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Fielding Questions: Thanksgiving cactus reblooms, caring for hibiscus and battling voles

A reader asks if it's normal for a Thanksgiving cactus like this to rebloom in December and late March. Special to Forum News Service

Q: My Thanksgiving cactus has bloomed profusely in November every year. This past summer I kept it in a shaded corner of our screened porch, and then repotted it when I brought it into the house this fall. It bloomed a little less profusely in November, but then it bloomed again in December for Christmas, and again now in late March. The second and third blooms are less than November, but still quite pretty. Is it common for these holiday cactuses to rebloom like this? — Karen Hornseth, Lidgerwood, N.D.

A: This has been a good winter for holiday cactuses as I’ve received many notes about rebloomers.

Thanksgiving cactus is distinguished from its Christmas cousin by the visible prongs projecting along the stem pads. Flower bud formation is triggered on both types by an interesting interaction of cool night temperatures and daylength. Night temperatures often drop low enough close to a window during winter to trigger repeat blooms.

Sometimes the plant will only rebloom on the side closest to the window, as the plant portion facing the room’s interior might not receive the required low temperature trigger. Rotating the plant would either increase rebloom on all sides, or prevent rebloom entirely, depending on window and room temperature.

Q: We have a hibiscus plant we bought at a greenhouse late last summer. We moved it inside in the fall and have it in a west-facing window, and it is about to bloom again. Is there anything we should do before we set it back outside later this spring? — Doug Hansen.

A: March is a great month to prepare a hibiscus for its upcoming outdoor vacation. During the short days of winter, hibiscus often drop some yellowed leaves, but as the plant senses the longer days of spring, it’s triggered to begin a new round of fresh growth.

To accommodate the plant’s instinct for spring growth, repot into fresh soil and a slightly larger pot, if the plant has been in the same soil for over a year. Prune any weak winter growth that appears spindly to encourage stronger spring growth. Begin fertilizing with a water-soluble type like Miracle-Gro every two weeks. When danger of spring frost is likely past, gradually accustom the hibiscus to outdoor light beginning in sheltered shade, and gradually transition to its summer home.

Q: My yard is infested with voles, and looks like a road map. What can I do? — LaVonne Bullinger.

A: I’m suspecting that as our snow disappears, we’re going to see considerable damage from voles, which look like tailless mice. They’ve had abundant protection under snow, where they're safe from natural predators, and last week I saw a vole scurry along the sidewalk and disappear under a snowbank.

Voles make a network of trails across the lawn as they chew grass and make nests. Usually grass will regrow from the roots with little long-term damage after a good raking. If damage appears severe, grass seed can be sprinkled over the area in May. The most tragic vole damage is to young trees as they gnaw the bark, girdling the trunks at or below ground level.

To prevent future vole damage, many homeowners have reported success using vole or mole repellents whose active ingredient is castor oil. It can be distributed around the yard without the danger to pets or children that poisons would present. Traps are also an option in some situations.

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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