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Christmas Cactus & Planting Bulbs

Questions about a frost-bitten Christmas cactus and cherry tree bark damage; plus get those bulbs planted!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

November 16, 2003

Several weeks ago I mentioned having been on the west coast of Vancouver Island on two occasions. Here are some photos of some of the glaciers located near Tofino, and one shot of a salmon fish farming containment, which are ever so controversial here. Author photos.

Myrna Schnurr, possibly living in Mildmay, Ontario, wrote this week: “I hear you talking on radio 740. I have a real problem that I hope you can help me with. I forgot to bring in my Christmas cactus that I had under a bush all summer. We have had snow and cold weather. Part of it looks like it might survive. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should be doing with it? I feel rather sick about forgetting it as it is probably 50 years old and I hate the thought of it dying on me.”

Well Myrna, if it has been through some frost (the snow might have protected it from intense cold) you will indeed be lucky if any more than the roots and the bases of the branches are alive! I once had a huge one killed right back to within about five centimetres of the pot. It did come back, and large plants killed or cut back severely generally do come back more quickly than you might think because of the extensive established root system. If there are branchlets that do not shrivel, you might even get a bloom or two at their tips. If all the branches shrivel and dry, cut them off, and apply a 20-20-20 fertilizer to encourage new growth. Give the plant as much light as you can (considering the time of year). And, be patient; and don’t forget it outside next year. It only happened to me once!

Lawrence F. O'Brien, of unknown location, also wrote saying, “In the spring of 03 I planted two dwarf cherry trees and over the summer have watered and fertilized them regularly. They now have places on the main branches where the bark has split and the wood has turned brown and looks dry. What would cause this problem and is it possible to treat this problem and save the branches? Thank you for any help you can give me.”

If, on the main branches, areas of the bark and wood beneath it dry up and seem to fall out, leaving tiny (3 mm [1/8”]) holes, this is a bacterial problem known as shot-hole (Xanthomonas pruni). You may also have noted similar small holes in the leaves of the cherry trees.

Control is with Benlate, captan, Cyprex or ferbam sprays, at least the former of which is still available but won’t be for too much longer. The other three you’ll have to search for in some old gardener’s basement or fruit tree farmer’s pesticide cupboard! You should apply the first spray just as the flowers fall next spring. There should be two more applications at two-week intervals.

On the other hand, I guess there is a small chance the problem is simple sunscald. If that is the case, a simple wrapping of the trunk with a mesh that is sold to prevent rabbit damage will likely help.

Even though you Ontario people have had a little snow, and some cold weather, it has not been too terrible that you are prevented from planting spring flowering bulbs. Out here in Parksville, I am about to undertake planting of 400 tulip bulbs in our side garden and possibly in a new bed in the street-side garden. There are 100 of each variety, and they came from the wholesale firm Vanhof & Blokker Ltd. in Mississauga. All four are new varieties for 2003 and they certainly seem interesting. The earliest to bloom will be a triumph tulip ‘Minuet’ and a Darwin hybrid ‘American Dream’. ‘Minuet’ is a single medium red with each petal edged in white. ‘American Dream’ is also a bi-colour--light yellow and hot orange. Triumphs and Darwin hybrids generally bloom in late April and early May. Minuet will grow to about 50 cm (20”) and ‘American Dream’ to about 55 cm (22”).

The other two are later-blooming varieties: ‘Beauty of Appledoorn’ and ‘Cherry Delight’ are both double late varieties that usually bloom in late May. ‘Beauty of Appledoorn’ will have rich orange double blooms, and ‘Cherry Delight’ light pink petals all edged in a deeper pink. Both will grow to about 50 cm (20”) in height.

Now you might ask why I wrote in detail about planting tulips this late in the season. Well, to emphasize what I said at the beginning, there is still plenty of time to get tulips planted in all of southern Ontario. That applies even if there is a few centimetres of frost in the ground at your home. I have many times planted tulips as late as five weeks from now, yes, right around Christmas. It’s not usually difficult to use a spade to get through a light layer of frost.

Many folks will have bought bulbs weeks, even months ago, and not yet planted them. Each early spring there is always at least one question from a listener/reader asking what to do with his or her bulbs bought in the fall and not yet planted.

The answer to that question is: those bulbs are garbage. So, if you’re in that bind--bulbs not yet planted, do get them planted within the next few days. If you’re unplanted bulb supply includes daffodils and narcissi, they really should have been planted last month, but better to get them in the ground late now, than to put them in the garbage. Daffs and narcissi may not perform as well next spring if you plant them late, but they will perform well the following spring.

But, tulips will do equally well planted now, or two months ago. So, do get those unplanted bulbs into the ground where they can give you a good show of colour come next April and May.


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