Sunday, December 7, 2014

Transplanting Large succulents: Christmas Cactus

My Great Grandmother's Christmas Cactus,
ready for repotting
I have been graced to own my great grandmothers Christmas cactus.  I tell myself that it’s over 100 years old – but I have no idea of its age, only it’s provenance. As a mature succulent, it needs to be transplanted periodicaly without increasing the post size. Most cacti and succulents do best in pots that are quite small in proportion to the size of their top growth, my Christmas Cactus is no exception.  The plant grows over 8-10 inches over the soil top, and a 18 inches wider all around the container. It’s already so big and heavy – there is no need to increase the container size. If you have a smaller succulent, when you decide to repot them, move up one size larger than the one they are in. always use plenty of drainage material in the bottom of the pot.  Leaving succulents in small containers works  - they may dwarf and slow in growth.
How do I know when it’s time to repot my succulent?
Failing health - time to repot! 
I have a few general rules I use to determine when to repot my succulents. You know it's time:

When roots come out the bottom of the pot. 

When the succulent start to pup (Put off new growth at the base)

When growth slows down or plant health fails

When if flowers off cycle

When you have to water much more  frequently 

My poor Christmas Cactus was off color, not holding water, and blooming off cycle. So unhappy and screaming for a new pot and some TLC!

When should I repot my succulent?
Repotting is stressful for the plant.  Therefor it's best to repot during the plants off-cycle, when it's not growing rapidly. Fall and winter are good, but recall that there are some winter growing succulents (such as a Christmas Cactus). 

I repotted my Christmas cactus in early September - just before it's growing cycle started.
How do I repot my mature succulent?
Here’s my process for repotting my precious :)
1)   Secure cactus soil mix when repotting.
2)  When I plan on repotting, I make sure to withhold watering so that the container is as dry as possible.
3)   If needed, select a new pot that is 1/2" to 1" larger than the current container pot your succulent lives in. If you choose a clay pot, you will have to water more often because water evaporates through the clay pot, this cools the roots, so it can be a very good thing especially in summer. A glazed pot or a plastic pot holds water longer so you will water less often.
4)  Gently tap the plant out of the pot while holding it upside down. If like mine, the pot is large and the plant large, pull from the top. The container I have is not ideal as the sides are wider than the top – so some brute force and hacking at the sides of the dirt are required.
5)  If the plant has been in the same mix for a long time there may be two issues – rotting overly moist soil and / or a hard rootball. Take care open up compacted soil, remove any rot or wet soil.  Also remove loose mix from the top of the rootball.  I am generally fairly aggressive in this regard as you can see from the photos below.

Repotting large succulents:
Remove compacted soil and loosen up the roots.
Refreshing the soil in the container
and setting to the right height to reset the succulent.

6) Discard any old soil still in the container and replace with new cactus mix on the bottom. Reposition at the same depth as before.  Place mix around the old root ball.  In my case, the shape of the plant makes this challenging – I use a spatula to help push around the sides. Once it seems settled, pop the bottom of the pot on a hard surface to settle the soil.

7)   I leave the repotted Christmas Cactus outside and do not water for a at least one - two days. This gives damaged roots time to callous over to protect from fungal infection.
8)  Water well - literally hosed down repeatedly to make sure it is well watered. Then add more cactus mix on the top.

When I repot this succulent inevitably some branches always break off. No worries they are used to propagate new plants for friends! I let the pieces callous over for 2-3 days. Then either place semi-upright in cactus mix/perlite or into a glass of water. Roots will form in a few weeks and then they go into pots.

Breakage become propagation folly :)

After a few weeks the Christmas Cactus is again taking up water and back to health. It's got new growth and is even putting out flowers just in time for the holiday!

Next I need to repot a large Jade Tree - you can perhaps see it just behind the Christmas Cactus in the photo above. I'm hoping that once I repot the Jade Tree it will start to bloom.

Happy Days!

Teresa Marie

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