Native to the rainforests in Brazil, the Christmas cactus is a popular, low maintenance houseplant and a favorite pass-along plant that can live for years. Although the Christmas cactus is a true cactus, it is of the tropical variety and is used to growing as an epiphyte off tree branches in areas of heavy moisture and high humidity. With a few tricks, you can easily get this tropical plant to blossom year after year indoors.
Like other cacti, these plants have beautiful blossoms in a variety of jewel tones. The intricate flowers are almost orchidlike in their beauty, and when the light hits them just right, they look as if they have been dusted with diamonds. The shimmering petals are most often pink and purple, but you can also find shades of salmon, orange and red, and even white. The center of the blossom is typically white and transitions to vibrant colors towards the edges of the petals.
Christmas Cactus Care Must-Knows
Christmas cactus is easy to grow but, unlike most cacti, it does not like to dry out. Be sure to plant it in a small container; this plant does not mind being pot-bound and may not thrive in a container that is too large. Use a standard general purpose potting mix. Water it regularly, allowing it to dry slightly between waterings. During flowering season, keep it evenly moist at all times. From spring until flowering in fall, Christmas cactus appreciates some fertilizer on a regular basis. This helps ensure a good bud set as well.
When growing indoors, Christmas cactus appreciate as much light as you can give them, but avoid direct light during the summer, as this can burn the fleshy leaves. In too little sun, plants will become thin and spindly, and the blossoms, if they bloom at all, will be sparse. Since Christmas cactus appreciates higher humidity, place it on a tray of pebbles and fill the tray with water to just below the top of the rocks. As the water evaporates, it increases humidity around the plant. During warm summer months, you can grow your Christmas cactus outdoors in a sheltered, part-shade location.
Blooming Your Christmas Cactus
A Christmas Cactus needs long, uninterrupted nights and cooler temperatures to initiate the growth of flower buds. Late-summer, cooler nights as fall begins to set in helps to naturally begin this process for cacti growing outside in the summer. To initiate it on your own, count back 8 weeks from the date you want blossoms. At this point, the plants need 13-15 hours of uninterrupted darkness. This means no light of any sort, not even a lamp or streetlight through a window. One way to do this is to keep the plant in a basement or dark room with a grow-light on a timer for 8 weeks. Once buds have begun to set at the tips of the leaves, place the plant back in its usual spot. A common problem with getting a Christmas cactus to bloom is bud drop, where flower buds suddenly drop off before blooming. To prevent this, make sure the plant has high humidity and even soil moisture. It is best to avoid moving a plant during this time, as movement from one room to another can stress it out and cause the flower buds to drop.
More Varieties of Christmas Cactus
Schlumbergera X buckleyi has scalloped leaf margins and whorls of satiny flowers that dangle from segmented stems, which resemble leaves. It is sometimes called zygocactus or holiday cactus. The true Christmas cactus usually does not bloom until mid-December; many plants sold as Christmas cactus are actually Thanksgiving cactus.
'Madame Butterfly' Christmas cactus
This variety of Schlumbergera is a rare cultivar with cream-color variegated leaves and magenta flowers with white centers.
Schlumbergera truncata blooms several weeks earlier than Christmas cactus. It has 2 to 4 pointed teeth along the margins of stem segments. It is also known as crab cactus.