless it is common to falloff when there are so many right next to each other on one leaf.

    • profile image

      4 months ago

      I've had mine over 40 years. It has always been a repeat bloomer (meaning it blooms at least twice a year. Sometimes 3 times). Will not bloom the first few years when you start one. But when it does....wow!

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      15 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      It sounds like your plant is getting too much sun. When grown outdoors, they need some light shade so either move your plant to a shady corner of your balcony or move it indoors near a sunny window.

    • profile image

      Debbie 

      15 months ago

      Hello. I live in Calif. I have a potted Cereus plant on my balcony. It's facing southwest. The plant is healthy and quite hearty! I had 3 small blooms that just fell off after growing 2 inches or so. Any suggestions?

      Thank you!

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      20 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thanks, Jill! I am partial to unusual plants.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      20 months ago from United States

      Gangly is right! But what a wonderful bloom. Cacti really are fascinating and your writing is lovely. Thanks! --Jill

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      20 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      You're welcome Kristen! Just be warned - it is a very LARGE plant. Full grown, it's 12 feet. Mine seems determined to take over my kitchen. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      That's a beautiful plant. I would love to have one this year. Thanks for sharing.

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