Simple ways to care christmas cactus plant
The Christmas cactus is a long lived plant with flat, segmented stems. Most of the year its appearance is fairly unassuming. Some potted green in the corner of the living room or parked under a tree in the back yard.
Around Christmas, however, something magical happens.
With care, this plain looking plant will blossom with flowers of red, white, pink, purple or orange. Because of this festive seasonal bloom, the Christmas cactus is a tradition in many European and North American homes during the holidays.
Caring tips for Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus thrives in bright, but indirect sunlight. Keep it near a window when indoors or shaded by trees if kept outdoors in warmer months.
Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant, but rather 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.
Christmas cactus is a long-lived tropical plant that flowers for about a month in winter. Not the drought-tolerant desert plant that its name suggests, Christmas cactus is native to Brazil, often rooting in collected leaves and other debris in the crotches of trees.
This popular houseplant doesn't tolerate having wet feet but it also doesn't want to be bone-dry. Use potting soil that offers excellent drainage, water when the top inch of the soil is dry and avoid over-watering; the plant is susceptible to root rot.
The hard part about raising Christmas cactus is getting it to keep its buds and to bloom. To set buds, the plant needs either nighttime temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees or about 12 hours of complete darkness every night. If you're doing the dark treatment, put it in a dark closet every evening. Car lights, security lights, even a television in the next room will interfere with bud set.
Bud dropping is common and can be triggered by too-dry soil, or some disruption in temperature or light pattern. To prolong the bloom period, keep the plant away from warm drafts.
After flowering has stopped, prune off a few sections of each stem to encourage branching. (You can root these sections to start new plants.) Fertilize lightly during the growing season. Christmas cactus does better when it's pot-bound, so re-pot only every few years.
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Ensuring a Christmas Bloom
In fall, night temperatures around 50-55 degrees will trigger Christmas cactus to form flower buds. A carefully monitored balance of darkness and sunlight will give you beautiful blooms in time for the holidays. Six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees (such as a closet or garage) for 12 hours each night. Be sure to bring the plant out to a sunny spot for the other 12 hours each day. Water only when the top inch or so of the soil feels dry, and you should get flowers for the holiday.
A few weeks after the flowers have faded, prune stems back to encourage new growth.
Propagation of christmas cactus
Start your own tradition by sharing your own Christmas cactus. By transplanting a cutting of at least three stem segments into a small pot of soil (preferably taken from the pot of the parent plant). Bury at least one segment. Care for the cutting as a mature plant and it should take root in 4 to 6 weeks.
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