Easter Cactus and a New Peach Tree

Easter Cactus and a New Peach Tree
By Robert and Hoberley Schuler

Q:  I was given an Easter cactus last month. What should I do to keep it growing? This plant looks similar to the “Christmas cactus” except it has leaves that are plump.
Cheryl Smith, Inglewood.
A:  Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, the Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi, and The Orchid cactus, Epiphyllum, are all from the cactaceae family with similar cultural and propagation practices.

The Easter cactus is a native of Brazil, growing upright to 6” high, 1 foot wide, blooming in the spring. The flower colors vary from pink to red and the plant can bloom again in the fall. It is an epiphytic plant with spreading or pendent jointed, flattened stems, with starry scarlet to red flowers at the tips of the branches flowering in late spring.

The Christmas cactus, naturally grow epiphytically in trees. They grow to 2 feet high by 3 feet wide with arching green branches. The branches are flat with scallop-edges and smooth ½ inch joints. The plant can have many-petaled, long tubed 3 inch flowers in shades from rosy purple to red. To ensure blooms for late December, store at night temperatures of 50° to 55° and give them 12 –14 hours of darkness per day in November.

The Epiphyllum, orchid cactus, are tropical cacti and grow on tree branches. The many hybrids we grow get branches as long as 4 feet with many flowers, up to 8 inches across. They are especially attractive in hanging containers, blooming in the spring to early summer. The flowers come in a variety of vibrant colors, some are bi-colored.

All of these cacti do best in rich acidic soil that is quick draining, containing sand, peat- moss and leaf mold. When repotting, use the same size pot unless the plant is overgrown. The branches can be used for propagation by letting them rest a day or two to harden before planting them in their cactus mix. Keep these plants frost free and in filtered light. A light fish emulsion or low nitrogen fertilizer can be added during growth periods, before and after blooming. Overwatering and poor drainage can cause bud drop. Water occasionally, more often in the summer months (about ten days or so).

Q: I enjoyed your article on peach trees very much. My peach tree had to be cut down about 15 years ago from the beetle fungus. About 7 years ago, a sucker came up from the stump, so I let it grow and now I have a beautiful 20 foot plus tree. My problem now is that each year it gets more and more blossoms but smaller and smaller fruit.
When the fruit gets to be about ½ inch size, they all drop off the tree. What do you suggest? Maybe a spray?
Dean G. Roberts, Highland.

A: If the growth came from the stump and below the original tree grafting, your tree is truly a sucker coming from the root stock the peach tree was originally grafted to. Since many peach trees are short lived, many are now grafted to almond root stock. You can thin out the peaches to 2 inches apart before the fruit starts to drop. I would recommend that you plant a new grafted peach tree after removing the old tree. This is a good time to purchase a peach tree that you would enjoy having. Check with a nursery in your area for the best growing conditions.

If you had good sized peaches on your new growth previously, I would suggest you thin the fruit, better yet, the blossoms as they emerge. By thinning, take off most of the blossoms or fruit at least 4 to 5 inches apart on the limbs. It could take three years of heavy thinning before the peaches get to the full size.

I suspect that this “ungrafted” sucker will eventually die after several years. The original tree trunk could be infected with nematodes which can also cause small fruit.
Meanwhile, why not purchase a new grafted peach tree and plant it away from this infected tree. You might want to get a multi grafted peach tree which has several peach varieties as well as a nectarine graft.

Robert H. Schuler, Master Gardener

By Robert and Hoberley Schuler
UC Davis & OSU: Master Gardener and NGC & CGCI
Garden Study and Landscaping Design Master Consultants