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But Can I Grow It In My Bathroom?

With any plant, you need to be sure that you grow it in the right place and in conditions that suit it best.

Everybody seems to want a cactus or succulent these days and some people don’t seem that worried about whether they’ll be able to grow them that well. If I had £1 for all those eager customers who approach me clutching a powder blue echeveria and asking if they can grow it in their bathroom, I’d be pretty well-off, thank you very much!

When I am asked about placing succulents in bathrooms I explain that succulent plants need lots of light (many bathrooms nowadays don’t have windows) and actually they don’t like water very much…but I can’t help feeling guilty when I see the customer’s crestfallen face – the pot is set down on the counter and s/he disappears back into the crowd. Other stall holders have told me that people are sometimes so insistent on having a plant that they just say “yes” when questioned on the suitability of a site for a plant. I remember one customer whom, when questioned, appeared to have nowhere in her dark, damp basement flat that would suit a succulent. She put the plants back down when I explained that they probably wouldn’t survive, but ten minutes later came back and told me that she had decided to buy them anyway! I watched slightly horrified as she walked away with a clutch of doomed plants in her basket.

With any plant, you need to be sure that you grow it in the right place and in conditions that suit it best. I’ve been disappointed myself on many occasions when the gift of a beautiful African violet dies after a few months of my neglect. In fact, it was only through growing succulents that I realised that I could grow house plants successfully – but only those that actually liked being neglected!

It’s heartening that there are currently many articles around in magazines and blogs that are adopting a more responsible attitude to growing plants – something that can only help to inform consumers. I was pleased recently to be asked to contribute to an article on greening staircases by the company Jackson Woodturners. They asked a team of houseplant experts to suggest ideas to complement staircases and stairwells featured on their website – and it is very informative too!

However, to return to bathrooms – I’ve decided that there is clearly a demand for plants that can cope there other than just ferns and tradescantias, so I’m going to focus on suitable plants from the succulent family this month. Succulents of course, grow in many more places than just deserts – I’ve mentioned echeverias in previous blogs, which grow at high altitudes in Mexico and South America and are covered in snow in winter and our own native stonecrops, including Sedum anglicum that is found on Dungeness beach here in the UK. Well, there are also many tropical succulents, lots of which are epiphytic, and grow in rainforests where they prefer high humidity and warmth (is this beginning to sound at all like your bathroom?) This group includes the well-known Christmas and Easter cactus – Schlumbergera and Hatiora as well as many beautiful flowering Epiphyllums (orchid cacti) and Rhipsalis (rope cactus). Common characteristics are a trailing growth habit with elongated leaves and stems that are mostly soft and spineless (thankfully). This makes them ideal candidates for hanging baskets and macrame pot holders.

Tropicals still need a lot of light when in active growth, so a windowless bathroom won’t do, but a bright window or skylight next to a steamy shower would be perfect. Plant in free-draining compost (cactus or even orchid mix would do) and water frequently during the growing season to keep the soil moist. The large, showy flowers appear in late spring and early summer and these are encouraged by reducing watering to bring on dormancy from mid-September and placing the plants somewhere cool (12-20 degrees centigrade). If this isn’t possible, in your warm apartment, a dark cupboard should suffice. Plants like being pot-bound and this helps to promote flowering. I’ve started to grow a few tropical cactus, including some from seed, and will be selling these at plant over the next few months. I’ve listed a few of my favourites below.

  • Epiphyllum anguliger – the fishbone or ric-rac cactus. This epiphytic cactus has long wavy edge leaves and produces beautiful scented creamy-white flowers in late spring early summer.  It prefers humid and partially shaded conditions and is best in hanging baskets or placed on a high shelf where it can drape beautifully.
  • Hylocereus undatus ‘Macho Milano’ – Dragon Fruit. Another epiphyte that produces highly scented yellowy-cream flowers at night. The fleshy red and green horned fruits are grown as a crop and very attractive.
  • Lepisium cruciforme – this is one of the so-called rope cactus. It forms dense fronds of magenta stems that are quite startling. The flowers are fairly insignificant and white and it forms small purply-pink fruit along the stems.
Tropical cacti make ideal plants for bathrooms as they prefer high humidity and warmth.