Christmas Cactus: How To Care For Them
During the holiday season, one of the most popular plants seen in households and to give as gifts is the Christmas Cactus. This popular plant brings bright color to the table, the mantle, or any other spot in the home. The Christmas Cactus is widely available and very inexpensive.
The Christmas Cactus has many names such as the Crab Cactus, the Holiday Cactus, the Link Cactus, and the Thanksgiving Cactus. Whatever you call this plant, it comes from the Schlumbergera family originating in the mountains of Brazil. Living in generally shady areas of the mountainsides with high humidity, this cactus is very different from our hot, dry native plants. They do not have thorns and are very easy to maintain. They're very adaptable and will adapt to indoor temperatures in any part of the United States.
I have five different plants, one of which is almost 30 years old. They are not huge plants so you can easily have several around the house. My plants bloom from November through May with little effort on my part.
Christmas Cactus Description
This tropical plant is long-lived with medium to long green stems that are segmented. The stems actually look claw-like and have points along the segments but they are harmless. It flowers from November through May in colors of white, pink, red, lavender, and orange. Due to their popularity, many hybrids are being developed and you may see other shades of these colors.
As the plant ages, the stems may become corky looking with some brown or grey tones. This is natural and gives the older plant some character.
Caring For Your Christmas Cactus
The Christmas Cactus is a good choice for a houseplant because it's very easy to care for and adapts to many different conditions in the home. As with all cactus, it needs bright indirect light during the day. Unlike most cactus, it prefers cooler temperatures. Air conditioning or swamp coolers will not hurt this plant. The plant does prefer a little more water than most cacti and it also prefers to be root bound. Actually, being root bound will help this plant to bloom and this is one plant that you should not repot unless it's absolutely necessary. It will tell you when it needs repotting by becoming wilty. Keep this plant away from heating vents or doors that open to the outside where it may get a winter chill. Although it likes cool temperatures, cold air will kill it.
Getting Your Christmas Cactus to Rebloom Year After Year
My youngest Christmas Cactus is 3 years old while my oldest is almost 30 years old. You can have long-living plants too with the right conditions. There are several things to keep in mind to do this. First, during September and October the plant will need cooler temperatures between 50-60 degrees. The cooler temperatures allow the plant to rest before reblooming. Secondly, limit watering during this time. Don't let the plant dry out but water it once every 3-4 weeks and don't water it thoroughly. Thirdly, the plant needs total darkness at night to help it rest. No street lights shining in the window or night lights in the house. Lastly, keep the plant root bound and it will produce more flowers. Sounds silly, but that's what the Christmas Cactus prefers.
My plants are located in two rooms: One on top of the hutch in the dining room and the others on the mantle or plant stands near east windows. They receive bright indirect sun and at night all year long, they're in total darkness. This is key to letting them rest. To give you an idea of how often to repot these plants, my 30 year old plant has been repotted only twice. My plants bloom off-and-on from November through May. All I do is water them and feed them once a month with Schultz's Cactus fertilizer except during September and October.
Propagation Of the Christmas Cactus
You can go green with these plants by propagating them and giving them to friends and relatives as gifts. They're very easy to propagate and you can do it by placing a cutting in a glass of water or in soil. Just take a leaf cutting with 2-4 segments and either place it in water or let it dry out for about a week. It'll form a callous on the cut end and that's when it's ready to place in a good quality commercial cactus soil. You can also use African Violet soil as it's high in organic matter which Christmas Cactus love.
During the months of October through December, you can readily purchase a Christmas Cactus at any local garden nursery or most grocery stores. They are readily available and make a nice addition to the home.
References: Ron Smith, NDSU Extension Service
Ed Hume Seeds
Image Credit: Sandy James