Issue: March 2, 2002

Saving Christmas Cactus

Question:

A month ago I bought a Christmas Cactus. It was rather funny because I didn't know what it was and it didn't come with a name tag. So while I was searching the internet for another plant's name I didn't know, I came across this beautiful Christmas Cactus and I thought "Wow, so that's what it is!" I had wondered why it was in gold paper and on clearance at the end of January. Now the problem: it had a chunk missing at the base when I got it and now that area seems to be getting bigger and is getting mushy. I also noticed that roots seem to be developing between every section on the plant. Can I just cut them at the section and plant it? How do I save this plant?

Answer:

The mushy area at the bottom sounds bad. Yes you can break (or cut) between segments and plant them. These segments are actually stem pieces (there are no leaves), so the segments will be stem cuttings which do root easily. I have had good luck planting them in cactus potting soil, in sand, and have even had roots form by placing them on moist sphagnum moss sealed in a re-sealable plastic bag. (Don't put the plastic bag in direct sunlight or it will overheat and cook the plant.) Once the plant has rooted well, it may be potted in the container in which you will be growing it. Use a well-drained potting soil. When taking the cuttings, I would make cuttings of the segments as far from the mushy area as possible. It is possible that the mushiness you described is due to bacterial infection that can spread rapidly and quickly kill the whole plant. Pieces close to the mushy area may already be infected, so the farther from the mushy area that you take cuttings, the better.

Mulch and home foundation

Question:

How close to a house foundation should mulch be spread?

Answer:

This will depend on the type of mulch and potential pests. An organic mulch, such as bark mulch, close to a home can create problems with roaches if they are a problem in your area. Under plastic mulch (with rocks) we have seen carpenter ants that wandered into homes (probably not causing structural damage to the home). Other ants may also benefit from this, increasing their access to your home. On the beneficial side, I think that a two-foot band of plastic mulch, covered by rock mulch to shed water from around a foundation can reduce potential termite problems by keeping the soil around a foundation dry (at least here in New Mexico where there is little soil moisture). If mulch is used in this manner, the flower bed and other plantings should be at least two feet from the foundation. If you have termite problems, plantings and organic mulch next to the foundation can exacerbate the problem. If termites are a potential problem in your area, application of a chemical termite barrier in the soil around your home before installing the mulch may be a good idea. Contact some pest control companies for estimates. This will depend on the type of mulch and potential pests. A bark mulch close to a home can create problems with roaches if they are a problem in your area. Under plastic mulch (with rocks) we have seen carpenter ants that wandered into homes (probably not causing structural damage to the home). Other ants may also benefit from this.

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Also, please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly program made for gardeners in the Southwest. It airs on KRWG in Las Cruces Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., repeating Thursdays at 1:00 p.m.; on KENW in Portales on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m.; and on KNME in Albuquerque on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.

Send your gardening questions to Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith NMSU Cooperative Extension Service 9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112 Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)