When I think of a potted plant for the Christmas holidays, I first think of the poinsettia. We’ll buy one, then let it die, and buy another one next year.
But another potted plant that folks don’t let perish is the Christmas cactus, known scientifically as Schlumbergera.
Originating from coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil near the Atlantic Ocean, this sub-species of cactus grows in a region which is generally relatively cool, shaded and has high humidity.
Historical records state that it was cultivated in Europe 200 years ago in 1818. They were in the first greenhouses and prized for their fall and winter blooms. By 1852, they had fallen out of favor and most cultivars were lost.
But starting in the 1950’s, breeding resumed in North America, Europe and even Australia and New Zealand. Without going into extensive progeny and cultivar selections, there are four main cultivar groups in use today.
The flowers range in color from red, yellow, salmon, pink, fuchsia, and white or combinations of those colors.
If you are given a Christmas Cactus, place it in a sunny location indoors. A north or east window gives the ideal light. If you want to grow it indoors in a south or west window, be sure that it gets some shade, even if is from the blinds.
Christmas cactus is easy to grow for most. The complaints often center on getting it to bloom again. Although warm temperatures are good during the growing season, cool temperatures are important for flowering. Visiting with my mom over Thanksgiving, I noticed hers was blooming.
Christmas Cactus is a succulent plant and can store a reasonable quantity of water in the leaves. However, it is not completely drought tolerant. Water well when the top half of the growing mix feels dry to the touch.
Christmas cactus can be moved outdoors in summer onto a porch or patio but should be kept in a partial to full shaded area. Direct sunlight can burn the leaves. When fall arrives in September, move the plant indoors after making sure no insects are tagging along.
For the fall, place the Christmas cactus in a sunny location. High light intensity is important to flower development.
From October on, keep the plant where temperatures are between 60 to 65 degrees. Keep Christmas cacti away from heat vents, fireplaces, or other sources of hot air. If temperatures remain in this range for a period of six weeks, flower buds will develop.
Once buds form, keep Christmas cactus in the medium to high light it likes and normal home temperatures. When the top of the growing mix dries, water to keep the plant evenly moist. Fertilize Christmas cactus every other week with a half rate of liquid houseplant fertilizer.
Plants that appear unhealthy can be repotted any time of year. Follow up by applying half the recommended rate of a liquid houseplant fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks.
Lastly, Christmas cactus is relatively easy to propagate in the warmer months of the year and can be a plant that is passed along to others during the holiday season.