A healthy, blooming Christmas cactus adds beauty to homes during the holidays. With proper care, a Christmas cactus can bloom for several weeks and can re-bloom year after year. Here are a few tips to help keep your Christmas cactus healthy throughout and beyond this holiday season:
*When selecting your plant, make sure it has an even green color. According to Gary Moorman, professor of plant pathology at Penn State University, it is important to look for yellow spotting and branches that appear purple, as these may be indicators of disease. Look at stems near the soil line to make sure there is no damage or rotting. A diseased stem will appear tan and will be soft to the touch.
*Place the plant in an area that receives bright, natural light, but not in direct sun. To get the plant to bloom, place it in a room where natural day lengths are not disrupted. Do not place it in a room that will be lit during the evening or at night. A Christmas cactus will flower during the shortest days of the year and especially in places where it receives uninterrupted nights, much like poinsettia plants.
*If you find a location in your home where the plant flowers nicely, don’t move the plant from this area for extended periods of time. The plant will begin to lose its blooms if it is moved to rooms that have different amounts of light, temperature, or humidity.
*Moderately water your plant. Although it is a cactus, be sure to avoid drought conditions. If the potting mix feels moist to the touch, then it probably has enough water.
*Keep your plant healthy by periodically repotting it after it is finished blooming, or wait until spring. When repotting, use a potting mix that does not contain outside, un-sterilized garden soil, which can harbor disease-causing pathogens. Two of the most common diseases that affect Christmas cacti are Fusarium stem rot and Phytophthora stem rot. Fusarium stem rot causes brown spots to form at the soil line and Phytophthora stem rot causes the stem to appear wet or water-soaked at the soil line.
*Christmas cacti make great gifts and new plants can be produced from cuttings. When making cuttings, cut a short branch just below a knuckle. Insert the cutting into moist, artificial potting soil and cover the pot with plastic wrap to keep the humidity high. Place 2 to 3 cuttings in a 4 or 6-inch pot. Do not place cuttings in direct sun. The cuttings should begin to form roots in two to three weeks.
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