Epiphyllum cuttings should be allowed to cure for ten days to two weeks after cutting and before planting. Store the cuttings in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. This allows the cut ends of the cutting to heal over, forming a callous that helps prevent rot. If in doubt about when the cutting was made, wait a week or so before planting. The succulent nature of the epi stems will keep the cutting viable for a month or more.
Plant your cuttings in a 4” plastic pot. In a year or two, the plants may be moved to a 7-8” pot. It will take another year or two to bloom. Epis usually don’t bloom until their roots are “pot bound.” They will grow to the size of their pot. A favorite method of the SDES is to plant at least 3 cuttings in a 7-8” pot. This produces a blooming plant quicker, usually in two to three years. These cuttings MUST be of the same variety. If you plant more than one variety of cutting in the same pot, the one that is the best “grower” will become dominant and crowd out the lesser growers.
The potting mix for rooting cuttings should be barely damp – NOT WET. Potting soil that is damp from the bag or “bag moist,” is fine.
***DO NOT WATER OR ALLOW YOUR CUTTINGS TO GET WET UNTIL THEY ARE WELL ROOTED***.
If the cuttings are watered before they have developed roots, they tend to rot. If you do see some rot at or near the soil line, un-pot, re-cut, allow the cut surface to callous over and start the process again.
You can test to see if your cutting has rooted by gently tugging on the cutting. If you feel some resistance, the cutting has started to root. Once this has happened, water as normal. Another indication that a cutting has developed roots happens when a cutting that has begun to dry out or shrivel suddenly “plumps up,” having started to absorb moisture from the potting medium through its brand new root system.
Cuttings can be rooted in either a potting mix for epis (see below) or in pure perlite only. SDES members have had success with both methods. Rooting in pure perlite seems to reduce the number of cuttings lost to rot. If you use the pure perlite method, once the cuttings are well rooted, they will need to be transplanted to regular epi potting soil. If you live in a hot and dry climate the cuttings rooting in pure perlite will need to be misted more often to keep them from drying out.
Soil / Potting Mix
In nature epiphyllums grow epiphytically as do many orchids, bromeliads and other plants, in trees below the canopy where leaf litter and other falling detritus can collect around their roots. This material collects in very open, porous masses with large air spaces or voids around the roots. We can only try to approximate this kind of growing medium in our various potting mixes. So, epis do best with very good drainage around their root systems. Potting soil purchased from the store or “off the shelf” mix is too dense and heavy without the addition of things like perlite, etc. Do not use a commercial “cactus mix” since most of these contain sand and are much too heavy for epis. The mix you create needs to be well drained. There are as many potting mix recipes as there are growers.
Here are a few below:
Epi soil mix should be three parts potting soil and one part coarse non-organics that are 1/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter. The best additive is perlite (sponge rock). A small amount of orchid bark (about 2-3 tablespoons per 8” pot) is a good idea.
This provides some nutrition to the plant as it breaks down. Too much bark can cause Epi roots to rot over time. If you have some bone meal, add about 2 tbs. per 8” pot. This will help your plants get a faster start. Many growers make their own mix. They use ingredients such as charcoal, compost, peat moss or coir (a coconut product). In a good mix, water will begin to drain from the bottom of pots within 15 seconds.
For more technical information see the article Potting Media for epies By Roger Chapin (SDES president 2001-2002 and WAP curator/coordinator 2000-2008) (click the tab under Epi Care to find the article)
Light and Air
Epis grow best in filtered sunlight, under a tree or in a shade structure of lath or shade cloth. North or east facing walls or eaves is perfect. Epis grown in deep shade grow thin, leggy branches and flower poorly. Epis like good air circulation, but should be protected from strong winds. Windstorms may cause hanging baskets to swing against each other and long stems to whip around, causing breakage. Epis love to grow in hanging baskets and the pendulous growth habit of most hybrid epis is suited to growing in hanging containers. This manner of growing also helps to keep snails, the number one epiphyllum pest, away. It has been suggested that using 70% shade cloth to protect your epis is best but this will vary depending on where you live. Epi growers who live near the coast where it is cooler and more humid can get away with using a less dense shade cloth. Epis will sun burn if they get too much sun. They will turn red and then yellow and the branches will begin to die. On the other hand, they will also bloom better with more light, so there is something of a trade-off here.
Epi potting soil should never dry out completely but must never remain soaking wet either. Occasional misting helps in hot, dry weather especially during our Santa Ana winds in Southern California. Epis like to dry out pretty thoroughly between watering but not to the point where the stems are beginning to shrivel or wilt.
Frequency of watering depends mainly on two factors, the weather and the size of the plant compared to the size of its container. During the heat of mid-summer, when the plants are actively growing, it may be necessary to water twice in a week. In winter, when temperatures are cooler and the plants are not growing as actively, you may be able to get away without watering for three weeks or longer if the plants are situated so that they are exposed to the rain. A young plant, not yet root-bound in an eight-inch pot, may not need to be watered very often even when the weather is warm. A huge, old, pot bound plant that wants water twice a week even in relatively cool weather may be telling you it is time to repot to a larger container or to divide the plant.
When you water, water thoroughly so that excess water drains from the drainage holes, just as you would for any containerized plant. This helps to prevent the build-up of soluble salts in your potting medium to levels that are harmful to your plants. This is especially true here in Southern California where the tap water is already loaded with soluble salts. Then, periodically check the moisture content of your potting soil with your handy moisture probe (your finger). If it feels wet, hold off on watering. If it feels dry, it is time to water.
Epis, being native to the rain forest, love warm, humid climates. The hotter your area the more shade and more humidity they will need to do well.
Watch out for extreme temperatures. Epis don’t do well if temperatures stay below 40 degrees for very long and they need to be protected from frost. If you are in a colder climate protect your plants. Pay attention to the local winter weather forecasts. Take action to cover your plants if a hard frost is forecast. The duration of the below-freezing weather is more important than the actual temperature unless it gets really, really cold. If the temperature drops to 30 degrees for only a couple of hours over night, your plants will probably be all right especially if they are situated close to the house where it is a little warmer. But, if the temperature goes down to 30 and stays there for many hours you may lose your plants.
Epis can also be damaged by hail. In Southern California during the winter, we sometimes have thunderstorms with small hail that can mar epi stems. That hail is usually not big enough to actually break the stems but it can make them unsightly since the plant will develop a small scar where each hailstone has struck. Again, watch the weather forecasts and protect your plants if winter thunderstorms are predicted.
The easiest way to fertilize is to use a time-release fertilizer. Epis bloom best when you give them regular, light fertilizer applications.
During the winter fertilize with a low or no nitrogen fertilizer or “bloom booster” with a 2-10-10 or a 0-10-10 or similar formulation. After the blooming season is past, fertilize with a balanced formulation including nitrogen like a 10-10-10 or a 5-5-5. In nature, epis grow in a relatively low-nutrient environment. So, use only about one third to one half the amount of fertilizer that is recommended on the label of whatever product you are using.
Epis are relatively pest free but there are some pests that will enjoy your plants. Aphids, mealy bugs, scale, snails, slugs, and caterpillars are pests to watch out for. Minor infestations of scale can be controlled with the application of rubbing alcohol directly onto the scale with a cotton ball or cotton swab. Snails and slugs are controlled with readily available snail/slug baits.
Mark the hybrid name on a plant tag and keep it in the pot. Old mini blind slats make great tags. Use permanent marker on one side of the tag and lead pencil on the other. This helps in case the marker fades. We also like to use metal tags attached to the pot wires. Some SDES members are beginning to write with a paint-pen on the pots or using a label maker to print names and put them on the pots.