How to Grow Night-Blooming Cereus
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Questions & Answers
- Helpful 5
How do I grow night blooming cereus into a tree?
Night blooming cereus are natives of the desert where there are no trees. They sprawl rather than climb, so it is not possible to grow them in tree-like orchids which are rainforest natives.Helpful 3
- Helpful 1
© 2017 Caren White