Disocactus ackermannii, commonly known as Red Orchid Cactus, is an epiphytic cactus from tropical forests in Veracruz and Oaxaca, Mexico. Despite the name cactus, it enjoys the water. Natural growth periods are in the spring and fall only. The Red Orchid Cactus is a flat-stemmed cactus notable for its funnel-shaped scarlet flowers that are up to 5.6 inches (14 cm) long and 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Flowering does not come easy for this fickle cactus, which requires specific cultural conditions to thrive. Gardeners who have labored over the cactus with no results should note that it may take 10 to 15 years before the cactus is large enough to produce flowers.
Orchid Cacti do best in temperatures that stay consistently between 45 and 70 °F (7 and 21 °C), though they tolerate extreme heat in shady, humid situations. Do not allow Red Orchid Cactus to be in a temperature below 35 °F (2 °C), even in winter, because it will die back. A windowsill with indirect sunlight or filtered light is ideal for an indoor plant. The Red Orchid Cactus should have healthy bright-green stems. The cactus receives too much light if its growth appears wilted or yellowish. The cactus does not receive enough light if its growth is leggy and weak. Outdoors, It is hardy in only USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 10 through 11.
Potting and Repotting
This cactus performs best when it is root bound, meaning its roots fill its container or other growing space. A cactus planted in a 4-inch (10 cm) pot will flower quicker than one in an 8-inch (20 cm) pot. If your Red Orchid Cactus is in a pot, repot it every seven years by removing it from its container, tapping excess soil from its roots, and placing the cactus in a larger pot with fresh well-draining potting soil. Wait about one week before watering the soil. If the cactus has flowered, wait one month after it blooms before repotting it. Only a pot with a bottom drainage hole should be used.
Although excessive watering can kill cacti, it is important to water a Red Orchid Cactus year-round because a long dry spell can discourage it from flowering. Water whenever the top 1/3 of the soil has dried out, but do not let all of the soil dry out. Water the soil surface deeply. If the cactus is in a pot, water until water drips from the bottom of the pot. The plant should not be splashed with water during the process. In winter, when Red Orchid Cactus is dormant, water its soil about every few weeks. If you grow your cactus from a cutting, then do not allow the cutting to dry out. Water a rooted cutting about once weekly in the growing season and once each month in winter.
During the growing season, fertilize Red Orchid Cactus once each month with a water-soluble, 10-10-10 fertilizer. Dilute the fertilizer with water, using about one teaspoon of fertilizer per one gallon of water. Avoid using a fertilizer with a nitrogen content higher than 10 percent. Switch to a 2-10-10 fertilizer, which has less nitrogen in early spring and again in late fall to encourage flowering.
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