Treat Christmas cactus like a tropical plant

QUESTION: "I've inherited some Christmas cacti from my mom and my wife's grandmothers. The ones from my wife's side were big beautiful plants. Recently they have started to turn yellow and are withering from the ends toward the plants. I'm not sure how much and how often to water them. Should I water them on a weekly basis or should it be more time in between watering? I also started giving them plant food in the water. I don't want to lose them. Any advice would be deeply appreciated." - Scotty Bench
ANSWER: This is a very timely question with the Christmas season approaching fast! Here is a link to total care of Christmas cactus. You may want to print it out and keep it near where you are growing them for quick reference. Regarding the watering question, the article at that site says: "Since the Christmas cactus is a tropical plant it will require watering on much the same basis as any other type of tropical plant. A good procedure to follow is to water the plants thoroughly and then allow about the top inch of soil to dry before watering again. However, during the fall and winter months, the plants should be watered less frequently in order to get them to bloom."
My long time plant died over summer and I plan to get a new one this season. They are gorgeous plants and mean more when they come from loved ones. One thing that I don't think is mentioned in the link is that when or if you repot them, it takes several years for them to begin blooming again.
QUESTION: "I read your article recommending knock-out roses and I planted three double reds this spring, but was unsure what type of winter care they need. I have several hybrid teas that I mulch about 8 inches above the crown. Do I need to do this with the knock-outs as well? Also, do I prune them back, now or next spring?" - Sonia Lencyk
ANSWER: We have quite a few knockout roses ourselves. Some years we do not mulch. However, we are in Tennessee and conditions may vary where you live. I suggest you treat the knockouts just as you would your tea roses. Trim them only to shape and when they start blooming next season all you would have to do is simply deadhead. The only time you would trim the knockouts is to shape them the way you like.
QUESTION: "When planting fall bulbs, how do you keep the squirrels from digging them up?" - Sandy Lovell
ANSWER: The best way I know of to keep the squirrels from digging up the bulbs is to dig the area back a few inches, pin down chicken wire and cover it back up with the dirt. Burying the chicken wire will help to prevent people and pets from tripping over it. Just check it from time to time to be sure it is still secure.
QUESTION: "I saw your column in the newspaper and wondered if you would give me a suggestion. Our house is situated "catty-cornered" on a corner lot, on a slight hill, and right in the middle of the lower part of the yard is a 3 foot wide by 3 foot high electrical box.
"When we moved in there was this huge clump of overgrown shrubs which had been there for 10 years. We had those taken out, but now I'm trying to figure out what to plant around it that will hide the box year-round, but be easy to maintain. Someone suggested some ornamental grasses. The spot is in full sun. I would also be interested in the web sites re: curb appeal." -- Amy Griffith
ANSWER: As far as hiding the box you can do any number of things. The best I have seen is where you try to incorporate it into the landscape so that it doesn't look like you are just trying to hide a box. Grasses would work well but you may want to also incorporate something evergreen to hide and add interest year around. I have e-mailed you the list of Web sites about enhancing curb appeal. Other readers who would like a copy are welcome to send me an e-mail request.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit

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