Hello Fellow Readers,
About my Christmas cactus… the one that I wrote about early in our tenure of column chats that came my way by adoption from a then husband. The cactus was neglected and riddled with old dead wood. I was able to revive it and it bloomed beautifully for many years, though always around Thanksgiving despite coming from the Buckleyi Group known to bloom around Christmas. (You can visit the previous column by clicking through to Thanksgiving vs. Christmas Cactus.)
In recent years the cactus returned to its stick-like state and hadn’t bloomed for six years. Like many things that come with memories, I have a tough time tossing them. Especially plants; they’re living things after all. So as a last attempt before the compost pile, my Christmas cactus spent the summer outside on a garden table. The roots were nibbled by chipmunks that live in the rock wall opposing the spot. Moss soon took up residence creating a plush blanket below the cactus. As the rainy summer unfolded, it came back to life. Perhaps the root-pruning of the chipmunks helped. For sure the nitrogen from the rainwater did, increasing the fertility of the soil. Plus, rainwater brings oxygen to roots which, especially for succulents, keeps them from suffocating in flooding conditions. I moved the cactus indoors before the frost and low and behold its blooming once again!
It hadn’t occurred to me until the turnaround to use rainwater to water indoor plants. Rainwater is free from salts and treatment chemicals found in public water as well as surface or groundwater which more dramatically accumulates in potted plants. Sadly, even well water is not what it used to be due to the use of chemical pesticides since the mid-1940s. The overuse of phosphates has impacted soil thereby causing water to become out of balance. Rainwater is an ideal pH 7, slightly acidic, unlike municipal water typically kept alkaline to preserve pipes. Plus, one of the key nutrients a plant needs to survive are nitrates, a combination of nitrogen and oxygen, found in rainwater.
Rainwater harvesting began in ancient times and is growing in popularity with home gardeners. By collecting rainwater from roof runoff into a rain barrel you are gathering the benefits of organic material from plant debris, pollen, and bird droppings. And the barrel itself creates an environment that keeps the water alive offering nutrients to plants every time you water.
So Santa, a rain barrel would make a perfect gift to look forward to putting into use come spring. During the winter months, why not gather snow in five-gallon buckets and allow it to melt to room temperature to treat your indoor plants to a nutritious boost. You can save some melted snow in repurposed milk jugs between snowfalls too. See that, snow naysayers, Frosty can be very welcome coming back to town. Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com