Christmas and cacti are like a match made in heaven, and the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) is the plant that combines both aspects. You often see people decorate their homes with the most beautiful cactus pots while growing these exquisite cacti. However, do you ever thought about how to grow Christmas cactus in your own home?
Growing a Christmas cactus can be tricky, but if you know the right guidelines, you can easily grow one yourself. More importantly, you must steer clear of a few things to ensure that the plant grows healthily and produces flowers for the year-end holiday season.
In this article, we’ll share the most important things you need to consider for growing and caring for a healthy Christmas cactus.
Background Info on Christmas cactus
Christmas cactus is technically a member of the cactus family, and a succulent. Altogether, there are around nine species. But it doesn’t grow in a desert in its native habitat in south east Brazil, but rather as an epiphyte on rocks or trees up in the mountains, within a humid but fairly cool climate.
Most Schlumbergera have stems that look like segmented pads joined together like pieces of a chain, and produce flowers from areoles at the tips and joints of their stems. They fall into two main groups:
- Truncata group – Stem segments that are sharp and pointy looking; generally flowers a bit earlier in the year.
- Buckleyi group – Stem segments that are more rounded looking; generally flowers later in the year. The “true” Christmas cactus is the hybrid Schlumbergera x buckleyi.
Practical Tips for Growing Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus can be tricky plants to grow although at first glance it may not seem so. Most people assume cacti just need a little infrequent watering and that’s all. That is not the case with Christmas cactus. However, you can follow these tips to make the job much easier. In no time, you will soon learn how to grow Christmas cactus and get it flowering in time for the year end holidays.
#1 6-8 Weeks of Darkness before Blooming is Crucial
Once your cactus has grown sufficiently, and you suspect that blooming might be near, keep it in the dark most of the time, in order to stimulate dormancy. Christmas cactus usually blooms around the end of November. Therefore, you need to place them under darkness for at least 12 hours daily, as soon as October starts, to simulate those 6-8 weeks of dormancy that will trigger blooming.
#2 Watering Smartly is Key (Only When the First 1-2 Inches of Soil are Dry)
As per the general perception, people think cacti don’t need a lot of water to thrive. However, the Christmas cactus is a tropical, non-desert plant native to Brazil and needs regular watering.
As a general rule of thumb, you need to water it when the upper surface of the soil looks crusty and dry. But to be extra sure, you can insert a dry matchstick in the soil every three days and check the water level.
#3 Grow it In Indirect Sunlight
The Christmas cactus does not need much from the sun compared to other plants. You can place the pot in a spot where there is light, but not direct rays from the sun. Anything near the porch or by the window under the shade is good enough. If it gets too much light, its leaves will change color to dark brown out of stress; this is a warning sign to quickly remove it from the bright lighting.
Keeping Your Cactus Healthy Throughout the Year
Once you get a Christmas cactus, taking good care of the plant should be your utmost priority. If cared well, Christmas cactus can live long lives, with some accounts saying 20-30 years being normal. There is even a case of a Christmas cactus living for over 100 years!
Although there are loads of variables involved, following this concise list of tips will keep your Christmas cactus healthy throughout the year:
- Maintain a temperature around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (around 18°C).
- Keep it in a moderately humid environment.
- Keep it in a well-shaded spot away from direct sunlight.
- Water it 1-2 times every week.
- For best results, use “orchid potting mix”, which is a type of soil that works best for epiphytic plants as it mimics their original growing medium.
- For feeding, any fertilizer meant for succulents and cacti ought to work great. Feed your Christmas cactus once a month during spring and summer, and stop during fall and winter.
Christmas cactus can be easily propagated simply by pinching off a few segments and planting them into potting mix. Keep the soil fairly moist and roots will develop within 3-12 weeks. This is a great way to multiply your Christmas cactus without having to buy new plants.
The Bottom Line
Growing a cactus from scratch surely seems a daunting task from the outlook. However, after reading this article, you saw how simple it could be if you just followed the simple protocol described above.
Christmas cacti are the perfect way to incorporate nature into your holiday and give it a rustic, more soothing vibe. So, now that you know how to grow Christmas cactus, give it a shot and let us know how it goes!
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