DOUG HACKBARTHI was lucky in that a friend and fellow plant salesman had several Christmas cactus (Zygo-cactus) plants left over last year after the Christmas season ended. He does not have a greenhouse so he sold them all to me at a bargain price and I re-potted them and grew them on for this Christmas…they turned out great. The secret to growing Christmas cactus is to ignore them most of the time.
Let’s start with the care procedure from Christmas to Christmas. They should be in bloom right now so as soon as they ar finished blooming, ignore them for at least 30 days. That means no water and certainly no fertilizer. Try to place the plant in a cool room, somewhere around 45-52 degrees such as a sun porch or a basement window or in a garage that is kept cool but not freezing.
March would be the month to do any pinching or pruning and also to start watering, but not a lot. Give it one good drink, then hold off for 2-3 weeks between waterings.
As we get into better weather and more sunshine, you may increase the water and add some fertilizer. Also, increase the temperatures into the 60’s. This would be the best time to re-pot, if you feel the need to re-pot, but remember that Christmas cactus like to be root bound and will actually bloom better if the roots are in a tight space.
Your Christmas cactus loves outdoor conditions and especially the cool nights. During late spring and all of the summer months place your cactus outside in a bright, but not in a direct sun, area. Water occasionally but still allow it to become pretty dry between waters. Maybe every 10 to 14 days as opposed to the usual once per week or even daily waterings, which most plants need during the hot summer days.
Then comes fall…this is when your Christmas cactus sets its buds for flowering around Thanksgiving (usually before) and is the most crucial time for getting blooms and for keeping them from falling off just after you see them form. There are three reasons the buds fall after forming, over-watering, lack of humidity and/or lack of light (especially inside the house). If inside the house, place an over-sized saucer filled with pebbles and water under your cactus plant. This will increase your humidity.
It is a better plan to keep your Christmas cactus outside as long as possible as the cooler nights actually cause the buds to form. Try not to allow the temperature to drop below 42 degrees however your cactus would probably be all right if it did. Once the need for bringing it into the house arrives, place your cactus in a spare bedroom by the window and just like the Christmas poinsettia, do not turn on the lights after dark. Poinsettias and Christmas cactus need 14 hours of total darkness each night in order to bloom. This “short-day” treatment starts on the first day of fall, usually September 22 or 23. The difference between the poinsettia and the Christmas cactus is that the cactus tolerates cool temperatures but the poinsettia does not. Also the poinsettia likes to be watered regularly and the Christmas cactus prefers to be dry.

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Doug Hackbarth

Doug's is the former owner of Broadview Florist & Greenhouses in Waynedale. He authors a garden & landscaping article in the newspaper. In his adolescence he attended Hillcrest, Kekionga and Elmhurst HS. His expertise has been shared in print, tv and radio. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer