How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Night Blooming Cereus

Night blooming cereus is a very unique plant that's not well suited to every growing zone. Their beautiful blooms make them highly sought after by many gardeners. In this article, recreational gardener Jason White walks through each step you'll need to take in order to plant, grow, and care for night blooming cereus.

Night Blooming Cereus

The night-blooming cereus is a type of flowering cactus classified as a ceroid cactus with several nicknames. This cactus is free from spines or spikes but grows unusually and has thick, broad leaves that grow vines and shoots.  

Perhaps the most notable feature of the plant is its night-blooming flowers. It is one of the most beautiful and fragrant flowers of any cactus and is prized for its spectacularly large showy blooms.  

However, this type of cactus only blooms periodically in the earlier stages and requires plenty of loving care for years to get it to bloom. It might take up to seven years for the plant to produce a single bloom in some cases. Keep reading to learn more about planting and caring for this unique and fun plant.  

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Night Blooming Cereus Overview

Beautiful White Flowers Blooming at Night
This plant is also commonly known as the Queen of the Night for how it blooms one night a year.

The Night Blooming Cereus Peruvius is a less common flower across North America but grows particularly well in the Western and Southwestern areas. That’s not to say that it can’t thrive in other parts, but it needs special care to ensure it blooms and does well. It’s a popular plant in some xeriscape gardening layouts, and can grow well even in rocky areas

These cacti can grow abundantly outdoors in the ground if it’s a favorable climate. If you live in an area that isn’t favorable, you’ll want to keep it in a planter to have greater control over the conditions. This particular cactus actually refers to several species of plants, including the following.  

  • Echinopsis 
  • Cereus 
  • Harrisia 
  • Nyctocereus  

However, there are several more. This is an example of a few of the more well-known. Typically, it is most commonly the subfamily Cactoideae and the tribe Cereeae.  

This plant is also known as the Queen of the Night or the Desert Apple. This is because it also produces red, edible fruits commercially grown for some regions of the world.  

Description 

Three White Flowers in Bloom
These large, white blossoms emit a beautiful, strong fragrance.

The flowers of the night-blooming cereus are usually white. Sometimes in rarer cases, they are a very light shade of yellow or some other similar color. One interesting fact about this plant is that they seem to bloom simultaneously in the same area.  

In other words, if they are all located in one place, they all bloom on the same night. This makes for a great fragrance that permeates for blocks. Usually, when the sun starts to appear on the horizon, the flowers already begin to wilt and are entirely closed by midday. They won’t bloom again, and the flower and stem the flower emerged from will fall off in a few days.  

Flower Details 

The flower petals are approximately 6 to 8 inches each, and the center of the flower has a collection of white and yellow internal parts. They are strikingly and unusually showy and bright.  

The outer part of the flower looks alien-like, with tendrils extending from the outside and stem of the flower. When the flower blooms are becoming heavier, the stem droops down and then out in a cone shape. After it blooms, it begins to wild and lose its integrity, and sags toward the ground.  

The plant part of the cereus itself is a collection of long vines, wide and thick leaves with tough stems. The leaves grow from them that produce flowers and even other leaves. It’s a highly unusual-looking plant that is unmistakable in the plant world. For this reason, many people love to collect them and use them as a centerpiece in their cacti collection.  

These plants also grow quite large. They can reach up to ten feet in height and grow densely with a bush-like thickness. In the proper condition, they thrive in the wild and can create a large growth area that can withstand even some saltwater exposure.  

Is Cereus Useful?  

Large White Flowers Blooming in the Dark
Some cultures like to use parts of this plant in their cuisine.

The plant is not only great for looks, but this cactus also proves useful as a food source. Remember that not all of these plants are ideal for eating, and not all parts might be edible. However, the lower part of the plant is a common feature in some Chinese soups.  

The soup is night as pinyin, a slowly simmered Cantonese soup. Additionally, some species of this cacti also feature edible fruits. These fruits are sold in Southern Pacific locations and through Asia and Australia. The fruits are delicious and sweet and work well in various dishes. 

