A popular and interesting houseplant with beautiful flowers, the Christmas cactus has always made a great addition to every indoor setting. Due to their blooming periods that correspond to the holidays, they have become a darling to many people and addition to that, they are also awesome.
Their hanging branches which are composed of glossy green and the flat segments are just stunning and adorable to the eyes. Each bloom of the Christmas cactus can last for several days while the entire flowering period spans for several weeks.
Christmas cactus is actually a winter-flowering houseplant and is native to Brazil. It grows in tropical rainforests. The plant features segmented leaf-like stems with blooms at the ends. The blooms are normally bright pink, red, yellow, purple or white. The plant basically flowers around Christmas hence its name Christmas cactus but it can also flower at other times throughout the year.
If you received this amazing plant as a gift and you are not even aware of how to care for a Christmas cactus, the experience can be overwhelming at times. However, the information contained in this article will relax your mind as it will answer all your questions.
Christmas cactus is not always easy to care for and it requires a little bit of attention. Do you even know how this plant is planted leave alone caring for it? It is important to know there are certain factors which can hinder your Christmas cactus from brightening your home year after year. Check out the following procedures and be informed.
Types of Christmas cactus
There are different types of cactus or cacti but most people are familiar with the spiny type which normally grows in arid deserts. Epiphyte cactus thrives well in tropical rainforests and they can be found in forks of trees or clinging on large branches. They use their roots to keep them attached to a host. The openings in their leaves and stems absorb moisture from the air. A Christmas cactus is an epiphyte and keeping it indoors alive requires very different conditions as compared to a desert cactus or other houseplants.
How to propagate Christmas cactus
The procedure of planting a Christmas cactus
You begin the process by cutting a short Y-shaped segment from the stem tips. Ensure you do the cutting from a healthy plant only. After propagating the plant that segment approximately a quarter of its length deep, plant it in slightly sandy soil and ensure you moist evenly.
Find a well-lit area and place your cutting there. Avoid direct sunlight in every way possible especially during summer because the sun is too hot and the plant cannot bear it. However, some direct sun in winter from eastern exposure won’t do any harm and in fact, your plant needs it although it is better to bring your plant inside and put it in a bright window if you plan to stay out for long hours. During the spring all the way to fall, a light shade throughout the day is required. Generally, if you choose to keep your plant outdoors, you will have to protect it from the sun especially when the sun is at its zenith.
From two weeks your cutting should be showing signs of growth and from that time you can even transfer it to another container if you want and compose the soil with loam and sand. Make sure the soil you are using is quality and is rich in humus among other required nutrients.
Another factor to look at is the temperature during the day which should be between 65 to 70 degrees and at night, it should be 55 to 65. This is because, in case of sudden changes, the buds may drop more quickly. To maintain the moist and mist in the soil, make sure you water your plant frequently so that the buds will also not drop if the soil dries out. Once you notice the formation of flower buds, remember to apply a high potassium fertilizer every two weeks. Repotting Christmas cactus each year after flowering is necessary.
How to care for Christmas cactus
This type of plant will not give you a headache while caring for it if you follow the correct guidelines. Actually, it performs quite well under the normal home conditions with just moderate care. Although it will adapt to low light conditions, it is better to expose it to brighter light because it will be able to produce blooms more readily.
Please note that even if the light is good, too much exposure to direct sunlight can drain its leaves which is not a good thing at all. Try to keep your Christmas cactus in an appropriate area to give it a friendly environment. The moisture in the Christmas cactus is very important and, to achieve this, make sure you water your plant frequently and thoroughly especially during its active growth in spring and summer. This will keep the soil slightly moist which is what your plant requires.
Always allow the moisture levels to drop and dry out between watering intervals to avoid the plant sitting in water because this can lead to root and stem rot and ruin your plant. Do this by ensuring the pots you are using have drainage holes to get rid of excess water. However, make sure you don’t let the intervals to be too long because the water might dry out and leave the plant completely dry. Remember that moisture is a requirement for the growing process of your plant. You can place a tiny tray of pebbles with water beneath the Christmas cactus.
When your Christmas cactus is about six to eight weeks and has ceased all flowering, the plant is ready to rebloom. To assist the process, allow the plant to debag its dormancy cycle. You can do this by cutting on the plant’s moisture and reducing both the light and the temperature. Cutting back the watering is not enough because you also need to make sure the plant receives 12-14 hours of darkness and an average temperature of around 10 to 12C. Remember to keep the Christmas cactus away from drafty areas.
With the right information about Christmas cactus care, you will have a very easy time to manage it. The good news is that when this plant is given the proper care and placed in the most suitable location, the Christmas cactus can impress you with even additional blooming cycles throughout the year.
Following the blooming period, keep the plant cool at around 50 degrees. Withhold the fertilizer and water the plant so that the soil remains moist. When the new growth appears, keep the plant between 55 to 65 degrees. Alternate the light and darkness by having 10 hours of light and 14 hours of total darkness for a period of six weeks after the new growth appears. Introduce the plant to warmer temperatures after the appearance of the buds. Continue with the usual regular caring procedure and put in mind that the plant should bloom in about six weeks.
Christmas cactus problems
Pests and disease control
If you expose your Christmas cactus to any form of stress, the plant will end up dropping its blossoms. Examples of stress include the amount of light, a sudden change of temperature or the soil becoming too dry. The common insects’ pests of this plant are mealy bugs and soft brown scale. A major disease that is known in attacking this type of plant is stem and root rot which is caused by excessive watering.
You can notice this if your plant appears wilted and dull gray-green. You may also see water-soaked dead areas near the soil line with faded reddish margins. Avoid this by ensuring the pots holding the plant has a good drainage system to drain the excess water or avoid excessive watering altogether. If you experience these problems, immediately cut out the infected areas and repot the plant in another pot containing clean soil.
It is important to know that if you notice that the buds of the Christmas cactus are about to open you should water the plant regularly and keep it cool as well. If you want to propagate Christmas cactus cuttings to initiate good growth, late spring is the best time to do so.
How to make a Christmas cactus bloom
Assisting your Christmas cactus to bloom for Christmas festivities
If you want your Christmas cactus to bloom, there are certain conditions you need to put in place so that your plant will know that it is time to bloom. It can actually bloom at any time of the year but most people encourage it to bloom during the Christmas period. Blooms occur after the plant emerges from dormancy and so you need to simulate dormancy conditions so that you can have blooms later.
You can do so by reducing watering but ensure there is slight moisture in the soil. The temperature must be down from 50 to 55 degrees at night and sit the plant in darkness for 12 to 14 hours at night as well. Basically, it takes about six weeks of cool and dark nights to encourage blooms. If you want your plant to bloom during Christmas time, then start the process at the end of October. Unused room in your house is a good place to start this process. Make sure the plant is not exposed to direct sunlight or warmer temperature during the day. Good luck as you care for your Christmas cactus.