How to Grow Night-Blooming Cereus

Updated on October 31, 2018
OldRoses profile image

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

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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 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.

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

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.

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

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

  • How often should the Night Blooming Cereus be watered?

    I water mine once a week.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Do night-blooming Cereus have to be in the dark to bloom?

    No. They should be treated like other plants and kept in sunlight during the day.

© 2017 Caren White

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    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      4 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 

      4 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

      6 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 

      17 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 

      17 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 

      23 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thanks, Jill! I am partial to unusual plants.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 

      23 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 

      23 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 

      23 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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