For those who believe it's too early to think about Christmas when the Halloween candy has barely been on the store shelves, I apologize. But I must mention the Christmas cactus.
Currently they are boring, green, spiny succulents, but they transform into lovely blossoms at Christmas. I own a huge Christmas cactus that is older than my children. I was given a cutting of the plant back in 1980 from someone whose great-great-great-grandmother had arrived in western Kansas in a covered wagon. Supposedly the woman had carried the Christmas cactus from the East Coast in a peanut-butter tin.
Through the years, I have watched it bloom in December. However, it also has bloomed at Easter and Thanksgiving. Actually, it just does what it pleases, despite my putting it in a closet and not watering it for the month of October.
Oct. 1 is just days away, when darkness descends once again for my plant, so I decided to see what the experts had to say about getting a Christmas cactus to bloom. I consulted Diana Beasley, owner of Benton's Greenhouse in South Hutchinson. She, in turn, consulted with her plant expert - a man named Mike with Florida Cactus. Mike recommends that the cactus plant be put in a cooler, darker, dry location for four weeks.
But you don't necessarily need to hide the plant away in a closet. Mike said the plant can also be left outdoors in the shade, even when the temperature drops to the 40-degree range at night. This will send the plant into dormancy; then after four weeks the plant can be brought back inside to a warm, bright location and fertilized.
By Christmas or the first of the year, the plant should be filled with beautiful blooms. (But keep in mind that Mike lives in Florida, so if the temperature dips below 40 degrees, bring it into the house and continue ignoring it until All Saints Day, Nov. 1.)
Hutchinson resident Mary Steward of Jesus, a kindred spirit of all things growing, told me that she has been leaving her Christmas cactus on the front porch, on the north side of her house, with positive results.
"I take it in when it's time (when there's a frost warning) and I have had more flowers since I did this," she said. "Before, it didn't bloom as well."
Her method of leaving the cactus out until a freeze has had fantastic results.
Mary prefers the natural way with everything she does. The outside of her home looks like it belongs in a forest. Wait, it is a forest, all covered with grapevines and flowers and bushes growing where others have manicured lawns.
At the moment, migrating monarch butterflies are in profusion throughout Mary's yard.
"It has been fantastic," she said, observing the butterflies on the tiny orange blossoms of the Mexican butterfly weed, plus milkweed and Mexican sunflower, which attract the butterflies during their migration pattern. Currently they are heading to Mexico for the winter - that is, if they don't decide to make Mary's front yard a permanent home. They obviously know a good layover when they see it.
The colors in Mary's yard are vibrant, from the orange cosmos to the pinks and reds of the zinnias.
People stop and comment when they find her outdoors. One young man with a toddler on his shoulders told her that her front yard reminded him of his home in Puerto Rico. Another man told her that her garden reminded him of the rainforest where he grew up in Kenya.
Rain has certainly helped her garden grow this season. She also nourishes it with grass clippings donated from others, whenever she can. Plus, she composts all her food and breaks eggshells with a sledgehammer. In the fall and over the winter, the plants collect leaves and snow.
"I just let it be," she said. "It attracts the birds that leave droppings" - just more natural fertilizer.
She noted that if people want to attract birds into their yards, they should grow grapes. Happy birds feast on the fruit that covers the vines on the front and even the roof of her home.