How to take care of a 26 year old christmas cactus ?

usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)August 16, 2013

Hello all,

I acquired this beautiful 26 year old christmas cactus yesterday. It is gorgeous but needs some TLC.
here's some pics

The plant is seriously heavy, it needed two people and a
dolly to move. It is potted in ordinary soil. Also the leaves look kind of shriveled, somewhat thin and limp especially the end segments. The leaves are green and not mushy.
here is a close up pic below although it is hard to see.

Any advice on how to help it recover ? Just give it time ?
I would hate to lose it. I have it sitting in a cool part of the house, by a north west facing window.


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it needs a serious trim. I would cut off at least 1/3 of foliage(may be even half!- it won't suffer, it'll just rejuve it). root the trimmings and you'll make sev plants. more like a dozen :).
it gets limp when there is not enough water. it could be that it's too dry. or it could be that it's too wet and rotting(large pot could do that).
it needs a good amt of water, but then let it dry out before next watering. since your soil is compacted, you need to give more oxygen to the roots. add 2-3tsp of 3% peroxide to a gallon of water and water in 2-3 steps with 20 min interval, adding a few cups of water each time, until water runs out the bottom. mix peroxide fresh each watering. then wait approx. 7-10 days and test with a chopstick/skewer before you water again. skewer should be dry in the top half of the pot. even 3/4 in cooler temps and less light.
it would be very difficult to repot it as is - you'll break lots of branches. so might as well trim first.
for making new plants look for branches with multiple branching: they make handsomer plants. combine sev together in one pot to make 'a bush' (that is after they rooted).
in general it needs to be cut back every year to keep it in good shape.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 11:40AM
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That is amazing, I've never seen anything like that. I'd be afraid to do anything to it :>) It's really beautiful.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 7:54AM
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OMG! How did you ever locate a beautiful plant like that?

I think my first concern with your plant would be to re-pot and soon. It's still warm enough to get a newly re-potted plant stabilized before the cold weather comes in. I'd say a bark based mix is a must for a thriving CC.

You might want to jump over to the Cacti and Succulents forum. There's some really experienced people over there that could help you. A couple of them have had to re-pot a monster like yours. I'll attach one of the better posts on re-potting a CC.

I'm SE Michigan, too. If you need help (and I'm not too far away) feel free to e-mail me. Nevertheless, if you have extra cuttings, I'd be very interested.


Here is a link that might be useful: CC re-pot

This post was edited by monet_g on Sun, Aug 18, 13 at 9:03

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 9:24AM
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Grantgarden2 Zone 5a/b

If that was my plant I would cut almost 3/4 or 1/3 off, and cut to the woody growth. A lot of segments will grow out of the the woody stumps. And repot it in good soil amended with orchid bark and perlite. Wow what an amazing find! Where did you get it from? If you by chance the bloom color is please mention it, or have any extra cuttings,you can always email me. Grantgarden2

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 9:39PM
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Grantgarden2 Zone 5a/b

Sorry I forgot to post this on my previous post, I hacked one if my Christmas cactus to the old woody growth earlier this summer and left a few segments on the plant for it to make food. All the new growth you see on here is about a month and half. Good luck with your Christmas cactus!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 9:47PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

My first inclination upon seeing it was decimation/propagation too. But why not watch it do it's thing first? IDK, not enough experience to get involved in this convo, but I've often regretted doing something like that right away. It took 26 years to reach this grand state! Do you know if it usually blooms?

