The Christmas Cactus

Round & About

Cathie Welch

Each year the garden centres are brightened up by beautiful houseplants and bulbs to cheer us up as gardening becomes less appealing! Cathie Welch takes a look at one of her favourites, the Christmas Cactus.

In fact this is not a cactus at all but instead an epiphytic succulent which in it’s true habitat grows on trees as do some orchids do. It’s not hardy in this country so is grown as a houseplant. There are two main types grown commercially Schlumbergera truncate and S. x buckleyi which is a species cross. Sometimes you see them named as Zygocactus which is an old name and the one I learnt as a child. If you look carefully you will notice that the leaves vary and they come in an array of beautiful colours now

Caring for your ‘Christmas Cactus’

The reason it is so called is due to the fact that it is stimulated into flower by shorter days and lower temperatures so often naturally in flower at this time of the year. Don’t be surprised it flowers again in the spring when the day lengths are the same again. Then they are sold as Easter cacti.

One of the most important things to know is that they form their buds in the autumn and these can drop off due to changes in temperature such as buying your plant and bringing it home. This can be very annoying but it will adapt to its new environment. After flowering allow it to rest and it can even go outside in the summer. Ideally pot up into cactus compost of a mixture of potting compost with horticultural grit/sand. They need light but not scorching sun as they can shrivel and burn. Remember in the wild they are amongst trees so dappled sunlight best.


If you are successful with your plant it will reward you by growing bigger and producing may flowers each year. If the plant becomes congested you can prune out old branches and propagate from the young shoots. Make sure you cut to include full leaves and allow to dry. Pot into free draining compost and place on a light windowsill or in a greenhouse. These should root in a few weeks and then you have Christmas gifts for all your friends and relatives!

CGS Courses

Christmas gift vouchers available for consultancies and workshops.

The course running from January through to Easter is pruning in your gardens and mine but we also do some plant identification on wet days.

Please do come and meet me to discuss courses, volunteering and anything else garden related!


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The big garden climate challenge!

Round & About

Cathie Welch

Cathie Welch from Cathie’s Gardening School looks at how we can grow and maintain happy plants in our ever changing climates

Last time I sat to write this article I wrote about not giving up the challenge of growing vegetables. Following on from the blistering summer heat we then had Permafrost followed by rain and flooding. This is a challenge for everyone but particular growers, farmers and gardeners. Although I am at a loss as to what to do I am also in a position to find it quite interesting from a horticultural point of view.

The extremes of temperature

There is a lot of information around about gardening in a changing climate but often focusses on the hot summers. There is also a plethora of advice on the plants that tolerate frost, indeed there is a scale of temperature tolerance. We can work out what plants like damp soils, dry soils, sun, shade and indeed those that grow in water.
BUT… and it’s a big one! We are now looking at plants that have survived the 40 degree heat, the minus 12 followed by floods. And it’s not even that straightforward because just as we think it’s got milder and plants start to grow again more extreme events happen. It is a minefield and so many people are asking me what to do with their plants that look dead.

The plants that thrived and then died

Phormiums have been beautiful statements in my garden for years, evergreen, colourful, interesting in winter and all the year round, little maintenance, thrive in a sandy soil with little water thrived in the heat and died in the cold. Pittosporums which I have used widely in my garden and others have all defoliated. Another evergreen providing winter structure to replace the box decimated by caterpillar and blight. These are both New Zealand plants that have always been bulletproof!

The plants that thrived and survived

Now this is where it gets interesting. My Trachycarpus fortuneii (hardy palm) have thrived in the heat and not suffered too much in the extensive frosts and flooding. Another surprise is the Yucca (century plant) another tropical looking feature in the garden is laughing in the face of adversity! Roses, dogwoods, willows. Tew, fruit trees etc are looking fine too.

The plants that were damaged but will recover

I was again surprised that my Lonicera hedge took such a battering but encouraged that the same thing had happened at Wisley. I am assuming that once it starts growing in the spring I’ll be able to cut back to healthy shoots. Many evergreens were badly scorched like Choisya, Pseudopanax, Fatsia, Daphne, Euonymous, Skimmia, Hebe and so on which again I will leave until the Spring before pruning. If cut now it can stimulate early growth which can still be damaged by frost. The jury is out on the Phormiums and Cordylines which may grow back from the ground but I’ve cut off all the squishy bits because I don’t want to look at them.

Learn from this

It is important to know your plants, where they come from and what has killed them. This is new to all us experts and it’s a bit of a waiting game. Hopefully the weather will warm up soon but not too much! I’d love to hear your observations and stories.

Cathie’s Gardening School Services

I am running pruning courses throughout summer and autumn. You can join the class and we can come and prune in your garden. Please get in touch, come for a coffee and join in!

Website Cathie’s Gardening School

Email [email protected]

Heatwave help for your gardens

Round & About

Cathie Welch

With temperatures set to soar again this week, a paucity of rain and impending hose pipe bans, how do you keep your garden going? R&A gardening expert Cathie Welch has some advice

As I write this we are being warned that temperatures are going to climb to over 40 degrees! Many people are asking how we deal with this in our gardens. Once it hits there is very little we can do about extremes of hot and cold that descend on us unexpectedly.

The lawn

Lawns naturally have a dormant season in the summer and there is no need to waste precious water trying to keep it green. Once the rains arrive in the autumn it will green up again but will need some tlc so get scarifying, aerating and topdressing. I found my grasses went brown very quickly but the lawn ‘weeds’ thrived.

The flower beds

You may have lost a few of your plants in the recent hot spells even though you tried your hardest to water them. Accept there was nothing you could do and move on. Make plans to improve the soil structure by adding organic matter and don’t forget to mulch as you weed. Consider installing drip irrigation for the future.


Plants in pots do not tolerate drying out but this can be alleviated by using a good quality compost such as wool which holds onto the water for longer. Once they have dried out it’s very difficult to get them wet again so consider plunging and soaking the root ball or top dressing with wool compost before watering thoroughly.

Lawns naturally have a dormant season in the summer and there is no need to waste precious water trying to keep it green

New plants

Do not even consider planting in the summer months unless you have an irrigation system or you are sure the water is reaching all the way down to the roots. If you must plant, place an upside down water bottle or piece of pipe next the plant to fill up each day. I’ve seen bags next to newly planted trees which act as a reservoir. Trees are notorious for dying in the drought and many suffer from ‘establishment failure’. Whether planting in the spring or autumn it is that first summer that is critical. When you have watered the plant check how wet it is by scraping the surface of the soil. You would be amazed how little the water penetrates despite spending hours of your time watering!

Old plants

Unfortunately I remember only too well the summer of 1976 after which many established trees suffered from dieback as the water table dropped below the depth of their roots in the Summer.


Moving forward

• Improve your soil by adding organic matter.
• Prevent evaporation by mulching.
• Irrigate if you can and at the very least harvest as much rainwater as you can by placing water butts and containers under every pipe and gutter.
• Learn from the plants that thrived in the heat and the ones that died.
• Think very carefully when planting new plants. If you are choosing Mediterranean plants, plant in the spring and not the autumn as they could rot over winter.
• Get to know your soil type and research the plants that would do well in your garden.

Find out more

More advice on this and other garden topics at