While Poinsettias are probably the most popular Christmas plant, there are many people that wouldn’t consider celebrating the holiday season without a Christmas cactus. The Schlumbergera, or Christmas cactus has been a favorite holiday plant since the 1800′s.
Even though the Christmas cactus is a true cacti, unlike other cacti that normally grow in the heat of the desert, they grow in trees in tropical rain forests. And, therefore don’t like as much sun as most cacti, they should be kept in an area that gets bright indirect sunlight.
Christmas cactus will adapt to low lighting conditions, but they bloom much better when exposed to bright indirect light. They can even be set outdoors and will do quite well as long as they’re not setting in bright sun. And, are brought inside before the weather gets too cold.
This tropical cactus isn’t as drought tolerant as other cacti, although being a succulent, it does store some water in the leaves. The Christmas cactus should be watered when the top inch or so of the soil becomes dry. Don’t follow a regular watering schedule, the temperature in the room, humidity and even the growth rate will vary. Only water when the top of the soil is dry.
Christmas cacti are very adaptable to temperatures, they can survive temperatures as low as 35* and as high as 100*. But, the excessive high and low temperatures can cause a lot of damage to the plant. The best temperature to keep them at is between 65* and 80*.
They don’t require a lot of fertilizing, between 2 and 4 times each year is more than sufficient to keep them healthy. A high quality fertilizer that is labeled 20-20-20 is excellent. And, if you have had your plant for awhile and know the approximate time when it will bloom, don’t use any fertilizer about a month before the new buds should appear.
The soil has to be a well draining mixture, this is very important to prevent root rot. You can purchase a good quality commercial potting soil that is mixed especially for succulents. If you like mixing your own soil mediums, use one part clean sand and two parts of regular potting soil.
After your plant has lost it’s blooms, you can encourage the stems to branch out by pruning them. Just remove a few of the sections of the stems with a sharp knife. These sections can then be placed into some moist vermiculite and they will root to propagate new plants.
To get your Christmas cactus to bloom again the following season, they need a little extra attention. In order to bloom, they need long periods of darkness and temperatures around 50* at night. The shorter days and cooler temperatures let the plant know when it’s time to bloom!
Around the middle of October you can begin the dark treatments to have them blooming by the holidays. The ideal conditions to force blooming is to keep the plant at the cooler temperature, cut back on watering and provide them with 12 to 14 hours of complete darkness each night.
Written by Connie Corder for HouseplantsForYou.com, Copyright 2008 All Rights Reserved.