Whenever I think of a Christmas cactus, I am reminded of the large one my Grandmother had while I was growing up. It sat on a shelf in a back bedroom and had long green arms of the unique-shaped leaves that spilled out everywhere around it. Only a few times can I remember seeing the beautiful white tubular flowers blooming on it. I always enjoyed seeing the plant when I visited and wished to have one of my own.
During a visit while I was in college, I took a few clippings with me to try and start one of my own. The leaves did not survive the plane trip from Nevada to Arkansas, and I was disappointed to hear that the plant had died a few years later. I have since enjoyed the wide array of Christmas cacti bloom colors now available. In fact, I look forward to purchasing one this year to enjoy with my family.
With the holidays right around the corner, you may be thinking about your own Christmas cactus. Will it bloom soon? Perhaps you will look for another one this year, or maybe you will send one as a gift for a loved one to enjoy. The plants can be found in a wide variety of bloom colors, including white and shades of pink, red, purple and orange. If you do not have a Christmas cactus, this is the time of year they can be found in your local florist shop. With a little care, the Christmas cactus can become an heirloom, living long and providing beautiful blooms up to twice a year. It can truly be a gift that keeps on giving.
Christmas Cactus Facts
Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) are native to Brazilian rain forests and have been cultivated for commercial purposes for many years. In nature, the cacti are commonly found growing in decaying plant matter in tree branch crevices: here temperatures remain moderate and water runs off easily, keeping the plants moist but not damp. Because of these characteristics, the cacti make great houseplants.
The cacti require little care and can live and thrive for many years. The soil should be kept moist, but not wet to touch and should not be allowed to dry out completely. Temperatures should be kept moderate, and the plants should not be placed near a heat or air source, or too near a window that gets direct sunlight. A little houseplant fertilizer can be given before or after the cacti have completed their blooming cycle. With the right conditions, your cactus should bloom twice a year, but can be encouraged to bloom several times during the year. Extremes in moisture, temperature and feeding during blooming time can interfere with the length of blooming and the ability of the cactus to maintain buds and blooms.
Christmas cacti belong to a group of Holiday cacti (Schlumbergera) that include Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Easter cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii). There are a few differences between the three cacti, including leaf-stem shape, flower style and structure. The most distinguishing difference is the time period in which the flowers bloom. Thus, the Christmas cactus typically blooms late November to early January. While the differences between Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti can be minor, you may want to check with your florist to see which one to choose, if you want a cactus that blooms repeatedly during one holiday or the other.
Schlumbergera blooming in stores during October and November are probably Thanksgiving cacti. Although Christmas cacti can be found in early November, they have likely been grown under special conditions and may not bloom during the same time period next year.
Caring For A Christmas Cactus: Propagation and Re-blooming
If you’ve had a Christmas cactus for many years and the stems could use a little trim, you may consider propagation. After the cactus completes its blooming cycle, let it recover for a month. Then, cuttings of at least two leaf segments can be made from the tips of the stems. A fourth to half of the cutting is then placed in pot with potting soil. Be sure to place three or more cuttings per pot to ensure a full healthy plant. In a few months you will have another Christmas cactus to enjoy.
A Christmas cactus can also be forced to re-bloom. While you may think that temperature is a factor in blooming, daylight length is actually the key. Christmas cacti are triggered to bloom during short days. This can be achieved by placing the plant in a dark bedroom or by covering the plant for 15 or more hours a day. It may take up to a month to trigger the plant to produce bloom buds, but once the buds appear the plant can be returned to its usual viewing location. Remember to avoid extreme temperatures that would trigger bud release.
Regardless of whether you will purchase your first Christmas cactus this year or have an old one, this is perfect time to take pleasure in the plant’s distinctive green leafy stems. Celebrate the exquisite blooms as they appear, knowing you have a spectacular houseplant that can be shared, gifted and enjoyed by all.