The Epiphyllum crenatum, commonly known as the Orchid Cactus is an easy to grow and highly rewarding plant. It looks attractive all year round but will bless you with an abundance of fragrant showy flowers for most of the spring and well into summer.
This cactus is an epiphyte which means that it grows on other plants, trees, and even rocks in the wild. It is not parasitic but gets nutrients from the air and rotting materials around the roots.
It occurs naturally in the tropical forested areas of Central America from Honduras through to Mexico.
- 1 Epiphyllum Crenatum plant care guide
- 2 Epiphyllum crenatum propagation
- 3 Common problems with Epiphyllum crenatum
- 4 Tips to keep Epiphyllum crenatum problem-free
- 5 FAQ’s about Epiphyllum crenatum
- 6 Conclusion
Epiphyllum Crenatum plant care guide
The correct soil is essential for the success of your Orchid Cactus. Standard cactus mix alone is not recommended. The first step is to ensure excellent drainage. The old trick of placing a few small stones or pebbles at the base of the container is always handy.
A coarse soil will drain well. Lots of humus helps to retain some moisture while still allowing for drainage.
Small shards of charcoal can be added to help with drainage and also removes impurities in the soil. A bit of medium orchid bark could also be used.
Avoid fine or compacted soil. A slightly acidic soil is ideal.
If you use a cactus mix, add in some perlite or grit to the mix. Another option is to create a mix of 1 part organic compost (peat-free), 3 parts loamy compost, and 2 parts perlite or grit.
Filtered sunlight, as with most cacti and succulents, is the best light for the Orchid Cactus. They do not want direct full or midday sun. Morning or afternoon sun is fine.
This plant will do well indoors provided it gets sufficient light and the room does not get too cold (not less than 40 degrees F). Lights being left on at night could reduce the next season’s flowering.
You can tell by looking at the plant if it is getting the correct amount of light. It will display green growth with a slightly red edge and healthy leaves.
A leggy plant is probably not getting enough light and if it yellows, wilts, or looks sunburned it is getting too much light.
The main cause of harm to the Epiphyllum crenatum is overwatering. This is true of most cacti and succulents.
While the standard cacti rule is to let the soil dry completely between watering with the Orchid Cactus you do want to keep the roots slightly moist but allow the top to dry. Again, good drainage is critical.
These are not desert cacti and their natural habitat is warm and humid. They prefer a temperature of 40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Orchid Cactus is not frost hardy and needs to be brought indoors or covered if frost is expected. At temperatures below 32-degrees Fahrenheit, they will suffer and probably die back.
The Epiphyllum crenatum prefers medium to high humidity. If you want to increase the humidity the plant receives, position the container over a tray filled with gravel and add water to the tray.
As with watering, too much fertilizer is not good for the Orchid Cactus. Err on the side of too little rather than too much. The plants are hardy but the right fertilizing regime will encourage healthy growth and promote flowering.
The other important rule is to never use a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen.
Use something like 10-10-10, 5-5-5, or other balanced options. Do this in the growing season, fall and spring. For optimal flowering, use a 2-10-10 fertilizer at the end of February and October. Do not feed during flowering.
With fertilizers, the above ratios stand for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) respectively.
Propagation is relatively easy to do if you follow the basic steps. The best way to do it is from a leaf cutting although it can be propagated from seed.
We discuss this in more detail in the Epiphyllum crenatum propagation section below.
With the right conditions, the Orchid Cactus is a somewhat slow but steady grower. The leaves (they are actually stems but most people simply call them leaves) will shoot out around the plant in the warmer growing season.
These leaves are flat and wide with a wavy serrated edge. Leaves grow to as long as 60 cm (2 feet) with a width of up to 5 cm (2 inches).
Flowers form at the end of the leaves and are generally between 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 inches). The plants also produce fruit that not only looks attractive but is also edible.
Damaged or unhappy leaves can be cut back and supports can be used to prop up heavier stems. The plant does very well in hanging baskets and puts on a magnificent display, especially when in flower.
Over time, the Orchid Cactus will become pot-bound and should be re-potted every 2 to 3 years. You do not need to prune the plant but you can trim it back slightly if is looking untidy.
Without correct potting, you will never enjoy the full benefit of the Orchid Cactus. In their natural habitat, the Epiphyllum crenatum is generally epiphytic.
They grow on other plants although they do not harm the host plant. They also grow in the crevices or between branches on trees.
The plants get nutrients from decaying leaves and other organic material as well as the air. They need an airy space. This environment needs to be considered when potting the Orchid Cactus.
Standard cactus potting mix is not the best option. As with most cacti and succulents, the most important aspect is good drainage. The pot needs to have generous draining holes and it helps if it is porous.
You want the cactus to be relatively pot-bound. Once it has outgrown the container, re-pot the plant to a pot one size up. In other words, not too large for the plant. They also do extremely well in hanging baskets.
Re-potting will need to be done every 2 to 3 years. Pot into slightly moist soil following the soil advice above. The ideal time to transfer to a new pot is after flowering is completed.
Allow it to settle for about 4 days before watering. Thereafter you can water lightly as normal.
Epiphyllum crenatum propagation
You do not need to be a gardening expert to propagate the Epiphyllum crenatum. As with many succulents, it is easy if you know how to do it.
The best way to do it is from a leaf (stem) cutting although it can be propagated from seeds.
Let’s look at cuttings first as this is faster and easier.
First off, the growing season, spring and summer, is the best time to do it. You want to select a healthy leaf or two.
Look for firm plump leaves. Cut neatly, 6 to 7 inches, with a sharp clean knife or scissors. The best place to cut is just in the middle of the areoles (the zigzag). For ideal results, cut diagonally.
Once cut, you want to let it dry off for a few days to form a scab or callus. Do this by resting the cutting in a dry area with no direct sunlight. The process can take anywhere from 2 to 14 days, depending on conditions.
While you are waiting, prepare the pot and soil. The most important aspect of this is good drainage. Use a generous container as the plant will need space after time. Not too large as you want it to become rootbound to encourage blooming.
Use a cactus mix or similar soil with plenty of drainage. Insert (the scabbed over side) roughly 2 inches into the soil.
You want the soil to be slightly moist but not wet before planting. Too much water will result in rot.
Once planted, wait for root growth before watering. This can be done by gently pulling on the cutting.
Position the container in partial shade. Once roots have developed, water sparingly.
To propagate by seed, you will need a bit more patience and effort. This should be done in spring or summer. Scatter seeds evenly on moist cactus compost and cover with a thin layer of grit.
To keep the seeds moist, cover with a plastic bag until they germinate.
Once growing the plastic can be removed and the seedlings planted out. The downside to this method is that it can take up to 7 years to flower.
Common problems with Epiphyllum crenatum
Fortunately, the Orchid Cactus is a rather hardy plant and is relatively easy to care for. If you follow the above advice with regards to the soil, watering, light, and temperature, your plant should do well.
The most significant threat is overwatering. People tend to love the plants to death. While the roots can remain moist the upper third of the container should dry before watering. Ensure the containers has excellent drainage.
Insects and bugs are rare on healthy plants but keep an eye out for spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. Treat them accordingly if they are noted on your plants.
Snails are a minor threat. They are easy to see and remove.
Tips to keep Epiphyllum crenatum problem-free
The above specifics should help you keep your Orchid Cactus happy and healthy. Ensure it has a quality well-draining soil mix, does not get too cold, and gets adequate light without direct midday sunlight.
Feed with a mild mix that is low in nitrogen and feed at the correct times. Allow the upper third of the plant to dry out between watering while the roots remain slightly moist.
Increase the humidity if necessary and look out for snails and insects.
FAQ’s about Epiphyllum crenatum
How do I ensure I don’t overwater my Epiphyllum crenatum?
The easiest way to do this is simply with your finger. As we mentioned above, you want to keep the roots moist but the top third of the potting mixture dry between watering.
Push your finger into the soil and you will be able to feel if it is correct. Alternatively, you could invest in a Soil Moisture Meter.
How do I encourage blooms on my Epiphyllum crenatum?
Sticking to the correct watering and fertilizing practices will ensure healthy growth and lots of blooms once the plant is at a blooming age. The correct lighting is also important.
Ensure the base of the plant stays moist but not wet but allow the top third to dry before watering. Fertilize with a low nitrogen fertilizer in spring through summer and after the winter rest, around late October.
Can I plant Epiphyllum crenatum in the ground?
This is not recommended. The plants need excellent drainage and most ground soil is too compacted to allow for sufficient drainage. They will do much better in a container or hanging basket.
If you went to extra effort and ensured the drainage is and remains good, you might get away with planting them directly in the ground but it is a risk.
It also means that you cannot bring the plant inside if temperatures drop below 40-degrees Fahrenheit.
Why is Epiphyllum crenatum called an Orchid Cactus?
There are several reasons for this. The structure, stems, and flowers bear a resemblance to many orchid species.
The other reason is that the plants, like many orchids, are epiphytes. This means that in the wild they grow on trees or other plants.
If you are a fan of cacti or interesting plants in general, the Epiphyllum crenatum is a must-have in your collection. It is a breeze to look after provided you get the basics right and gives a spectacular display and heavenly fragrance when it flowers.
If you are looking to get your hands on an Orchid Cactus, head on over to Air Plant Decor for this and other exciting plants.
The Epiphyllum crenatum will brighten up any area indoors near a window, under a tree, or on the patio. It will be an asset to your plant collection.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.