How to Care for Rhipsalis - Rhipsalis Care Guide

This month's plant for subscribers is a fantastic species of Rhipsalis, tropical cacti which thrive both indoors and outdoors as well as being super easy to grow, with little maintenance required. Rhipsalis are fantastic plants to keep for their fast, sprawling growth and low water requirement - they're a must-have for any plant collector.

How to Care for Rhipsalis - Care Guide

What are Rhipsalis?

They’re Cacti, in the plant family Cactaceae, all of them are epiphytes, plants which live on other plants without damaging them. From Central America, parts of South America and the Caribbean they have varied habitats, many of which are wet and humid, but some of which can be drier during parts of the year.


What’s great about Rhipsalis?

Not only are Rhipsalis easy to look after, they’re quick growing but botanically interesting. As Tropical Cacti, they enjoy nice ambient light either indoors or outdoors undercover, semi-regular watering and in turn they’ll reward you with an always happy-looking plant that seems to grow and grow without any real care.


How do you grow Rhipsalis indoors?

To grow them successfully indoors, find a place where good, strong ambient sunlight enters for ½ to ¾ of the day. Over about 1-2 week, watch for signs of stretching (leaning or reaching for the direction of the light) which indicates insufficient light. Conversely also look for signs of burning or bleaching (loss of green color, paling, turning yellow-to-white) which can indicate too much light.


Rhipsalis grow fairly quickly, and you should see new growth forming regularly. If new growth stops, make sure the plant has enough room to grow in its pot. If the pot feels hard when you squeeze it, and full of roots, pot it up into a slightly larger pot with a drainage hole. Never place Rhipsalis directly into decorative pots which are sealed. Ideally use a plastic growing pot, which is then placed inside of a larger decorative pot.

How do you grow Rhipsalis outdoors?

Rhipsalis can be grown outdoors as potted plants on balconies and patios, are particularly effective in hanging baskets and will often thrive when placed outside. Ensure no more than half a days sun at most, ideally indirect light under shade-cloth or a patio roof.


Generally Rhipsalis do not grow well terrestrially (in the ground).


What is the best potting mix for Rhipsalis?

Use either a store-bought Cactus mix or a hummus-rich Orchid mix, adding Perlite as a lightener to increase drainage if desired. Perlite or Sand can also be added to regular Potting mix at a ratio of 50/50 to form an effective mix. Avoid using straight Standard Potting Mix, unless watering very infrequently, and even then this can increase chances of a poor root environment developing.


How often do you water Rhipsalis?


Rhipsalis are efficient at conserving water, they also grow quickly and so can use large amounts of available water. However, their roots naturally grow in very aery yet slightly hummus-rich leaf-drop from the canopy above, which often settles in the nooks and crooks of these enormous trees. So they need a nice, open, aery Potting mix which drains well and dries out regularly, but not too quickly. Rhipsalis can dry out to great extent before showing physical signs of this stress, and so the best indicator of dryness is the Potting mix itself.


When you water your Rhipsalis, its best to soak the soil until water drains from the holes in the pot. If you have a saucer underneath, allow this to catch drainage water and then empty it within 24 hours to avoid root disease. After a thorough soaking, each day check the potting mix with your fingers; wet potting mix will stick to your fingers, almost like mud. Dry potting mix feels like sand, might cause a slight dust when disturbed, and will be crunchy if dug into. The best indicator of if water is needed is the weight of the pot; you can quickly learn the weight of your pots when watered, versus when dry. Use this as your best gauge for watering your Rhipsalis, as well as your other plants.


Although it can be tempting to try to pin your watering down to a schedule (twice a week, every 3 days, etc) this is often unreliable and will result in periods of too-dry, too-wet and cause growth to suffer.


What fertiliser do I use on Rhipsalis?

The best fertiliser products for Rhipsalis are mineral-rich liquid fertilisers applied as a drench or with a spray bottle over the foliage. Seaweed products work well, although Fish & Kelp Emulsion products will give much greater growth. Some people use Orchid products at low dosages, but this should only be done if you have experience with these products.


That sums it up for our guide this month on Rhipsalis. We hope you’ve learned how to grow Rhipsalis indoors, or outdoors, and if you have further questions always get in contact with us at subscriptions@botanicbox.com.au - we’ll be happy to help.

Still keen to know more about Rhipsalis? 

Read on for even more in-depth info on growing Rhipsalis for the botanically inclined!


In Central America, the Caribean and the northern regions of South America are naturally distributed the 35 different species of Rhipsalis, belonging to the Cactus family Cactaceae. Very few other member of their enormous plant family live in this part of the world, an area dominated by wet and humid tropical rainforest as well as large swatches of marshland. In stark contrast to their arid-land cousins, Rhipsalis not only live here in the Deep Tropics of the Old World but they also live in an entirely different place within these damp, wet environments; in the trees.


As epiphytes Rhipsalis almost always grow in the treetops, their roots find anchor in the same places which harbor the seeds of orchids and the spores of ferns. They are pendulous epiphytes, germinating as a seedling and producing strong anchoring roots which then support the mature plant, hanging downward from the trees. Many are bristled, but lack the sharp and painful spines common in other Cactus.


Rhipsalis are through-and-through Tropical Cacti, a term which might seem a little confusing - most Cacti require little water, grow relatively slowly and are ideally planted into sandy soil, containing some hummus but being open and free-draining. Most Cacti also suffer in humidity, developing rot and bacteria easily if the air around them becomes too saturated such as in a sealed glass-house or in terrariums. Lastly, most Cacti require strong light, ideally approaching full-day sun but slightly less. In anything darker, they will stretch or generally die off.


Tropical Cacti vary from this a little bit, however, in that they can tolerate much greater levels of humidity, and their natural environments are much darker than those of their arid-land Cacti cousins. This makes Rhipsalis ideal as indoor plants; the increased humidity of the indoors and an ambiently-lit spot won’t bother this plant. As epiphytes, they are naturally water conservative as well as water efficient; this means you can give them a little water, they’ll use it all and then go a good while without some. 

 

They aren’t nearly as drought-tolerant as their desert-dwelling relatives, however, and so they still benefit from regular watering when the potting mix has dried, and the pot has become light. This will change depending on the potting mix your Rhipsalis is in. Ideally a nice open mix such as a premium store-bought Cacti mixture will work. Another good mix to use for Rhipsalis is the Orchid Cymbidium & Bromeliad mixtures; this hummus-bark mixture with excellent aeration, drainage and growth is fantastic for Rhipsalis. Some Perlite can be mixed into this, to lighten the mix even more for those who tend to water often.


Don’t forget that there are 35 different species of Rhipsalis, not counting Cultivars (human-bred and patented types). Not only are Rhipsalis fantastically varied, excellent to collect and easy to look after, most have very similar care requirements. Some of the most common species are Rhipsalis grandiflora, Rhipsalis ewaldiana, Rhipsalis goebeliana and Rhipsalis cereuscula. Find a place where your new Rhipsalis looks happy and healthy, and you’ll have a great starting place for more of these fantastic plants.


Thanks for checking out the Care Guide this month, we hope you enjoyed this deep-dive into the interesting genus of epiphytic tropical cacti called Rhipsalis!


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