The lovely, spiky Christmas Cactus is not actually a cactus in the true sense of the word. It is a forest plant whose origins lie in the mountains of Brazil at elevations well above sea level. Perhaps it is due to the deceptive use of the word “cactus” that so many Christmas Cactus owners find themselves lamenting their inability to keep their Christmas Cactus thriving.
The Christmas Cactus, as its name suggests, blooms with bright pink flowers around late December, just in time to add some holiday cheer to your household. These days, there are also hybrid varieties of the Christmas Cactus, including the Thanksgiving Cactus and the Easter Cactus, both bred to bloom around their own holidays.
Indoor Plant Care for the Christmas Cactus
As a tropical plant, you don’t want your cactus to get too cold. It does best indoors, where temperatures don’t drop much below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Adhere to these additional precautions when caring for your Christmas Cactus:
- Light: Remember, the Christmas Cactus is a plant that originates in a tropical mountain forest. Therefore, it’s evolved to thrive on lots of sun, but that sun should be indirect. Direct sunlight will burn the leaves and stunt the growth of the plant. Likewise, keep your cactus away from hot air coming out of vents, fireplaces, or other heat sources. In the summertime, you can move your Christmas Cactus outside, but keep it in a relatively shady location.
- Moisture: Again, recall the tropical nature of this plant. It prefers an environment with 50-60% humidity, so if the inside of your house is dry, put out a little tray of water near the Christmas Cactus to keep it moist.
- Watering: The Christmas Cactus should be well-watered but not over-watered. As previously mentioned, the word “cactus” tricks some people into thinking they shouldn’t water their Christmas Cactus at all, or at least, not very much. However, if the soil is dry, it’s time to water. If you water the plant too much, you’ll see white spots starting to appear on the leaves. This is an indication your Christmas Cactus is being over-watered. Misting the plant leaves with a spray bottle is also a good idea for your Christmas Cactus. In general, while keeping your Christmas Cactus indoors during cool weather, water it about once per week. Promote blooming by keeping the plant a little drier during the winter months.
- Fertilizer: If you choose to use fertilizer on your Christmas Cactus, use it only 2 – 4 times per year. You should stop fertilizing by the end of October in order to grow healthy flowers.
Bring Out the Buds
To encourage those pretty pink flowers to grow on your Christmas Cactus right on time for the holiday season, you’ll need to closely control how much light the cactus receives.
A Christmas Cactus likes to bloom when the day length and the night length are equal in duration and the temperature has fallen. If you have your plant indoors, you’ll have to help the Christmas Cactus feel like the time is right to flower.
First, give your Christmas Cactus plenty of bright light during the daylight hours, but give it complete darkness at night. Even a weak, artificial overhead light can mess up the Christmas Cactus’ blooming cycle, so move it into a room that receives no nighttime light if you need to. These “dark treatments” should start around mid-October. For six to eight weeks, give your plant at least twelve full hours of darkness.
Second, cool your plant down by keeping it at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the two months of September and October. During these months, keep the plant a little drier than usual. You should only moisten the top couple inches of soil, because too much water will lead the buds and flowers to fall off.
After the Flowers
After the holidays, when all the flowering has stopped, prune your plant in preparation for next year’s blooms. You can prune about a month after the plant blooms, or you can wait until the early spring.
If you’d like to share your Christmas Cactus with others, you can make a cutting of at least two or three joined sections. Tell your friend to let the sections dry before potting them. It will take the cuttings four to six weeks to root in a new 3-inch pot.
Re-pot your Christmas Cactus every three years between February and April. Be careful not to give the Christmas Cactus too much space in its new home; this plant flowers best when it’s constrained a little bit.
Take good care of your Christmas Cactus and it will last for years. In some families, the Christmas Cactus is a plant that can be passed down from family member to family member for multiple generations. Your plant will serve as a reminder of the good times you have with your family during the holidays for many years to come.
Photo by spablab