Monday, October 15, 2018

In the Garden – Christmas Cactus Care

Ruth de Jauregui

Joel Penner /
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridesii) is a tender succulent native to Brazil. In its native habitat, it grows as an epiphyte on trees, shrubs and rocky embankments. While there are Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus, the Christmas cactus is easily identified by the smooth, rounded edges of its fleshy leaf segments.

Phil and Jo Schiffbauer /
The Christmas cactus prefers a rich, organic mix in a small pot. Unlike most plants, it does best when pot bound. When repotting (every two to three years), move the plant into a slightly larger pot. Keep the plant in bright, indirect light, such as a window covered with sheer curtains.

Add humidity to the air by placing the flowerpot on top of a tray filled with pebbles and water. Do not allow the flowerpot to touch the water. Water only when the soil is dry to the touch. Fertilize two to four times a year with a 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer formulated for house plants. Stop fertilizing in September.

To encourage Christmas blossoms, reduce watering, temperature and light exposure in October. Stop watering, but keep the humidity level high. The cactus is light sensitive; cover it or put it in a dark room or closet where it receives no more than eight hours of light daily. The dark hours must be continuous. Do not turn on a light; it will break the dark cycle needed for the plant to produce blossoms. In addition, keep the plant in a cool location between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Christmas cactus in bloom - Spablab / Flickr
After four to eight weeks, flower buds form. Begin watering lightly and move the plant back to its normal location. At this point, temperature and light can gradually return to normal levels. Keep the plant lightly moist, out of drafts and away from heating vents.

After the plant finishes blooming, stop watering for 30 days. When new growth forms, begin watering again. At this point, you can also prune the plant. Bury the bottom half of the first leaf of a two to three segment cutting in moist, but not waterlogged soil and cover with a plastic bag to keep the humidity high. The bottom leaf will produce roots. Begin fertilizing when the cutting produces a new segment.

Next Monday, October 22, I'll add another post to the Women in Science Fiction series. On the 29th, I'll talk about fall and winter flowers for hummingbirds and how to support overwintering hummers.

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