Christmas Cactus Care
Native to South American jungles, Christmas cacti are named for their blooming season which is typically from the late fall through to January. Most commercial cultivars of this so-called holiday cacti are Schlumbergera truncate. The plant generously blooms with many multi-petalled, satiny 2.5 to 4 cm (1 to 1½ inch) flowers hanging from pendulous branches in shades of lavender, purple, pink, red or white.Christmas cacti are available as blooming houseplants in the fall and are often sold as holiday gift plants. Christmas Cactus can live for 50 years and longer. That makes them very popular for family keepsakes.
Though Christmas cactus can adapt to low light levels, they produce more blooms on plants that are exposed to higher light intensity. During the summer months the plants can be moved outdoors to the filtered light of a porch or patio or you can plunge the pot in a shady spot in the garden
Christmas cacti are happy in the warm temperatures we are comfortable with in our homes. However, they don’t like blasts from heat vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air.
When new growth appears in the spring, apply a weak solution of liquid houseplant fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks.
Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch. During the summer keep the soil continually moist. When fall arrives, water the plant only enough to prevent wilting. After the plant finishes blooming withhold water for about 6 weeks.
Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant, but has its origins in the tropical rain forests of South America. If you live in a dry climate, make sure a source of humidity like a shallow tray of water is kept nearby. The plant will not tolerate dry soil and requires regular watering (done at the base of the plant). Conversely, too much water will cause leaves to spot and fall off. Allow the top layer of soil to dry completely before watering.
Common causes of buds dropping are over watering, exposure to cold drafts or being too close to a heat source.
Getting your Christmas cactus to flower:
Flowering is related to day length and night temperatures. The temperature range for flower bud development is 13° to 15° C (55° to 60° F) for a 6 week period. If temperatures remain in this range buds will develop regardless of day length. If temperatures get above that range, the plant requires 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night. This can be accomplished by placing the plant in a completely dark room, or covering it each night with a dark piece of cloth. During flower bud formation, stop fertilizing and only water enough to keep the leaves from becoming shrivelled. Once buds form, keep the plant in normal light and temperatures. Keep it evenly moist and fertilize every other week with a mild fertilizer solution.