The main point is the particular species that grows fruit or produces flowers to ensure you get the right plant. You want to get it from a reputable grower or order it from a company known for the quality and accuracy of species.  

When you’re planning to grow these plants for food, you’ll likely want to grow them in containers for better control over their quality and the nutrients and soil the plant grows in to get the best quality for your dishes.  

Native Areas and Growing Regions 

White Flowers Closing Up at Dawn
Hot, dry climates are ideal for growing these flowering cactus plants.

The Night Blooming Cereus Peruvianus is native to South America but grows well across the desert Southwest; specifically the Arizona area of the region. The Sonora Desert stretches from parts of California through Mexico and then across Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Eastern Texas.  

This is the area people imagine when referring to the American Southwest and the main parts of Mexico. This particular type can grow across warm regions of the United States, however, and makes a great houseplant. If you live in an area with arid, dry, or sandy soil, you can plant them in the ground, and they can thrive and grow wild.  

If you live in a moisture-rich, hot climate, you’ll want to determine if the yearly rainfall is too much for this type of cacti because it needs drier conditions. Consider planting this plant in a container if you live in the Southeastern regions of the US to better control moisture and soil conditions for the best results.  

People living in desert areas or even Texas may try their hand at growing them outdoors in an area with plenty of space and drainage to get a healthy plant that can withstand the elements.  

Flowering Considerations 

Large White Flower Blooming in the Middle of the Night
It can take several years for this plant to bloom and show you its stunning flowers.

As mentioned previously, the cereus may not bloom until seven years, but the average in the right conditions is 4 to 5 years. Upon initially blooming, this plant will create only one or two blooms to start. As the plant matures, it begins to bloom more frequently and in more of an abundance.  

They can have up to 20 blooms at one time if the plant is many years old and has the right soil and conditions. In total, the flower is about 7 inches across and as many inches long—the method by which this cactus flower pollinates via moths.  

When the plant begins to flower, it will open after 8 or 9 at night and be expanded entirely and fully open around midnight. As the sun starts to rise over the horizon, this flower will wilt and die. The time frame during the year that these plants flower is between July and October. This is basically during the warmest months of the year.  

Cereus Cacti Care 

Night Flower Finishing its Annual Bloom in the Morning
These plants thrive in warm, dry climates when planted in containers with sandy soil.

These cacti need arid, dry conditions for soil, as with most cactus species. They require sandy-type soil with excellent draining. During the growing season, the best course of action is to water the plant and then let it dry out completely and space out waterings to simulate desert conditions.  

To get the plant to grow heartily, you can use a special fertilizer designed for cactus needs. This fertilizer is used approximately every ten days during the growing season to boost and encourage robust growth and even to bloom if the plant is old enough.  

This plant does best in the heat but can use some partial shade rather than direct sunlight all day long. If left in the direct sun, it can damage and lose leaves while changing leaf colors to reddish.  

The best place to keep them if they are planted in containers is an open area outside if the weather is warm and provide a canopy above them for some protection from the sun beating down on them – primarily if the area is known for high temperatures and plenty of rain in the Southeast areas of the US.  

Shade 

Large Beautiful White Flowers Blooming in the Dark
Because the sun can damage the leaves of this plant, partially shaded conditions are best.

There are plenty of shading options that work well for plants that require some partial shade. You can also create a makeshift shade for plants with materials found around the house. You don’t need to spend a fortune to give them some respite from the sun and encourage them to grow faster without getting damaged or receiving too much rain.  

Another ideal spot is an outdoor patio that needs the edge or a balcony if you live in an apartment. Some buildings have roofs that provide some protection at one corner or another during the day. This depends on which direction the building faces the sun and when the sun is most intense during the day.  

Generally, east-west facing buildings get the most direct and intense sun throughout the day, so your plants would need some sort of shade or protection during the hottest parts of the day for the best results.  

