A perfect living decoration for the holiday that will surely make your home extra special is a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). Those beautiful blooms ranging from white, yellow, orange, apricot, salmon, red, scarlet, and magenta start to show when the nights get longer and cooler. Thus, the timing makes the plant suitable for yuletide celebrations.
If you’re worrying over care and maintenance, fret not because Christmas cactus will make it easy for you. Remember this plant is a cactus and cactuses can pretty exist on its own without much intervention except that this one’s not tolerant to drought. Just remember to keep the growing conditions in check.
||Christmas cactus, Holiday cactus
||Chain cactus (Rhipsalis paradoxa)
||Claw-shaped projections on the edges of the leaves
||6 to 12 inches
||Low to Medium
||Bright, indirect light
||65-70°F (18 to 21°C)
|Soil or Potting Medium
||pH of between 5.5 and 6.5
Mix 2 parts peat moss to 1 part perlite to 1 part sand
||Fertilized once a month from April to October with a water-soluble, balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or the equivalent
||Non-toxic to cats, dogs and humans
Christmas Cactus Plant Overview
Christmas cactus is native to Brazil thriving under the canopy of trees in a rainforest. It’s considered an epiphyte which means that it relies on tree trunks for anchorage without harming the host. Once its beauty was discovered, Christmas cactus has since been raised both outdoors and indoors.
To date, many hybrids have been developed that have blooms extending the usual flowering period. Bicolor flowers are also existent making it more marketable. You can have it in pots or baskets depending on your aesthetic preference.
Watering Christmas cactus is a little different from watering other cactuses. You’ll have to spend a little more time giving water to this one. It loves moist soil but it doesn’t like it wet and soggy.
It’s also important to note that Christmas cactus isn’t drought tolerant. You cannot withdraw water applications for such a long period. Your cactus will suffer from underwatering and is in danger of wilting.
Water application should be dependent on other factors such as light, temperature, and humidity. You have to adjust the amount of water depending on the need.
To mimic its natural growing condition, you must provide your Christmas cactus with bright, filtered light. A southeast or west-facing window is a good location but avoid putting the pot too near to the window. Maintain at least 6 inches of space in between because windows can be sources of cold and hot drafts.
Direct exposure to bright light, especially if it’s too hot, can burn the foliage. On the contrary, deficient light can deter the growth of your cactus. Different seasons carry varying light conditions so you have to make sure that your cactus receives just enough light.
Humidity & Temperature Preferences
What makes the Christmas cactus different from other cactuses is that it loves highly humid environments. Its natural habitat is a tropical place thus it makes sense that it loves extra moisture. If you choose to have it at home, you have to group it along with other tropical plants rather than the cactus and succulents.
A temperature range of 65-70°F (18 to 21°C) is preferred during the daytime. To initiate bud formation, you have to expose your Christmas cactus under a temperature of 55° F. If the temperature at night is only around 65°F, you can still initiate flowering by tucking your plant away inside a completely dark room for at least 12 hours a day for about 6 weeks.
Plant Food and Potting Media
The potting mix required for Christmas cactus is mostly the same mix you use for other cactuses. You can always buy those ready to use mixes in garden stores. If you choose to mix your own, do so by combining 2 parts peat moss to 1 part perlite to 1 part sand.
This mixture shall make the potting media fast-draining and aerated. Apply fertilizer monthly during the growing season (April to October) with a water-soluble, balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 or the equivalent, diluted to half. Aside from that, apply Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) separately by mixing 1 teaspoon per gallon of water to supply its need for more magnesium.
Pruning is an excellent way to encourage lateral growth or branching out in your Christmas cactus. You can do this after the blooming period. You can also make use of the trimmed portions to propagate the plant.
Use a sharp and sterile knife to cut the portions with two branch sections. This cut portion will branch out in two making your cactus plant appear bulkier. More branches will also lead to more flowers.
Christmas cactus prefers to be slightly bound in pots. Thus, you only have to repot it once every three years. If the roots start growing out of the pot, that’s the time you need to do repotting.
Remove the plant from its current pot and trim the dead roots. Prepare the sterile potting mix and the new pot. Christmas cactus prefers smaller pots than other plants.
Lay your Christmas cactus in the new pot and fill in the spaces with the potting mix. Water the pot then put it in a shady location for around 2 to 3 days. Repotting should be done during the spring season.
Propagating a Christmas cactus is easy. By making use of the cuttings you just separated through pruning, you’ll be able to have new sets of plants to grow. Make sure to cut only those with two to three branch sections for ease of propagation.
You can directly pot the cuttings in the potting mix or you may dip it in a rooting hormone to induce rooting for a shorter period. After potting, water it moderately and place the under the shade for 2 to 3 days.
You’ll know when rooting is successful if the plant does not wither or rot. You have to keep the soil moist but not wet and soggy. Through time, signs of new growth will appear.
Pests & Diseases
Mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and aphids are the common pests of a Christmas cactus. However, they’re not much of a worry if your indoor setting is free of these insects. But if you’re bringing your plant outside, be careful that it doesn’t catch these pests.
Another problem that you’ll most likely encounter is bud drop. Extremes changes in the environmental conditions can lead these buds to die even before they completely bloom. Avoid cold and heat drafts, excess light and water, low humidity, and high temperatures.
Another reason to keep a Christmas cactus at home is its non-toxic properties. You can place this plant inside without worrying over your pets getting poisoned. It doesn’t contain any compound that is deemed harmful to humans, cats, and dogs.
Christmas Cactus Tips and Typical Questions
Why is my Christmas cactus not blooming?
Christmas cactus is a short day plant which means that it needs a long dark period of at least 12 hours per day and cooler temperature that does not exceed 65oF. Exposure to these conditions for 5 to 6 weeks will encourage the bud to form. If your cactus is not producing those buds, then, you may have to check on its present environmental conditions.
Another reason would be the lack of fertilizer especially phosphorus. When plants reach their blooming stage, they require higher concentrations of phosphorus so you have to make adjustments. Nitrogen has to be lowered to limit foliage growth and encourage bud formation.
Why does my Christmas cactus look limp and wilted?
If it looks wilted, limp, and mushy, that probably is an overwatering problem. Christmas cactus likes moist soil but if it gets too wet for too long, it will develop root rot. This is due to waterlogging in the soil making oxygen less and less available for the roots.
If you’re having trouble watering your Christmas cactus, it is best to limit water application and lean more on the underwatering side. It’s more difficult to save overwatered cactus than an underwatered one. Once root rot happens, you’ll find trouble knowing it unless the foliage starts showing signs of damage.
Can I hang my Christmas cactus?
Yes, definitely. There are varieties like the old ones that are more suitable for hanging in baskets. You can be creative as you can when it comes to Christmas cactus.
Just make sure to use sturdy and smaller baskets to hold the plant. Prune regularly to make it lighter. The cascading blooms will surely be striking.
Though named after a holiday, the Christmas cactus is not only for Christmas. You can purchase this anytime you want as its kind is widely available. Although blooms may not show immediately, your waiting will definitely be worth it.
There are a number of varieties to choose from. If you buy one and take good care of it, you’re most likely to have it for a long time. You’ll definitely have another thing to look forward to every Christmas.