B. Rosie Lerner, Purdue Consumer Horticulture Specialist
Released 07 December 1995
While the poinsettia remains the most popular of the holiday plants, a healthy Christmas cactus in full bloom is a great gift idea for that special gardener. But along with that bounty of blooms, send these tips for keeping the plant looking its best.
Most blooming plants will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures. Keep the plant in a well-lit location away from drafts from heat vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air.
Watering seems to be the source of most problems with the Christmas cactus. The plant is a tropical type cactus and is not quite as drought tolerant as the name implies. However, it is a succulent plant and can store a reasonable quantity of water in the leaves. Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil in the pot feels dry to the touch. Discard the excess water, then do not water again until the top half becomes dry. The length of time between waterings will vary with the air temperature, amount of light, rate of growth and relative humidity.
After the blossoms fade, the plant isn't much to look at. But a little extra care will help bring it back to full bloom next year.
While the Christmas cactus can adapt to low light, more abundant blooms are produced on plants that have been exposed to high light intensity. Keep your plants in a sunny location indoors. Plants can be moved outdoors in summer, but keep them in a shady or semi-shady location. Too much direct sunlight can burn the leaves. When it's time to bring the plants back inside in the fall, slowly adjust the plants to life indoors by gradually increasing the number of hours they spend indoors each day.
Well-drained soil is a must for Christmas cactus. Use a commercially packaged potting mix for succulent plants or mix your own by combining two parts plain potting soil with one part clean sand or vermiculite.
Pruning your Christmas cactus after blooming will encourage the plant to branch out. Remove a few sections of each stem by pinching them off with your fingers or cutting with a sharp knife. These sections can be rooted in moist vermiculite to propagate new plants. Christmas cactus will bloom if given long uninterrupted dark periods. Begin the dark treatments in about mid-October to have plants in full bloom by the holidays. Christmas cactus will also bloom if they are subjected to cool temperatures of about 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Plants will be ready for the holidays if the cool treatments are started by early November.
For additional information, please see Christmas Cactus FAQs.
Last updated: 23 March 2006
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