Growing Orchid Cactus: How To Care For Epiphyllum

Epiphyllum is a succulent tropical native to South and Central America in the Cactaceae family. It’s more commonly known as climbing cacti or orchid cacti.

Although you often find them in hanging baskets here in the United States, in their native habitat, epiphyllum plants usually grow on tree trunks or tree branches.

Growing EpiphyllumPin

As a result, they absorb the nutrients and moisture from the environment rather than needing to develop roots in the ground.

Unlike some species of cacti, the epiphyllum doesn’t like dry air and full sun. Instead, they thrive in humid and warm environments similar to their native tropical forest habitat.

Because of the specific needs of this tropical plant, most people choose to house their orchid cacti indoors.

If you live in zones 10 to 11, you can probably keep your epiphyllum outdoors as long as you don’t overexpose it to the sun.

One important note- it’s best to keep it in a container because native soil is too compact for the plant’s survival.

Epiphyllum is known by several common names, including:

  • Orchid Cacti
  • Climbing Cacti
  • Leaf Cactus

Quick Facts About Epiphyllum:

  • Family: Cactaceae
  • Light: Partial sun
  • Temperature: 45° to 70° degrees Fahrenheit
  • Water: regular watering; soil should be moist but not soggy
  • Fertilizer: 2-10-10 application in early spring
  • Propagation: Stem cuttings
  • Common Problems: Mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, fungus gnats, snails, slugs

Epiphyllum Care

What Does The Orchid Cactus Look Like And How Big Does It Grow?

Because there are many variants of the orchid cacti, the plant can be of different sizes and shapes, and the blooms can be many different colors.

However, most variants have long trailing, non-spiny and flat stems.

Epiphyllum can grow anywhere from 2′ to 10′ feet tall.

When Does Orchid Cactus Flower? Are The Flowers Fragrant?

Epiphyllum has large, bright blooms that develop in the spring or summer. Interestingly, they are night-blooming flowers.

Most of the main varieties produce night-blooming white flowers that are generally short-lived.

These white flowers range from one inch to one foot in size and may only bloom for one night.

The plant’s flowering time ranges from April to July, depending on the variety. Although not common, some blooming occurs in fall.

The beautiful blooms are known to be fragrant.

What Are The Lighting Needs And Temperature Requirements?

Unlike many succulents, the epiphyllum needs filtered sunlight, similar to its tropical rainforest habitat.

Therefore, the afternoon sun will damage the plants, but the morning sun is usually okay.

With this in mind, keeping your epiphyllum in a hanging basket in the shade of a tree is perfect.

If you keep your epiphyllum indoors, ensure that you don’t keep bright lights on too long after the sun sets, or it may cause flowering issues the following year.

Epiphyllum plants need a warm and humid environment to thrive.

They are not frost-hardy, so if you keep your plant outside, you’ll want to bring it inside when the temperatures drop.

Conversely, the plant is fine as long as temperatures don’t go above 90° degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.

Keep your orchid cactus near the warmest window with filtered light during the growing season.

However, moving your plant to a cooler window where temperatures range from 50° to 60° degrees Fahrenheit, away from radiators or vents during the winter is best.

How And When To Water And Fertilize Epiphyllum?

The hardest thing about the epiphyllum plant is ensuring it has the perfect water balance.

Unlike most other succulents, Epiphyllum needs regular watering during the spring and summer. The soil should not be soggy, just moist.

Before watering, it’s best to ensure that the top 1/3 of the soil is dry.

In addition, the plant thrives on distilled or filtered water rather than tap water. Water that is free from impurities can help prevent a build-up of toxins.

Since Epiphyllum is such a sensitive plant, using distilled or filtered water is best.

Like many other plants, good feeding is beneficial for the epiphyllum plant.

Feeding your plant twice a year encourages vigorous growth and stimulates the plant’s buds.

However, it’s easy to overfeed the epiphyllum plant because its native habitat has low nutrient levels.

Instead, use a fertilizer that isn’t too high in nitrogen, such as a 2-10-10 fertilizer.

In addition, feeding in early spring will help encourage growth and blooms.

What Is The Best Soil For Epiphyllum And When Should You Transplant?

The best soil for epiphyllum is a fast-draining potting mix. To promote more drainage, many gardeners add pumice, perlite, or bark to their potting mix.

Epiphyllum can grow outside but is not recommended to be planted in the ground. The ground soil is too compact for the orchid cactus, and the plant will not survive. Therefore, if you want your plant outside, it’s best as a container plant with appropriate soil.

Epiphyllum plants don’t require repotting- usually, once every six to seven years will suffice. The plant is relatively root-bound and doesn’t want to be disturbed by repotting.

 When you choose to repot it, ensure it has already flowered to minimize disturbance of the root system.

Does Epiphyllum Need Special Grooming Or Maintenance?

While epiphyllum is a slow-growing plant, its trailing stems can grow large and heavy.

If you don’t want to use twine or canes to support the stems, you can cut them to a shorter length.

In addition, you can use these cuttings to grow new plants.

How To Propagate Orchid Cacti?

The best time to propagate your orchid cacti is when you are pruning the heavy and long trailing stems.

  • Stem cuttings are the quickest way to propagate new epiphyllum plants.
  • Find stems at least 9″ inches in length so they have a stronger ability to flower.
  • Carefully cut the stems with pruning shears or scissors.
  • Let the cutting dry and harden for at least a week. This prevents future rot.
  • Fill a small pot with cactus potting mix and add perlite or pumice to encourage more drainage.
  • Ensure the pot isn’t too large for the plant, as epiphyllums enjoy being rootbound.
  • Place the cutting vertically in the pot with at least 2” inches of the stem inserted.
  • Place the container in a warm spot with filtered light.
  • Start by misting the stem cutting.
  • Once roots begin forming, it’s time to normally water the plant.
  • Keep the plant at room temperature.
  • It may take up to 6 weeks for your stem cuttings to root, so be patient.

Climbing Cacti Pests And Diseases

Climbing cacti generally don’t have pest or disease problems, but there is a chance for annoying pests, including:

  • Aphids
  • Spider mites
  • Fungus gnats
  • Mealybugs

Like other plants, you can use an insecticide to manage these issues.

However, fungus gnats usually make an appearance if the soil is overwatered. Therefore, the fungus gnats should go away once the soil dries out.

Suggested Leaf Cacti Uses

The leaf cactus is best viewed in the dark since it is a night-blooming plant

 Consider putting the hanging basket somewhere visible so you can enjoy the beautiful and fragrant blooms before the sun rises.

This plant does the best in a hanging basket in courtyards (with shade) and near windows (inside or outside).