What do you want, Usha? That's what you need advice doing.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 7:58AM
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well, normally after bloom the plant is exhausted and sometimes the leaves get softer or even fall off. but if this persists for longer then 1 month - it's a problem that needs fixing.
what I normally do is when I notice this condition is reduce foliage mass (trim week branches).
also if it's weak all over... it could just rot away depends need to squeeze the bottom stems to see if they are getting soft. so as a safe guard I would trim some and root anyway - also that gives you a chance to improve soil for a new plant.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 12:26PM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)

The woody stems are firm so thats good. I ended up trimming about 20% of the plant over the weekend, Had to spread it over 3 days out because I was nervous to cut too much (so ended up cutting too little as I kept making excuses to myself on how unnecessary it was :)

I found this plant at a moving sale, the people were moving out after 30 years and didnt want to carry the cactus to their new home. They had taken cuttings of all the three giant cactuses and made a small keepsake to take. The other two cactus (cactii ?) were as big and in better condition (new growth) but unfortunately spoken for :(

I think I am going to wait till spring to repot, see how it does in the meantime. Arlene (named after her previous owner) sits in a good spot by a northwest facing window (more north than west) and hopefully she will thrive. I do have cuttings that I stuck in my homemade mix (Al's mix without the bark. The bag of bark I bought to make the mix, was infested with fungus gnats so I ended up with a modified mix and added some houseplant soil instead). Will be happy to mail it to people here, should I wait till the cactus cuttings are rooted ?


    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 1:30PM
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Hi Usha,
I would have spread the trimming over a three day period, too. ;-)

No need to wait until the cuttings root. They should be dried a bit first anyway.

It's kind of you to offer some to us. I sent you an e-mail.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 1:48PM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)


I tried to email you but unable to find an address.
Where in SE Mi do you live ? Perhaps you can drive by
and get some cuttings. I live in SE Ann Arbor couple of
miles from UM.

or I can mail you a few cuttings, LMK


    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 10:49AM
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Hi Usha,
I use to be able to get e-mails. I just checked my profile and re-checked the box so that they can, again, come through.

Did you not even get my e-mail to you through GW?

I'll try to send you one again so as not to gum up the posts with personal info.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 11:27AM
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saw a pic of a same cactus grown as a tree. I think, it's a live plant, but can't tell really. the article was about xmas cactus, so should be live. interesting, no?
never seen anything like that.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 3:30PM
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Edie(5 NY (Finger Lakes))

Usha, that was a fantastic find, and I hope Arlene is radiant after a summer of TLC. I am the current caretaker of a similar cactus which was my grandmother's and then my mother's. Most of what is sold nowadays as Christmas cactus is actually Thanksgiving cactus. The Thanksgiving version is more common in stores because it blooms earlier, so merchants can offer it in early December in bloom. Yours has the scalloped leaf edges of a true Christmas cactus. Arlene may wait until January to bloom.

Some tidbits I've learned while tending my cactus: Like many houseplants, they love being outdoors in summer. I keep mine in the shade to prevent sunburn. It may be possible to gradually adapt them to sun, but I've never dared try. Mine's a living heirloom and my family would freak if I hurt it. Beware of slugs and snails which enjoy the succulent leaves. If you have a sheltered spot outside where Arlene will be safe, consider giving her a summer vacation next year.

Short days and cool temperatures trigger bud formation. Less than twelve hours of sun, and 65 F or cooler. As the seasons change the plant will naturally get the cues that it's time to set buds. There's no need to stuff it in a closet, put a bag over its head or withhold water, all of which I've seen advised in plant books.

Last year mine made new leaves instead of buds. We didn't have a thermostat in that apartment. The upstairs neighbors had one, which controlled the heat for both floors. They kept it warm. Which was comfortable for all of us, but meant no flowers on the big cactus parked in the middle of the living room. She was very happy with the never-ending summer and produced shiny new leaves instead. A small pot of cuttings which fit on the chilly windowsill did flower.

I'm glad to read I can prune more often and cut further back. I've been scared to trim much. Thanks to those of you who shared that info.

Petrushka, looking at that photo I see a cactus trailing from a hanging basket, or a basket on a pole. Doesn't look like a tree to me. Though I do like the look. I have a hoya lacunosa I perch on a tall candle holder to produce a similar effect in miniature.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 1:55AM
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here's a closer shot of same. sorry, can't make it sharper.
it has a long draping? trunk. now that I look closer I think I see a white basket, which is sort of invisible against the light. and the rest drapes down.
the basket is on a long pole?