Growth 

Three White Flowers Closing Up in Early Morning
It is important to up-pot these flowering cacti when they get bigger.

As mentioned earlier, these plants take years to flower and start off growing slowly. You’ll be able to start them in a smaller pot but to get a bigger plant, you’ll need to transplant them from time to time to allow for growth. If you leave them in a smaller pot, they will stay small and won’t flower as much as those who have plenty of space to grow and thrive. 

As these plants begin to grow and prosper, you’ll notice that some of the leaves will break off and fall to the ground. This isn’t because there is something wrong with the plant; this is because that is the way it reproduces and spreads. The leaf is meant to fall to the ground and then sprout roots that firmly embed themselves into the soil and allow the leaf to begin to grow appendages that spread over time.  

Propagation 

Large Fragrant White Flowers in Full Bloom
Cutting is the best way to propagate this popular succulent.

If you want to grow your own Night Blooming Cereus plants, all you need to do is cut a leaf from a mature plant. You can get them from a friend’s plant or a wild plant in your area. Some growers will ship those leave to buyers so they can try their hand at growing.  

All you need to do is stick the leaf in some sandy soil in a container to get started. Leave the leaf outdoors if the weather is warm. If it is cold or too wet, bring it inside and allow it to sit on a window sill until it begins to take root. Move it outside when the weather permits and avoid overwatering the leaf. It will eventually grow and produce shoots and other leaves that grow from the edges of the leaf you planted in the soil.  

Watch the Clippings 

As the plant begins to grow and spread out, keep up your careful care and be sure to avoid clipping leaves from the plant until it is a few years old. This ensures it has the best chance to grow and gather strength.  

That way, when you harvest a leaf, it won’t affect the growth rate or damage the plant. You may notice leaves falling from the plant after a couple of years, and that is a good indicator that you can go ahead and harvest leaves to plant independently for yourself or people you know to enjoy.  

If you decide to plant this cactus outdoors, remember that it naturally spreads and will eventually grow into a large patch, so be sure to account for that factor before you plant in space. Ensure there is enough room for it to grow and that it won’t be invasive to small areas or a neighbor’s yard.  

You’ll also want to consider where to keep the plant on a permanent basis as it grows larger. You’ll eventually have a heavy plant that you won’t want to move often unless necessary, so scope out a permanent location that gets the right amount of heat and partial shade.  

Planting and Transplanting 

Large Fragrant White Flower in Full Bloom at Night
Planting and transplanting is simple and only requires a few materials.

In order to start, your cereus needs sandy cactus mix soil. There is usually an option to buy this type of soil at a gardening retailer or a home supply store. If you can’t find it, you can try to have them order it for you, or you can order for yourself and have it delivered.  

You can also try to make your own mix if you have the right ingredients. To get the right consistency, you can blend clay soil and sand or loam and sand – mostly sand. When you start with a leaf, you’ll want to get a small planter. They tend to do better with clay pots than with plastic, but you’ll want one that is darker and has holes in the bottom for drainage.  

Try to put the leaf in a pot that allows for some growth over the first few months, so you don’t have to keep transplanting it as it grows. The bigger the pot, the bigger the plant will be, so keep that in mind. If you want to limit the size of the plant, determine how large you want it to grow and bump it up to that size after the plant reaches maturity.  

Growth Patterns  

As the plant grows, you’ll notice it starts to put off long vine-like shoots. These shoots help the cactus anchor itself, which makes it a great candidate for a trellis. You can efficiently train the cereus to climb a trellis if you plan to keep it outside or a covered area in an open space.  

This process will also help provide support and contain it as it will begin to reach out into open spaces and get in the way. Treat the plant as you would a vine and consider tying the shoots to the trellis to keep them in place, and eventually, you can let it grow naturally because it will use the trellis as a guide.  

Just remember that once it wraps around a trellis, it will need to remain wrapped on that trellis. If you want a plant to grow freely, you’ll need space and avoid the trellis. If you need to transplant your cactus, you’ll want to ensure your planter is large enough to hold its current size.  

