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Fielding Questions: Repotting a huge Christmas cactus, pruner types and how to add holes to flowerpots

A reader asks if this old Christmas cactus should be repotted or left alone. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum2 / 2

Q: The Christmas cactus I inherited from my mom is 3 feet across. It’s quite uneven, short on the back side due to its previous growing conditions up against a window. The clay pot holds cement-like soil. How do I reshape and repot this precious plant? Or do I leave well enough alone? — Lori Krog, Underwood, Minn.

A: Wow, that is a terrific Christmas cactus, and it would be interesting to know how old it is. Trimming branches will help shape the plant, and new growth can eventually fill out the back side if the plant is routinely rotated.

Repotting of a large, old Christmas cactus is difficult. They can grow for decades in the same pot and soil, but eventually at least some new potting mix is needed to maintain the plant’s health. Before repotting, it’s wise to take cuttings of the plant in case something unforeseen happens. Cuttings are clones, which essentially preserves the original plant for you.

After you’re sure the cuttings have rooted, there are several ways to approach the repotting, which is best done in March as the plant senses increased day length and gets the urge for new growth. One way is to leave the plant in its current pot, but scrape away a little soil from the top and outer inch of the rootball as best you can, and replace with fresh, quality potting mix.

Another way is to increase the pot size by about 1 inch in diameter, and do a total repot. If the current clay pot isn’t valuable, it might be easier to crack it with a hammer and pull away the pieces before lifting the rootball into the new pot. Then add soil around the top and edges. I would avoid disturbing the roots any more than necessary. Good luck, and please keep us posted.

Q: Could you recommend a quality pruning shears for shrubs and small tree branches? The Fiskars I bought worked great for a couple seasons, but not so good last season. Thanks for all the info you send my way via The Forum! — Barb Anton.

A: One of the best brands of pruning shears is Felco, and I’ve had mine for many years. Handheld pruners are meant to be used on pencil-sized or only slightly larger branches. Long-handled loppers are for branches up to 1 inch in diameter, and pruning saws are for branches larger than 1 inch.

Q: Your articles encouraging plant pots with drainage are absolutely accurate. Yet many beautiful pots do not have the necessary drainage holes, so do you have experience drilling a drain hole in the bottom of glazed or unglazed pots? I would appreciate your help with the method, drill bits and how large an opening is best. — Karen Rosenvold, West Fargo.

A: Drilling holes successfully in glazed and unglazed clay and ceramic pots depends on using the right drill bit. Common, all-purpose drill bits usually work fine for drilling into plastic or vinyl pots, but can easily crack clay and ceramic material. For most pots, a half-inch diameter hole allows excess water to drain quickly.

Unglazed terra-cotta clay pots often have drain holes already. But if they don’t, use a carbide-tipped masonry drill bit, sold at hardware and home improvement stores. Soak new clay pots in water for several hours to make them less brittle before drilling.

For glazed ceramic pots, choose a drill bit used for ceramic tile or glass. When drilling into clay or ceramic pots, it’s often easiest to start with a small drill bit, and then enlarge the hole with a half-inch bit. Use very little pressure, letting the drill bit slowly do the work. Asserting too much force can easily crack the pot. For best results, have water handy and keep the surface wet while drilling.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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