What to Plant in June

This is the first day of winter and this is the first planting guide of the season. The following is a list of vegetables that you can plant in June in Sydney, a temperate zone (just click on the link for the growing guide for each vegetable).

Plant of the Month – The stunning Schlumbergera (Christmas cactus or Zygocactus)

All images below can be enlarged to view detail of these spectacular plants. Just click on the image.

Schlumbergera plants are small cacti that grow in eastern Brazil. They grow either on trees (epiphytic) or on rocks (epilithic) and are made up of leafless green stems that the plant uses to photosynthesise. 


Schlumbergera plants fall into two groups:


The Truncata Group

These have  stem segments with 2 or 3 pointed spinous teeth on their edges. At these points “areoles”, small bumps (characteristic of cacti) grow clusters of spines. Those at the ends of the segments of the stems is where buds form.

Segments showing the spines from the areoles and where the buds form


The  flowers are held horizontally with the upper side  shaped differently from the lower side (zygomorphic) and pollen is yellow. They generally flower earlier and are often called zygocactus, crab cactus or claw cactus.

Zygomorphic flowers that sit at an angle to the stems.


The Buckleyi Group

These have stem segments with rounded, more symmetrical teeth which also have areoles and spines and some even have bristle like structures.

Note the softer edges and the spines on the areoles

Bristle like structures at the end of these Buckleyi stems where flower buds form.

Buckleyi shclumbergera has symmetrical (regular) flowers which hang down, below the horizontal and pollen which is pink. They generally flower later than members of the Truncata Group and are often called Christmas cactus.

Truncata flowers hang down and are regular in shape and stems have rounded form.

Structure of the flower:

Flower showing the floral tube.

Each flower has 20–30 tepals (petals). Those near base of the flower – are short and unconnected, and curve backwards. Those towards the tip of the flower – are longer and fuse together at the base to form a floral tube.

Flower showing the layers of tepals (petals).

The inner stamens at base are fused to form a short tube and the outer stamens arise from along the floral tube. The style dark red and has a stigma with 6–8 lobes;

The arrangement of stamens along the flower tube and the stigma.

Planting and care of Schlumbergera:

Like other epiphytes such as orchids and bromeliads, schlumbergeas grow in the shady humid forests of Brazil in the decomposing fallen leaves in forks of branches, and do not need soil.

Situation and best conditions:

Taking into account local conditions, Schlumbergera grows well anywhere in Australia. The caveat is not to situate them in direct sunshine and provide protection from frosts and low temperatures.

They like bright INDIRECT sunlight

My own plants that are quite old now, are situated under wide eaves and face south well lit from the east. They are shaded from the extreme heat of Sydney’s summer and get protection from the winds of winter. The brick walls create a warm micro climate in winter too.

To initiate the production of flower buds, it needs at least eight days of 16 hours of dark and eight hours of light each day. Wherever the plant is placed, do not turn on the lights at night, even for a short period of time. That breaks the dark cycle required. The temperature should be around 16 degrees. Avoid placing the plant where it receives either cold or hot air drafts.“(Michigan State University)

Therefore, locating the pots away from streetlights and any outdoor lights that would be left on overnight is another consideration in location of the pots.

These plants do well in hanging pots or elevated stands that allow water to get away as they do not like wet feet. Place them on pot riser feet and never use saucers under pots

Potting needs:

Select a pot or hanging basket twice the size of the root ball and use a potting mix that is free draining such as Cacti and Succulent potting mix.

Schlumbergeras like a pH of 5.5-6.5.

Once potted allow the plant to grow to fill the pot or basket. They do best in pot bound so leave as long as possible before repotting. Even then, they are great survivors as long as they are kept hydrated properly.

Watering:

Schlumbergena does not like to be water logged so being careful not to over water is very important. Let the top few cm of the soil dry out before the next watering.

Take your cue from the appearance of the plant itself. If the conditions are too warm the plant’s segments may show signs of shrivelling or drooping and a good soak will revive it.

Increase watering when the plant is flowering

The amount of watering will depend on your own local environmental conditions.

Use a watering can with the spout when watering so as to water the pot rather than the plant.

In prolonged wet weather put your pots undercover to prevent water logging. Having my pots under eaves allows me to properly adjust for water needs in summer or in winter.

Misting the plant in hot conditions and when there are drying hot winds will help your schlumbergera plant. Hanging baskets dry out more quickly than pots so need more attention.

All this being said, this plant is forgiving and quite hardy so enjoy its beautiful flowers and propagate any pieces that break off by hardening off for a few days and then repotting them.

You can also encourage more branching by pinching off ends after flowering.

Below are some images to tempt you to add a lovely schlumbergera, christmas cactus or zygocactus for your garden. They are beautifully green all year and stunning and long flowering in their season, as an outdoor plant or brought inside to enjoy.

A beautiful display of light coloured zygocactus.
Two flowers from the end of a segment of a zygocactus.

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