This post was edited by petrushka on Tue, Sep 3, 13 at 22:28

    Bookmark   September 3, 2013 at 10:24PM
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I've got one of those. It just keeps getting longer and never blooms.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2013 at 4:01PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

This is making me wonder again how old these Christmas cacti are?!

That pic is awesome, Petruska!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 4:16PM
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Edie(5 NY (Finger Lakes))

Petrushka, I can't tell how the basket is supported from that picture, but the cactus is definitely dangling down from the basket rather than growing up from the lower pot. It's possible the basket is hanging normally and the bright light made the white plastic hanger invisible in the photo. It's beautiful. I envy the grower for being able to keep the plant in the same spot long enough to get it to trail that far. I've moved every few years and my ancient cactus gets some damage every time, so it's been pruned repeatedly by accident.

Purple, thanks for linking that thread, wow that's gorgeous!

This group of cacti can live a long time. Family legend says that our cactus was used by my father's mother in a high school science project. I think she was class of 1930. So the plant is at least that old.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2013 at 11:19PM
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Its a grand plant and, for the same reason why outdoor plants are not cut back more than 25%....each year if necessary--I would suggest you not cut this houseplant back by more than that.
The roots over the span of years is giving nutrition to the foliage above....and the flowering that remove as much as suggested.....40%.....50%...may be too much --the roots are still putting out to feed the whole plant and unless you intend to reduce the amount of roots, I'd suggest no more than 25% annually.

I think too the old adage....if it aint broke.....
so steps you take to correct any one problem, make sure you are not causing a bigger problem.
Turn your plant every other day to give all areas of the plant equal sun. I would not move it away from what sun you are presently --and have been--giving it. That can cause problems of bloom drop.
It looks like it could be a problem testing its moisture with your finger....but that's as safe a way to test as anything.
Sections that drop, can be quickly planted to make more plants.....they grow so easy you might consider giving some sections away to friends and neighbors who want them.

Aside from its difficulty in moving it, does this plant go outside during summer---it can if you climatize it slowly--outside for sunny periods, back inside--back outside--back get the idea.....and not letting it be touched by a hard frost.

For those readers who might wonder by this....Christmas Cactus can be pushed to create bloom when subjected to low temperatures---but never a hard frost....then back indoors to a sunny window where it remains, unmoved, and flowering can be expected in a few days.
If, however, it has been kept inside, in a room, and never gone outside, it should stay in that room and not go outside where conditions are entirely different. It could upset the normal life of the plant.

C.C. can have flowers drop by moving it away from the sun it has got used to. Like the sunflower that turns to sunlight, C.C. will do the same and if it strains the branch with the flowers to try to go back to the sunlight, it can cause the flower to twist its head off.
So where you put, llet it stay, and if you have to remove it to another room to water it...such as the laundry room, be sure to place it back in the exact same position it was before.

Watering a large plant like this might be difficult and it should be allowed to drain properly, the excess not allowed to sit under it for any extended time which might cause the limping if the water is sucked back up.

Limping can be normal....if its not a regular occurrence.
Try moving it to another location while it is not flowering---see if this doesn't perk it up.
If it doesn't, then there's another problem that is causing it and should be looked at.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 1:05PM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)

Thanks for some really cool pics and stories from people here. Edie_H thanks for the tidbits on getting christmas cactus to flower. I would love to summer Arlene outside in shade but she is very heavy so we will have to find a helping hand or two :)
Petrushka, thanks for the nice pics. its cool to see the cc
draping down ala waterfall like.

Here's a quick update on Arlene.

She has settled in nicely in her new home and I am beginning to find new growth on her. I discarded a whole lot of cuttings that I initially took from her, because they were very shriveled up.
A few that I rooted are now firmly rooted in Al's modified soil mix. Surprisingly, I found the cuttings that were most woody to root best.

I did manage to mail out a few cuttings to Eugene on Friday (let me know if they arrived ok).

