Epiphyllum: Properly Care For Leaf Cacti

Epiphyllum belong to the foliage cacti, which convince with great abundance of flowers. The easy-care plants have a shrub-like growth, rather unusual for typical cacti. Due to the often hanging shoots, they are often cultivated as hanging basket plants, but they have different requirements regarding location, substrate and care than other cacti plants. How to properly care for the interesting Epiphyllum, you will learn in this article.

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Origin and distribution


Most species of the genus Epiphyllum are native to Central and South America and the Caribbean, where they grow as perching plants on the tall trees of tropical moist rainforests. In the trade, mainly hybrids of the outwardly very similar wild species can be found. These are considered less demanding than their parent species and are therefore easier to care for as houseplants.

Use


Due to their tropical origin, Epiphyllum leaf cacti are not winter-hardy in our country and are therefore mainly cultivated as houseplants. Only during the warm summer months, the very sensitive to cold plants may be on the terrace or balcony, but should not be exposed to full sun. Since most species and varieties have a hanging habit, you can keep them as hanging baskets. If this is not desired, the long shoots should either be supported or tied upwards.

Appearance and growth


All Epiphyllum leaf cacti grow either epiphytically or lithophytically, that is, as perching plants on trees or rocks. The various species grow shrubby, producing either drooping or climbing and rarely erect shoots. The long shoots are often highly branched and become woody with age. Young shoots tend to be flat, in contrast to the rounded older ones, and are not unlike leaves – though despite any outward resemblance, they are not deciduous. Thorns are usually not present. Some species do form some, but these remain very small.

Flowers and flowering time


The solitary, usually funnel-shaped flowers can grow very long: Some Epiphyllum species impress with flowers up to 30 centimeters in size, which can also be colored in almost any color except blue. The wild species mostly have white, yellow or pink flowers on the outside, which are pale yellow or whitish on the inside. Flowering times vary greatly depending on the species and cultivar. Incidentally, many species do not bloom until they are about five years old, so failure to bloom is not necessarily due to poor care.

Fruits


In this country, due to the lack of pollinators, fruits are rarely formed. However, you can buy the black, kidney-shaped seeds in specialized stores and use them to grow your own plants.

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What location is suitable?


Epiphyllum leaf cacti prefer a bright and warm location, but without strong sunlight. A semi-shaded spot is best, offering protection from the burning sun, especially over midday. If the location is too sunny for the plant, it will quickly show in leaf burn. In summer, you are welcome to put the leaf cacti outside, but should also protect them from the midday sun as well as rain. When keeping indoors, high humidity between 60 and 80 percent is also important.

Substrate


Even though epiphylls are cacti, standard cactus soil is unsuitable as a substrate. Foliage cacti have high nutrient requirements that cannot be met by cactus soil. Instead, use special soil for leaf cacti (available in specialized shops) or mix it yourself from normal potting soil and one third bark mulch, pumice gravel or quartz sand (14.00€ at Amazon*) – it is important that the substrate is well permeable and stagnant moisture can not occur in the first place.

Planting and repotting


Most Epiphyllum leaf cacti grow hanging, which is why they are well suited for hanging baskets. Alternatively, you can plant them in a tall planter so the long shoots can hang down. Species that grow taller than 20 centimeters should either be cultivated as a hanging basket plant or supported in any case. Important in planting is not only the appropriate substrate, but also a good pot drainage. Leaf cacti need quite a lot of water, but should not be allowed to stand wet. Therefore, the plants thrive best in planters with an automatic watering system.(61,00€ at Amazon*)

Since young plants often grow strongly, you should move them annually into a larger pot. In addition, the substrate is used up after three years at the latest and should then be replaced. The best time to repot is in the spring.

Watering Epiphyllum


Even if the classic cacti like it rather dry: As a typical rainforest inhabitant, the Epiphyllus leaf cactus needs moisture and copes poorly with dryness. The plant does not like dried out substrate, as well as waterlogging, by the way. Therefore, keep the soil evenly moist, but not wet, during the growing season. Remove excess water promptly and use rainwater or decalcified tap water if possible – leaf cacti do not tolerate calciferous water. It is also important to follow these special instructions when watering:

Water very sparingly for four to six weeks after the flowering period.
slowly increase the amount of watering from April onwards
water abundantly between May and September
Substrate should then be well moistened
spray the plant daily during the growing season
Do not spray flowers, they will become blotchy


Fertilize Epiphyllum correctly


With regard to fertilization, there are also some specifics to consider. Foliage cacti have quite high nutrient requirements, which is why you should never provide them with cactus fertilizer – it is not adapted to the needs of Epiphyllum species. Instead, take a normal houseplant fertilizer, which you administer in half doses every 14 days between April and September. But be careful: fertilizers that are heavy in nitrogen quickly lead to overfertilization, which is why whole and blue grain fertilizers are not suitable. Rather, reach for a low-nitrogen fertilizer, as this will better promote lush blooms. Do not fertilize during the winter months.

