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How to Grow Night Blooming Cereus

Updated on January 5, 2017
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Caren White is a Master Gardener and longtime volunteer at Rutgers Gardens. She also teaches workshops at Home Gardeners School.

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While I was taking the Master Gardener course, a fellow Master Gardener was transporting a gangly night blooming cereus. A piece of it broke off and he offered it to me. He said it would be big and ugly but 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 to root this exotic houseplant. I was successful and the cutting rooted but didn’t grow much and never bloomed. I blamed it on the poor light in my house. A few years after that, 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 and finally one night, gloriously bloomed, filling my home with an incredible perfume as promised.

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What is a night blooming cereus?

The name “night blooming cactus” is used for many different plants that are flowering cacti that only bloom at night. Most 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. The flowers open after dark. By dawn, they have begun to wilt.

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

Despite being a cactus, it has no thorns. It does, however, have long stems and elongated leaves. They are very heavy plants. I have mine tied to its plant stand to prevent it from falling over from its own weight.

How do I grow one?

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

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

If growing as a houseplant, make sure it gets plenty of sun. A 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 that you delay moving it outdoors until the temperatures are above 40⁰F. And don’t forget to bring it inside in the fall when the temperatures fall into the 40s.

It may be called a gooseneck cactus and classified as a cactus, but it doesn’t like to be dry. Be sure to water it when the soil surface is dry.

Night blooming cereus bloom best when they are slightly pot bound, meaning its 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.

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Why does my plant only have one flower?

Since the plants flower along notches in the stems, the more stems it has, the more flowers that will be produced. To encourage more stems, you should repot your plant into a slightly larger container when it becomes completely potbound. 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 have repotted it into a larger container and it has started growing again. I’m looking forward to more flowers this summer.

© 2017 Caren White

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    • OldRoses profile image
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      Caren White 3 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.

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      Debbie 3 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 image
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      Caren White 8 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thanks, Jill! I am partial to unusual plants.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 8 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 image
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      Caren White 8 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 8 months ago from Northeast Ohio

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