Don’t forget to add cactus fertilizer to it periodically to help it recover from a transplant. The key is to keep the conditions the same as before the transplant to minimize shock or trouble adjusting.  

Once you transplant the cactus, give it plenty of water. Don’t forget to avoid watering it before the transplant because it makes it heavier and can make the soil harder to work with during the process.  

Night Blooming Cereus Daily Care 

As mentioned earlier, the care of the cereus isn’t labor-intensive; however, you need to ensure you provide the ideal conditions for it to thrive. You’ll know if the environmental conditions aren’t suitable if the cactus doesn’t grow much or if it fails to flower after four or five years. Remember to pay attention to the following.  

  • Sun exposure 
  • Water 
  • Fertilizer 
  • Soil 

Also, if the leaf turns brown and breaks in half, you likely are giving it either too much water or too much sun. This condition may also occur if you put the plant in direct sun, and when it rains heavily, and the sun comes back out. That essentially steam the plant and kills sections.  

Things to Know 

Night Cactus Flower Closing at Dawn
It is important that Night Blooming Cereus plants are watered just right.

One thing to mention about this plant is that if you live in the coastal regions near the Gulf, you might be concerned about storm surges periodically. These plants can actually survive inundation from saltwater if they are large and have grown directly in the soil for some time. They may suffer some damage or wilting, but they usually bounce back with some TLC.  

Avoid self-watering devices altogether because they aren’t the type of plants that need these gradually watering solutions. They like dry soil, and it’s good to let them sit in that dry, sandy soil for a few days or weeks at a time.  

However, when you water dry soil, you’ll need to douse it generously and continue to keep watering so the soil will eventually soak up the water because it initially repels it for a time.  

Avoid Trimming 

Night Cactus Flower and Buds at Night
Taking too much from the plant can cause distress, so only prune in small amounts if absolutely necessary.

The cereus doesn’t need to be trimmed, but it can be clipped for propagation. If the cereus is growing too large, consider taking small sections and giving them away to people who want them, but don’t take a large section because it could stress the plant and impede the blooming cycle or shock it.  

With that mentioned, however, this cactus is very hearty and is generally easy to care for. It makes a good beginner plant because, unlike roses and other fickle flowering plants, it can go without close supervision and watch for some time. Just don’t forget to check on it weekly and keep an eye out for any issues.  

If you leave to go out of town for a vacation or business trip, these plants are usually fine until you get back. However, if you plan to be gone for over two weeks, you’ll want to arrange for someone to come in and water it thoroughly at least once every two weeks or twice a month.  

Who Should Have A Night Blooming Cereus?  

Not every home is ideal for this type of plant. Although it is pretty hearty and can live in hot, dry conditions, you’ll want to ensure you have enough space. These plants can get quite large, and unless you plan to keep them in a tiny pot (not recommended), you’ll need a place for it to safely grow long vine-like stems and long leaves with various protrusions, flowers, and fruit.  

Look at it, kind of like a bush or large topiary you want to grow in a pot. These items all need space, but the Night Blooming Cereus needs even more. It’s an ideal plant for someone with a large deck, large open patio area, or someone with dry sandy soil with a moderately large yard. This is not an excellent plant for a small area or someone who prefers small cacti.  

Things to Consider 

Night Cactus Flowers Blooming in the Dark of Night
Since they need so much space to grow, there are a few things to consider when planning a spot for your cactus.

Before taking this plant, examine your surroundings and decide if you have a six-foot-wide space with enough vertical space for it to expand. It also needs to be in an area out of a walkway or other high-traffic areas. This plant would do excellent in a larger greenhouse area too.  

This plant is an excellent addition to an avid gardener’s collection or someone who can transplant and care for them as needed. This wouldn’t be an ideal plant for the elderly or people who don’t have the time or space to care for them properly.  

