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 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 to Grow 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.
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. Dip the cut end of your cutting into rooting hormone, place the cutting in a container of potting soil and water regularly.
Rooting hormone can be purchased at any nursery. It encourages the rapid growth of roots but you don't need rooting hormone to root a cutting. You can also just plant cutting into potting soil and water it regularly and it will develop roots, just not as quickly.
You will know when roots have developed when the cutting starts growing new leaves. Only plants with roots can grow new leaves. If a cutting has no roots, it will put its energy into growing roots instead of leaves.
If you are growing it 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.
Why Does My Night Bloomng Cereus 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 repotted it into a larger container and it started growing again. My patience was rewarded with three beautiful flowers this summer.
Why Does a Night Blooming Cereus Only Bloom at Night?
Night blooming cereus are pollinated by sphynx moths and nectar feeding bats. Both of these pollinators are only active at night. To attract them, the flowers emit a strong fragrance and are bright white in color which glows in the moonlight. The moths and bats can smell the fragrance from far away. They follow the scent until they can see the flowers glowing in the dark.
Questions & Answers
I have my great grandmother's plant, which is over 200 years old! My siblings and cousins all have clippings that have grown into their own plants. We always get so excited when we get blooms. We just had 5 blooms this week. My husband read that they like a mixture of potting soil and sand, but we have never had sand mixed in. What do you think? I don't plan on changing anything since it does well now.
Oh my goodness! That is incredible. Night blooming cereus are related to cacti so many gardeners grow theirs in potting soil that is suitable for cacti. It usually contains coarse sand, peat moss and some kind of grit like pumice. I don't think that adding just sand is the same and certainly if your plant has been growing happily in the potting mix that it is in, just leave it. You know the old expression: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I would be afraid that if you changed the potting soil, it would have a negative effect on your plant.Helpful 17
What is the long shoot that is growing straight up from my Cereus plant? It is about six feet tall, and now has two leaves at the top.
Congratulations! Your plant has a new stem. Eventually, that stem will have more leaves and then flowers.Helpful 22
How often should you water a night-blooming Cereus, and how much should you water it?
Water weekly until water comes out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the container.Helpful 12
My Cereus grew several shoots that are 3-5 feet tall over the winter while indoors. I would like to cut them and root them. Can I chop up the long stems into 1-foot stems and root them making for a larger plant or cuttings to give to friends?
Unfortunately no. Each cutting needs to have leaves to feed the plant until roots have developed. If the shoots have leaves along the stems, you can cut pieces with leaves on them to root, but merely chopping up stems will not work.Helpful 16
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 11
© 2017 Caren White