When most people think of Christmas plants and flowers, the poinsettia comes to mind. However, an alternative option is steadily growing in popularity. The Christmas cactus, which is a member of the zygo-cactus family, is starting to show up in homes around the country. They aren’t just on display during the Christmas season either. In fact, these plants can survive for several years, and they are easily propagated. When they bloom, they are absolutely breathtaking. As a result, those who buy them typically do so with flowering in mind. Of course, they don’t just bloom on demand. Learn more about the care and upkeep of the Christmas cactus below.
The Christmas cactus is a member of the Schlumbergera genus. Its close relatives include the Easter cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus. The names of the plants reflect the time of year during which they typically bloom. Christmas cacti come from coastal areas of Brazil. In the wild, they typically grow in rocky soil and in the crooks of tree limbs. Despite its name, the Christmas cactus isn’t the kind of cactus that you will find in the desert. It is a tropical plant, and its growing conditions are quite similar to those of the orchid.
In Brazil, the Christmas cactus is called the “Flor de Maio,” which means “May flower.” Its stems have leaf-like pads on them. The easiest way to identify a Christmas cactus is by checking its leaves. They should be flattened, and they should have rounded teeth. People often buy what they believe are Christmas cacti but actually end up with Thanksgiving cacti. As Thanksgiving nears, many stores begin selling the plants so that people can prepare for Christmas. If the plant is flowering around Thanksgiving, however, it probably isn’t an actual Christmas cactus.
Why are They So Popular?
Before delving into a few specifics about caring for Christmas cacti, you’d probably like to know why they are so popular in the first place. The most obvious reason is their dramatic appearance. When they are flowering, these plants are absolutely breathtaking. Another reason for their ever-increasing popularity is the ease with which they can be propagated. You don’t have to be an experienced gardener or even have much of a green thumb to get these plants to propagate. In addition to these points, the Christmas cactus is actually fairly easy to grow. Once you know and understand the basics, the process is quite simple.
Care and Upkeep
When cared for properly, the Christmas cactus can survive for up to 20 years. To produce the right growing conditions, you should try to replicate the climate of coastal Brazil. The ideal soil mixture for a Christmas cactus contains equal parts of coarse, clean sand, leaf mold and garden loam. During the day, these plants need to be kept in a room that receives bright light. However, the light shouldn’t hit the plant directly, or its leaves could be burned. Throughout most of the year, humidity should be kept at around 50 to 60 percent. You can use a humidity tray to increase the humidity of a room, or you can place the Christmas cactus on a tray of moistened pebbles.
You can’t expect a Christmas cactus to flower without putting in a little effort. Throughout most of the year, you should keep its soil relatively moist. As fall approaches, however, you should provide less water. You should also increase the humidity in the room in which it is kept. To encourage flowering, the Christmas cactus should receive 12 to 14 hours of complete and total darkness each night. Temperatures should be kept lower, but they should not drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
To encourage healthy growth, you should fertilize your Christmas cactus with care. Whether your plant’s flowers are yellow, pink, white, red, orange or purple, they will be more vibrant with the right type and amount of fertilizer. In late October and early November, give it a 0-10-10 liquid fertilizer. Repeat the process in early February. An all-purpose liquid fertilizer should be given between April and September. Make sure that the fertilizer you use contains no more than 10 percent nitrogen.
People enjoy passing along propagated Christmas cacti to friends and relatives. Propagating a Christmas cactus is actually quite easy. Clip short, Y-shaped cutting of the plant’s stem tips. Plant them in the right soil, and place them about one-quarter of an inch into the soil. Keep the soil moist, and keep the cutting away from direct light. You should start to see signs of growth within two to three weeks. If you don’t, something may be amiss, and you may need to try again. Don’t be discouraged. In general, it’s quite easy to grow new Christmas cactus plants.
The Christmas Cactus: A Great Gift
There is something charming about giving small, freshly propagated Christmas cactus plants to friends and loved ones. These plants make great gifts during the holidays. Through the years, you can easily pass along dozens of plants to various people. Those who properly care for their Christmas cacti will be able to report back to you on their growth and progress. From there, the people to whom you have given Christmas cacti can pass along cuttings to others. Before you know it, your plant will have produced new Christmas cacti for countless numbers of people.
This year, you should consider buying a Christmas cactus. These beautiful plants are sure to get a lot of attention from the people who visit your home during the holidays. They are wonderful alternatives to poinsettias, and they are actually fairly easy to grow. The effort that you put into caring for these plants is sure to be more than worth it.