Caring for a Christmas Cactus

The Christmas cactus makes a great holiday plant gift and are starting to see it available at local nurseries and floral shops. The Schlumbergera spp. family is not a desert cactus but a species that is found attached to trees in moist woodlands and jungles. The typical forest cacti have leaf-like stems, more similar to succulent cacti. These leaf-like stems take on a trailing growth habit and therefore are well suited to hanging baskets.

As with many cacti, this family of cacti are also shy bloomers. When you see the cacti in the nursery or store for sale they are already in bloom. The nursery grower has manipulated the plant to bloom during a certain period before offering them for sale. Once you get them home and into their new environment the blooms can fade quickly and may never be seen again.  Part of the fun of owning and growing this type of cacti is to see if it will bloom again in your home. I have seen many of these plants over the years in people’s home, where some cacti bloom annually without fail and others never bloom again. Most homeowners with repeatedly blooming cacti claim they do nothing special to it. Just in case that is not always the truth, I have included the care for this type of cacti for the period in which it blooms, as well as, the process to follow to ensure blooms each year in the future.

A south facing window is too hot for this type of cacti unless you have heat filtering window coverings or can place the cacti away from the window. The ideal temperature for this cactus is sixteen to twenty degrees Celsius. Make sure that you do not expose the cactus to any drafts such as opening the doors and windows in winter, near a heat register or fireplace and especially, make sure the plant is well protected from the elements when you are transporting it home in the winter months. Make sure it is wrapped thoroughly in newspaper or other paper wrap before leaving the nursery or store, place it in a warm car, not near the heater, and drive it straight to its destination. Once home place the cacti in its ideal location. Because this type of cacti is naturally found in humid habitat your cacti will benefit with regular water- misting, applied every few days with a plastic bottle with a misting nozzle. Water your cacti each time the soil begins to feel dry to the touch. Do not let the cacti get too dry or over-water while flowering or it will begin to drop its blooms.

Once the cactus is finished blooming, this is the time to repot it and place it in a larger pot.  Use a good quality sterilized potting soil each time you repot. A mixture for general houseplants is fine. Once repotted, it is time for the annual dormancy/rest period for the plant. This period is very important in order for the plant to produce blooms next year. At this time place the cacti in a cooler spot than normal, but not below sixteen degrees Celsius, and only water every few weeks for the next eight to twelve weeks. After at least eight weeks you will notice new buds forming on the plant. When you notice these new buds move the cacti back to its regular spot and begin to water more frequently but only as the soil dries out. Prior to flowering and during flowering you can fertilize the cacti as you would your other flowering houseplants, following the directions on the fertilizer carefully. Soon those buds will develop into flowers. After flowering repeat the directions above. Keep in mind that your cacti may not bloom at exactly holiday time but close to that similar time of year. In the nursery they are further manipulated with light, water and fertilizer in order to bloom in time for the holidays.

I hope that with these tips that you will enjoy your Christmas cacti past the holidays. I also hope you follow the timetable in order for it to bloom again for many years to come. Good luck!