The Christmas cactus is a very popular Holiday blooming plant second only to the Poinsettia.
This zygo-cactus, native to Central and South America comes in many colors including, white, pink, yellow, orange, red and purple. Through years of hybridization, we now have Christmas cactus, Easter cactus and Thanksgiving cactus. They are called epiphytes and grow in the same environment as orchids. The cactus grow in forks of trees where leaves and other debris accumulate and decay. Their cultural requirements are very different from the familiar desert cacti.
The #1 question is “how do I get it to bloom?” Between September and October the plant should be kept in a cool room set in bright, indirect light location. At night, the room must be in total darkness even free from artificial lighting, very similar to getting a poinsettia to re-bloom. The plant must not be subjected freezing temperatures. Proper temperature, sufficient lighting and limited water will bring the cactus into flower.
Christmas cactus is a tropical plant and will require the same care as other tropical house plants. Water thoroughly, then allow the first inch of soil dry out. During fall and winter months the plant requires less watering. Being tropical, they require 50-60% humidity so it’s a good practice to place the pot on a saucer filled with pebbles and water. (Make sure the plant is not sitting in water). Another tip is to keep the plant away from doors or heating vents to prevent being affected by cool and warm drafts. Fertilize with 0-10-10 in late November and again in February. During April-September, it’s active growing period, fertilize with a liquid all purpose fertilizer.
Troubleshooting - bud drop off is a common problem with Christmas cactus. It’s usually caused by too much watering but it can be from lack of humidity or insufficient light.
After holiday blooming, give the plant a 30 day rest and place back in a cool room with limited watering. The plant may drop a few leaves and look weak but it will rejuvenate after watering.
The best time for repotting, pruning or shaping is right before its growth spurt between February- April. Christmas cactus like being root bound so don’t be too quick to put it in a larger pot.
The new hybrid Christmas cactus can re-bloom several times throughout the year if given proper care. Visit Chester’s greenhouses this month to see Christmas cactus in several sizes as well as many other seasonal plants.