Growing Christmas Cactus

Most often called a Christmas cactus you may also see this variety of cactus on sale at other holiday times of the year like Easter and Mother’s Day, this is a very rewarding house plant to try no matter what time of year you purchase one.

This type of cactus from the Schlumbergera spp. Family, when found in the wild isn’t in a desert, but attached to trees in moist woodlands and jungles. The cacti from this family are referred to as forest cacti. This type of cactus looks very different from the spiny cacti found in the desert and because they come from naturally moist habitats they have different care requirements than their spiny cousins. The typical forest cacti has 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. The true Christmas cactus, (Schlumbergera truncata), has leaf-like stems that are distinctly toothed and are a deep-dark green. This cacti species can flower in pink, white, red and purple so is easily identified by the colours of its blooms while (Schlumbergera gaertneri) blooms only in scarlet and has leaf-like stems that are scalloped as opposed to toothed edges. The stems are also a deep dark green colour.

Often when you see them in the stores, they are blooming as the nursery grower/supplier has manipulated the plant to bloom during a certain period before offering them for sale. This variety is actually a shy bloomer. And often is the case, 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 some cacti bloom annually without fail.

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 cacti, is sixteen to twenty degrees Celsius so east or west facing window often works the best.

Make sure that you do not expose the cacti 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. 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 cacti 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. 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/Easter 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!