If you are a “plant person”, odds are you might be getting a gift of a Christmas Cactus from friends or family this holiday season. This is a great gift to bring some color indoors during the winter. In their native environment (in Brazil) these plants grow as epiphytes, which mean they grow in trees like orchids. Around here we grow them in pots as houseplants.
As the name implies, these plants are cacti, so they want to be kept dry, right? Wrong. These cacti won’t do well in dry potting mix. You will want to water your Christmas Cactus when the top inch of potting mix dries out. It will also need to be fertilized occasionally. Keep it somewhere that does not get drafty, it will not do well with chilly air.
The real trick to having a beautiful Christmas Cactus for years to come is learning how to re-bloom it. The date to remember for next year is September 19, that’s when you need to start the re-blooming process in order to have beautiful holiday blooms. When temperatures get cooler, and there is more darkness, this cues the plant to start blooming. On September 19 move your Christmas Cactus to a place where you can give it just nine hours of sunlight per day, and where the nighttime temperatures are 60° F. After two to three months of being in these conditions, your Christmas Cactus will start to bloom.
To encourage vibrantly colored blooms, you will want to cut back water slightly once the flower buds form. Once you see the buds starting to swell, let the potting mix dry out more than usual in between waterings. This will intensify the color of your blossoms. This is a bit of balancing act, however, because if you let it dry out too much the blossoms may drop. Get to know your plant in your home to find the right watering schedule.
Keep the plant in the cool, dark room until the flowers unfold. At this time you can move it to the room you want to keep it in, preferably in bright, indirect light. Indirect light means the sun’s rays are not directly touching the plant. If the flowers drop or the leaves wrinkle, the plant may be too warm or too dry. You don’t need to fertilize during flowering, but after the blooms fade, you can resume your normal fertilizing and watering routine until next September.
If you get a Christmas Cactus as a gift this year, save this column to re-bloom it next year. On the other hand, if you are giving a Christmas Cactus as a gift, print out this column as well, to give a gift that will keep blooming for years to come!