Houseplants make fantastic holiday gifts — especially those that bloom in winter. And one of the most popular is Christmas Cactus. When they bloom each December, they produce colorful, tubular flowers in pink or lilac colors. These beautiful flowers bloom for 7 to 8 weeks, making them extremely popular.
If you're one of the many people who received one as a gift recently, you may be wondering how to care for it after the holidays are over.
Rainforest Vs. Desert
The first thing to understand is that these succulents are nothing like Desert Cacti, which belong to the Cactaceae family of plants. Instead, Christmas Cactus (officially known as a Schlumbergera bridgesii) and its close relative, Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) belong to the plant family known as Epiphytes.
Epiphytic cacti are native to South and Central American rainforests. They grow at altitudes ranging from about 3000 to 6,000 feet (900 meters to 1500 meters). Up in these cloud forests, they receive up to 158 inches (400 cm) of rainfall annually. And while desert cacti thrive in poor soil and hot, dry conditions, epiphytic plants live in the treetops and branch hollows, as well as in mossy areas, among decayed leaves above the ground. So while they live in areas that receive a lot of rain, they prefer a cool, humid climate — not a dry one, but also not a soggy one. Their ideal temperature range is between 60 and 70 degrees F (15-21 C).
In a nutshell, getting them to rebloom each years requires that you approximate the growing conditions of the rainforest. The following guidelines are designed to help you recreate those conditions.
November — March
The first step is to wait until your Christmas Cactus has finished flowering. The normal flowering period usually lasts through January. After that, the plant needs to be allowed to go dormant. During this time, continue to maintain your plant at a cool temperature of around 55 degrees F.
April — May
Resume normal watering. Feed monthly.
June — September
Set your Christmas Cactus outdoors. This will harden their stems so that they can support next year's flower buds. Place it in a shady spot. If necessary, apply some organic Sluggo Snail Bait to protect your cactus from snails and slugs.
September — November
When the weather begins to cool, bring your plant back inside. This is considered the pre-flowering period. Cut back on watering and reduce the amount of light it receives. Your plant needs about 12 to 14 hours of darkness with bright, indirect light during the day for a period of 6 to 8 weeks. You can simulate darkness by covering your plant with a box or by keeping it in a closet.
If you’ve successfully followed the above outline, your plant should bloom again for the holidays.
How to Propagate Your Cactus
Late spring is the best time to propagate cuttings because Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti emerge from their winter rest and initiate new growth.
You can easily propagate your Christmas Cactus by cutting a short, Y-shaped segment from the stem tips. Plant the segment approximately a quarter of its length deep in humate-rich soil. Moisten evenly and place the cutting in a well-lit area, staying away from any direct sunlight. To root cuttings for new plants, cut back shoots from the tips, cut at the second joint of each tip. The cutting should show signs of growth within a few weeks, at which time the plant can be transferred to another container, if desired.
Once they've matured and begun to form buds, you can share your success by giving them away as Christmas gifts.