Monet, I did not get any emails from you but if you still interested than pls contact me.


    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 9:42AM
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may be you can post a follow up pic in a few months when it settles in and starts growing. and of course, when it blooms!
i feed my tc with orchid food - hi P formula for blooms.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 10:19AM
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Hi Usha,

Arlene's kids arrived today safely in the mail. I was sticking them in the 6' pot on the left but ran out of space at about 20 cuttings, so made another smaller pot of about 10 cuttings. I guess it was twins then. I set them on top of a grow lamp for a bit extra warmth during the day to help them root.

Hey, I re-read all of the above. Did you eventually have luck finding good bark for your soil? It was difficult for me in this major city away from any ag stores, but I lucked out eventually. I can send you a box to thank for the cuttings. I have filtered uncomposted bark of three sizes: dust to 1/8th of an inch that is good for Al's 5-1-1 mix (alone or mixed with the next size); then 1/8th to 3/8ths (good for Al's gritty mix or to make the 5-1-1 mix a bit more chunky) and >3/8ths which I use for orchids. If you want any, let me know - I'll be glad to send some over.

GreenToe / Eugene

P.S. Did Arlene the previous owner tell you what color flowers Arlene the plant produces?

This post was edited by greentoe357 on Tue, Sep 24, 13 at 11:25

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 10:18PM
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>> P.S. Did Arlene the previous owner tell you want color flowers Arlene the plant produces?

I am reading up on Arlene's relatives (PATSP blog never disappoints). Quote: "True Christmas cacti [flowers], on the other hand, are almost always red or magenta". So, I guess that narrows it down.

Also, apparently their flowers look very different from the more common Thanksgiving cactus.

This is my first holiday cactus, so this is all new to me.

Here is a link that might be useful: PATSP entry for Schlumbergera

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 12:30AM
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Hi Usha,
I did sent a message or two. It looks like they didn't go through. My direct e-mail is - thank you for thinking of me.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 9:03AM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)

Arlene is pre-destined to have deep pink flowers (can you tell I am Indian, LOL).

goren, I have been turning Arlene around every now and then. re the tips on watering. I wont be able to take
Arlene to the sink for a deep watering so I am going to
have to underwater and keep a close eye. The main trunk is quite firm and heavily branched so if she looks
sad over winter I may prune her and repot.

Eugene, Lovely pics of Arlene's twins, they look so happy in their new pot !

Gail, I have emailed you directly.


    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 10:46AM
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MittenGirl(5 NW MI)


I might be late...but wondering if you would have any rooted cuttings in the future? I am located in MI and have been searching for this plant for a while.


    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 3:46PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I too have some cuttings of a true CC, but which blooms pink (not 'just red or magenta'), I saw the parent plant in bloom, definitely pink. I've got 3 small pots started at home in 3 different spots to see which works best.

We shall see.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 4:47PM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)

Hi MittenGirl,
I will certainly have more cuttings to hand out, but I am afraid it is too late in the year to send them out from MI reliably. I did not get around to sending some to monet_g either but it is on my list of things to do.
so if you send me a reminder early spring, I will be happy to send you a bunch.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 1:04PM
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Grantgarden2 Zone 5a/b

Any update pictures on the Christmas cactus?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 9:15PM
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Actually, there are a few colors for x buckleyii that are not magenta, red, or pink :) There is peach among other the other things! So there are a few possibilities, although the pink/magenta is probably the most common.

I'm in the minority, but I probably wouldn't have cut it back beyond what is damaged. My mom has a plant older than me and she never messes with it beyond repotting. It looked like it had a good structure. :)

I'm excited to hear how the blooms go!

