Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

Nov./Dec. 2016 California Bountiful magazine

As a California Bountiful reader, you have the opportunity to get your seasonal gardening questions answered by gardening expert Pat Rubin. Here are a few questions from our readers.

My Christmas cactus hasn't bloomed for the holidays in a couple of years. It was blooming when I bought it in December a few years ago.

That's a common complaint. Growers have a few tricks up their sleeves that allow them to bring something into bloom almost whenever they want. Often plants are grown under controlled conditions that can mimic almost any season. The good thing is these plants are supposed to bloom at this time of year.

Two common mistakes come to mind: too much fertilizer or none at all. If you are fertilizing regularly, cut it back and make sure you are not using one with too much nitrogen (that's the first number in the list of numbers on the package). Nitrogen promotes leafy growth. If you are not fertilizing at all and have had the plant for several years, the soil might need replacing or some feeding. I prefer a time-release fertilizer (usually comes in granules) that lasts several months and feeds the plant slowly. Also, make sure you let the soil dry out a bit between watering.

With the cold, how do I protect my succulents?

First rule of getting succulents to survive the winter outdoors is to quit watering them in late October or November. You want them on the dry side. Succulents turn to mush when they freeze because, in simple terms, the water inside freezes and sort of explodes and the plant collapses. If you can bring potted ones next to the house, that provides some protection. You can also cover them with row cover (all nurseries sell them). It's a lightweight fabric that keeps the temperature higher beneath it. That said, some succulent just aren't going to survive cold temperatures. It takes a bit of experimenting to find out which ones do best in your climate. 

About Pat Rubin, California Bountiful's gardening expert

For Pat Rubin, gardening is more than just dirt and plants. "It's about history, romance, adventure and people," she says. "And it should be fun."

California Bountiful's gardening columnist has lived and chronicled this fun, hands-in-the-dirt approach for years—and for additional publications including Fine Gardening, Pacific Horticulture, Christian Science Monitor, Family Circle and The Sacramento Bee. Pat has also volunteered as a Master Gardener, speaks to garden clubs and appears regularly on gardening radio shows.

Need gardening advice? Ask the expert!

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