How to Plant and Care for Christmas Cactus
- What is The Christmas Cactus Plant?
- Types of Christmas Cactus
- How To plant Christmas Cactus
- How To Care for Christmas Cactus
- How Much Light Does a Christmas Cactus Need
- How Often To Water Christmas Cactus
- How To Get Christmas Cactus To Bloom
- How To Propagate The Christmas Cactus
- Where To Put Christmas Cactus
- How To Repot a Christmas Cactus
Given minimal care, the Christmas cactus becomes flush with bold bell-shaped blooms, making it a welcome sight amidst winter in the Northern Hemisphere. With cultivars in a rainbow of colors, it is a plant worthy of appreciation. Thus, it is crucial to know how to take care of the plant to brighten up the year’s darkest months.
What is The Christmas Cactus Plant?
While the Christmas cactus may be known under various names (like Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus), its botanical name is Schlumbergera bridgesi. Originating from tropical Brazil, this widespread subspecies of the family Cactaceae grows as “epiphytes” above ground in trees where the branches meet. Christmas cactus grows up to 3 feet and has hanging branches made up of shiny green pads. They prefer a relatively cool and shaded region that has high humidity. In the jungle, the plant grows in the shade of trees and rocks. Its leafless and flat segmented pads of green stem grow in a waterfall-like pattern. Its interesting flat and striking deep-colored cerise flowers appear at the tips of the branches with several layers of petals. In Europe, they are called ‘crab cactus’ due to their clawed limbs. The Christmas cactus grows indoors as a houseplant until the summer, when you can plant it outdoors. The stunning Christmas cacti bloom just in time for the holidays and can last for many days. The flowering period span up to many weeks. These gorgeous succulents can live as long as 100 years when properly cared for. Christmas cactus grows easily and can be cared for without too much effort. With their elegant downward-facing petals and bright green foliage, these popular houseplant flowers of the winter months make a perfect addition to all types of indoor settings. The cactus symbolizes the idea of answered prayers, therefore a lovely holiday gift for your friends and family.
Types of Christmas Cactus
The three common holiday cacti or Christmas cactus varieties are named after the time of year the blooms appear.
1. Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)
Schlumbergera truncata or Thanksgiving cactus has a stunning display of snow-white, unusual frilly-edged blooms with a deep red ring that arrive in time for the holidays. It typically blooms between November and December, sometimes in January. The moniker Crab Cactus is derived from its leaf segments with pincer-like sides and pointed hooks. In their native Brazilian rain forests, they grow to 2 to 3 inches in length, and hummingbirds pollinate their satiny flowers.
2. Christmas Cactus(Schlumbergera bridgesii)
This long-lived plant is so pretty and easy to root. Cut off a “Y” shaped piece from one of the branches and stick it in a pot of sterile soil or vermiculite, and it will embed in no time.
3. Easter Cactus(Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri)
This variety blooms mainly in spring and rarely again in the fall. It’s beautiful, flaring, flowers have a trumpet-like shape with pointy red or pink petals.
How To plant Christmas Cactus
To plant a cactus, you first need to prepare the soil—cactus-like lightweight sandy soil and not too much water. Use a soil mix such as cactus mix or loam, compost, sand, or African violet mix in a pot with drainage holes in the bottom. This prevents the soil from getting too wet. Stem cuttings or a good root cutting are the two ways you can typically plant a cactus. Take a healthy plant and cut out a Y-shaped portion from the stem tips. You can now plant this segment an inch deep in the pot prepared earlier. Spray moderately and keep the pot in a shady area away from direct sunlight. You can also cut at the second joint of each tip to create root cuttings for new plants. In a few weeks, you will find roots starting to grow and are ready to be potted. Water thoroughly but ensure that the topsoil is dry before watering again. Fertilizing Christmas cactus should be done at intervals of every two weeks from April to September.
How To Care for Christmas Cactus
This cacti species is quite resilient and does not require elaborate maintenance or care routine. With little effort and basic needs, you can easily grow this exotic and beautiful plant to decorate your window sill.
