One of the most requested plants for the winter holidays is always the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera genus or Zygocactus). Many of these plants hold fond memories of the past in family history as they are passed down between generations. Given appropriate conditions they can have a 20 to 30- year life span. There are three main types (named for the time of year they bloom):
Thanksgiving cacti have flattened stems with pointed teeth (actually what is mostly sold as a “Christmas cactus”.
Christmas cactus have flattened stems with rounded teeth.
Easter cactus have flattened stems with rounded teeth, but a broader daisy-like flower as opposed to a tubular flower produced by the other two types.
As a tropical cactus, they grow as epiphytes on the tree branches or rocks of Brazilian coastal rainforests. Because they are tropical cacti rather than desert cacti, they have very different growing needs. Maintain a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees during blooming and keep them away from heat vents and drafts. They will need at least 4-6 hours of indirect light daily. When the top of the soil starts to dry out, then water thoroughly, but don’t let the plant sit in drained water. Make sure the soil and container are both well-draining. If the plant gets too dry, buds will drop. Likewise if it is too moist, rot quickly develops. A humidity tray underneath the plant can help to maintain the ideal 50 to 60% humidity that is not present in some of our heated homes. The plant will bloom better in a slightly pot-bound root situation. However, if the plant has been in the same soil for a long time, nutrients are probably depleted and so re-potting in a shallow pot 2” larger in diameter is helpful. February to April would be the best months to do this in as your light increase will help growth.
Prune about a month after blooming. Once it is actively growing, use a bloom-booster fertilizer and follow label directions. You can put the plant outdoors in the summer in the shade (nights above 50 degrees) and then in the fall move it back in and maintain drier soil at that point. Stop fertilizing about the end of October. Buds will set at 50 to 60 degrees and need a 12- hour dark period. Maintain in a cool room where you can control the light (no light at all for 12 hours). Enjoy the burst of color during the drab winter months!
This article is sponsored by McNamara at Sand Point, which has 2 acres of production greenhouses, retail florist and gift shop, as well as retail garden center and wholesale plant business. Contact McNamara by calling 260-747-4131 or visit 4322 DeForest Ave, Ft. Wayne, IN 46809.