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 2:00PM
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Dear Usha, What an amazing plant. I have never seen anything like that in my life. I have not been on this site for a couple of years because I have not been too healthy. I was shocked when I saw the picture of this christmas cactus. You are very lucky to have found this. Take good care of it and it will give you many years of happines I am sure. If you ever have any extra cuttings I would be soooo thrilled to have some. I have been looking for one of the real cc for several years and here you found this beauty. Enjoy all the blooms you will get I am sure. Thanks for showing all of us this beauty. I have sent you an email and hope you have received it.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 6:53PM
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After seeing this post several times I'm finally going to comment. That plant is GORGEOUS! I would love to have an original Christmas Cactus one day. I hope Arlene flowers for you and you will treat us to some pictures.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 8:46PM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)

Hello all ccaddicts,

The mommy plant Arlene looks the same, a few new leaves
but mainly sitting in her pot, budha-like.
I rooted a bunch of cuttings in different pots and they either
1)rotted and died or
2)thrived and are blooming now.
Heres some pics

Here's a few other pics of my plants settling indoors
Kitchen Window (east facing)

Craft room aka plant room (south facing window and some additional light from east facing window (now shown)

Craft room corner (low light from east facing window about 12 ft away)

my favorite hibiscus (North west facing patio door, blooms reliably through winter)

newly acquired Ric Rac cactus


    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 1:08PM
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Very nice! I think everything is looking great!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 1:18PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

you have a Thanksgiving Cactus, not a Christmas Cactus :-)


    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 7:56PM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)


Is that right ? I followed a thread about thanksgiving vs CC a while ago and thought I had identified mine correctly (but apparently not !)
Heres a close up

and my "thanksgiving cactus" bloomed in October (its on the kitchen windowsill in my previous post) and has more serrated leaves (sorry I dont have a close up).



    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 9:58AM
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I think Josh is just joshing you. (Now we know where that term came from. ;-)) I think what he means is that your CC's bloom time is closer to a TC. Thus, kinda making it like a TC this year.

This post was edited by monet_g on Wed, Nov 20, 13 at 12:27

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 11:03AM
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Those are definitely S. x buckleyi type phyllocades and the bloom is the correct shape as well. :) Yours is just blooming a bit off season is all.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 11:41AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Yes, sorry for joshin' you! ;-)
You have lovely true Christmas Cacti!


    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 12:06PM
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usha_srinivasan(z5/6 SE MI)

Too funny, thanks monet and julianna.

and Josh it is thanksgiving around the corner,
not April fools day :)


    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 12:32PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Looks like a good example of the difference latitude can make, even when plants are inside.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 12:48PM
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I am desperately looking for cuttings from a old fashioned Christmas cactus. If anyone can help!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2014 at 5:31AM
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queen_gardener(5 OH)

Desertplumeria -
I was going to email you, but you do not have that feature enabled. I have a Christmas cactus exactly like "Arlene" that is an heirloom to my family. I can offer cuttings of it. I have become a holiday cactus addict - I've always loved them, but I've only ever had the pink Christmas cactus and have just longed for the Thanksgiving and Easter cacti, plus all the other colors of Christmas cactus. I've recently discovered that there are white, light pink, yellow, orange and bi-colored blooms, and even feathered white blooms!!! There's also red, but I've seen that and the dark pink like I have in the stores since I was little. Never seen those other ones, or the lighter leaved one Cristen Aurea!!!! I must have one of each!!!
P.S. - I am in Ohio too!!!

This post was edited by Queen-Gardener on Thu, Dec 11, 14 at 19:15

    Bookmark   December 11, 2014 at 7:14PM
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I have a Christmas Cactus that I have no idea how old it is. It has gorgeous, cream-colored flowers trimmed in yellow, and the stamens have purple. It was huge and now it's falling apart. :(

If I understand everyone correctly, I need to repot it by trimming the root ball, trimming off all 'limp' branches, and replanting it in a mixture of fir bark, regular potting soil and that correct?

    Bookmark   December 21, 2014 at 11:55PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Jordy, re-pot into a mixture of mostly fir bark, perlite, and just a pinch of regular potting mix. Remove as much of the old mix from the roots as possible. No need to trim the roots or branches necessarily.


    Bookmark   December 22, 2014 at 11:59AM
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