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Prune epiphyllum properly
While epiphyllum leaf cacti are very tolerant of pruning, they should only be cut back when actually needed – for example, because they have grown too large for their location. The plants form a more or less symmetrical growth all by themselves, which can become uneven if a pair of scissors is applied incorrectly. Only diseased, dead or broken shoots and flowers that have bloomed should be removed. Cut them off just below the flower head.

Propagate Epiphyllum
Epiphyllum leaf cacti are easily propagated by cuttings or even by sowing, although you will need to be patient with seed propagation: Depending on the species and variety, germination time is several weeks to even months.

Propagation by cuttings
For propagation by cuttings, cut off healthy shoots about 15 centimeters long in early summer, whose cuttings must dry out for one to three days before planting. Then place them about three centimeters deep in a planter filled with growing medium (7,00€ at Amazon*) or unfertilized coco soil and keep it slightly moist for the next weeks. As a rule, most leaf cacti are quite uncomplicated to root and show initial growth after just a few weeks.

Sowing
You can get the seeds for a sowing either from the specialized trade or by collecting the ripe fruits on your leaf cacti. The ideal time to sow seeds is in the spring. Sow the black seeds on unfertilized coco soil, coco hum or special coco swelling tablets and under no circumstances cover them with substrate – all species are light germinators. It is best to place the planter in an indoor greenhouse or cover it with translucent film or glass. Keep the substrate moist by spraying it with low-lime water.

Wintering
Important for a lush flowering of Epiphyllum leaf cacti is a winter rest period, during which the plants are somewhat cooler at ten to a maximum of 15 degrees Celsius and are also watered only little and no longer fertilized. Nevertheless, a lot of light is required, which is why the leaf cacti should stand as brightly as possible even in winter. A permanently warm wintering harms the plants, as it weakens them and makes them more susceptible to pathogens and pests.

Diseases and pests
With proper care, Epiphyllum leaf cacti are insensitive, hardy houseplants that are rarely affected by disease. However, if the plants become ill, the cause is usually to be found in faulty care:

  • rot on shoots and roots: too much wetness
  • rotten, thin shoots: drought
  • light, whitish-green spots on the leaf limbs: virus infection
  • cork-like spots: fungal infection
  • If there are any signs, the only thing that helps is to generously cut back the diseased parts of the plant and transplant them into fresh substrate and a new pot. The most frequent pests are spider mites, mealybugs and scale insects.
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Tips
In winter, leaf cacti should not be sprayed, otherwise they tend to rot.

Species and varieties
Epiphyllum are an epiphytic growing plant genus of the cactaceae family (bot. Cactaceae), which are counted to the leaf cacti due to their shrubby growth together with species of different cactus genera. For example, the Christmas cactus as well as the Easter cactus belong to other genera and are only distantly related. There are about 17 different Epiphyllum species, whereby special hybrid forms are mainly cultivated. These are considered less complicated and also often produce large, fragrant flowers several times a year.

The following species and cultivars are especially recommended:

  • Epiphyllum ackermannii: particularly flowering species with bright red to red flowers up to 12 centimeters in size.
  • Epiphyllum anguliger: up to 18 centimeters large, inside white and outside yellow flowers
  • Epiphyllum hookeri: species from South America with bicolor flowers, white inside and yellowish brown outside, flowers smell intensely of lilies and open only at night
  • Epiphyllum oxypetalum: pointed, small flowers with red outer petals
  • ‘Deutsche Kaiserin’: profusely flowering hybrid variety with numerous bright pink flowers
  • ‘Frühlingspracht’: pleasantly fragrant, narrow flowers with purple petals
  • ‘Himmelsauge’: very large, up to 17 centimeters large flowers in bright crimson red
  • ‘Knebels Dickchen’: strong crimson flowers with orange-red petals
  • ‘Queen Ann’: produces very large, pure white flowers up to 20 centimeters in diameter
  • ‘Siegfried’: many pleasantly fragrant, pale pink flowers with yellow petals

Author

  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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