Use soil with good quality humus and other plant-appropriate nourishments. Feed your Christmas cactus monthly with a diluted water-soluble fertilizer. The ideal feeding period is the spring or summer months. Once you’ve noticed flower buds have formed, begin withholding fertilizer until it blooms. April to August are the months during which Schlumbergera should be fed a nutrient-rich diet inadequate measure. Apply a high-potassium fertilizer every two weeks once buds form. Keep in mind that lack of water and dramatic swing in temperature can lead to rapid dropping of the flower buds.
It is pretty adaptable to most soil conditions, a general potting mix will work fine, but it prefers a pH level between 5.5 and 6.2 to achieve optimal growth. Don’t fertilize after the end of August. Do not overuse mineral supplements and limit their use strictly to the recommended portions. It would help if you used organic nutrients in moderation since the overuse of compost or coffee grounds is not suitable for plants in pots. Overdose can lead to roots getting damaged.
Christmas cactus does not like too much sunlight and excessive watering. With too much water, the roots will start to rot. Allow the soil to dry out in between two watering sessions. Avoid lime and bone meal since this cactus prefers slightly acidic soil.
Too much heat is not suitable for your cactus. Try and maintain the temperature at 65 degrees, the ideal climate range. When the plant is in bloom, ensure that the soil is evenly moist. Resort to frequent misting to keep it moist. Keep your plant facing east near a window that allows shade, light, and direct sun in moderation.
How Much Light Does a Christmas Cactus Need
Christmas cactus is a tropical plant that prefers shade or diffused light to direct sunlight as direct sunlight can burn the leaves. Although it is very adaptable to adjusting to growing conditions, it needs bright, indirect sun. If it’s indoors near a west or south-facing window, make sure it’s filtered with a sheer curtain. Then, they can be exposed to full sunlight during the winter months or spring, as summer can make the plant pale and yellow.
How Often To Water Christmas Cactus
The Christmas Cactus grows in tropical jungles and requires more moisture than other cacti. Therefore, you will have to ensure that the plant gets just enough water so that the soil remains moist most time. However, avoid overwatering at all costs. Placing pebbles, shards of a clay pot or pieces of charcoal at the bottom of the pot on top of the holes will allow efficient drainage of excess water. Make sure the soil dries out completely between watering. Generally, Christmas cacti require less water during fall and winter and more in spring and summer. After soaking the plant through to the roots, the saucer needs to be drained out, as you don’t want your cactus to rot after sitting in water.
How To Get Christmas Cactus To Bloom
This plant is prized for its flowers that look similar to fuchsia. They are pink in color with golden stamens. The Christmas cactus generally blooms for approximately two months a year. Interestingly as the first set of flowers start to fade, new flowers replace them. A healthy and mature plant can go on to produce flowers in hundreds. Here are some tips to make them bloom well.
- The Christmas Cactus needs shorter days and cool nights to bloom.
- These plants can remain outside through the summer months and are brought indoors for the fall and winter months until the night temperature goes below 50 degrees.
- For about six weeks before blooming, the holiday cactus requires between 12-14 hours of dark to set buds.
- Fertilize monthly from June through August with a balanced houseplant fertilizer at half-strength.
How To Propagate The Christmas Cactus
Propagating the Christmas cactus is not very difficult. First, take cuttings from a healthy plant and keep them in a cool and dry place for a couple of days. Then, plant them a digit deep into the prepared soil. Go easy on watering until roots take hold or new growth is visible. Regular watering can be done after that.
Where To Put Christmas Cactus
The easiest way to get the Christmas cactus to bloom is by placing it in a room or closet with a door that does not get opened at night. If light gets under the door, you will need to cover the plant with a dark cloth or bag. Continue this treatment for about six to eight weeks. Once you see flower buds beginning to develop on the stems, move your Christmas cactus out of the darkness and place it near a bright window. Ensure it is not near any drafts, or the cold will cause it to drop its buds.
How To Repot a Christmas Cactus
Repot your cactus each year after flowering in spring. The plants are their flowering best when somewhat pot-bound. So, repot only if they are crowded and using a pot that is one size bigger than the previous pot.
Each holiday cactus typically blooms closest to the holiday that it’s named after. However, most of the “Christmas cacti” sold today are Thanksgiving cacti, which tend to bloom from November through February and pass unnoticed as Christmas cacti. Thankfully, these cacti are non-toxic to cats and dogs. So, you can bring one home or gift one to a home with pets!