They also wouldn’t be a good plant for people living in the Northern areas of the US, where they wouldn’t get enough light and heat unless located in a temperature-controlled room. Desert conditions are what they need for optimal growth and prolific flowering.  

Giving Plants to Friends 

Large Night Blooming Flowers in Full Bloom
These plants are fairly easy to propagate and share with those who want this unique flower.

If you have a Night Blooming Cereus of your own, you’ll likely want to share them with friends and family when they are old enough. Keep in mind, though, that you want to limit the number of leaves you clip at one time.  

Give them away in stages and monitor your plant after you cut them for any signs of shock or damage. It’s best to clip them right near the stalk or stem and place them directly in the dirt a couple of inches deep before sending them on their way. It also helps to give them good water initially to support the leaf recovery and take root after it’s clipped.  

Why Have a Night Blooming Cereus?  

Large White Night Blooming Flower Blossom
Many folks enjoy having these once-a-year bloomers and the spectacle they provide.

Anyone interested in having a show-stopper plant that produces incredibly beautiful, fragrant, large flowers might enjoy growing one for themselves. It’s important to remember the plant itself is gangly and odd-looking and isn’t the conventional idea of beauty.  

It is, however, something fun and unique to watch grow and change as it matures. When it’s time for them to bloom, you can invite friends to watch and enjoy this special occasion. It is definitely an excellent topic for conversation, especially if you are interested in gardening with plants and flowers. 

And of course, you can share them with other people who also find them fascinating and fun to watch. You might also consider propagating them for garden clubs and other hobby groups.  

Why Not Have a Night Blooming Cereus?  

Fragrant Blossoms Blooming at Night
These flowering cacti can grow to be quite large, and you only get to enjoy them one night a year.

If you don’t have enough time or space for this cactus, you would want to forgo getting one. However, that’s not to say you wouldn’t be able to give leaves as a gift. As with any large, unique plant, they aren’t for everyone. This type of cactus is not a plant to help your interior design because it can look alien-like.  

You also wouldn’t want to have this type of plant in a home with small children and large pets. They tend to gravitate toward the plant and can damage it or try to eat it. Although the plant isn’t toxic, the long vine-like stems and leaves can be irresistible. If you do have a busy home, you’d want to keep it outside where kids and pets won’t interact with it.   

Suggestions 

Beautiful White Flower in Full Bloom in the Dark
These stunning flowers grow from cacti that are fairly low-maintenance.

If you plan to raise a Night Blooming Cereus, you’ll want to make sure you have the tools and planting materials to get it off to a good start. You want to determine where the best partially full sun area is – preferably west facing a bit of shade during the most direct sunlight.  

Have a plan to provide a cover or shade to get the best results. Don’t water the plant more than once a week or every several days. They can actually go for some time without water so avoid the urge to water daily like other plants.  

Don’t prune your plant unless you plan to make cuttings to start new plants or give them to others. Also, be patient. It takes time for these plants to take off and start producing blooms. Each year, you can expect more blooms if you take care of them properly during the growing season.  

Final Thoughts 

If you want to grow a unique and fun plant, you’ll love the Night Blooming Cereus. It has an interesting growth pattern and some of the most beautiful and interesting blooms of any plant. Be sure you know if you can take care of it properly before taking a cutting.  

If you start the plant on your own, give it time to take root and begin to grow. It can take a couple of months for you to see noticeable growth from the time you plant a leaf. Don’t cut other leaves for new plants until it matures after a few years. You’ll likely notice leaves dropping to take root when the plant is ready. 

Additionally, you can increase the growth rate and bloom by using cactus fertilizer. Always plant this cactus in sandy soil and avoid overwatering and direct sunlight all day. Have a spot picked out for it to live, and make sure it gets the right amount of heat and sunlight.  

If you notice it starting to turn reddish or have dried brown leaves, you can guess that the sunlight is too much or the plant was wet when exposed to bright, direct sunlight. With some practice and attention, you too can have a fun plant with some of the most fragrant and showy flowers of any plant.  

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