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CHRISTMAS CACTUS

Schlumbergera x buckleyi is a winter blooming houseplant commonly called Christmas Cactus. Often they cascade or fall down over the edge of their containers, even when they are not heavy with blooms. These plants need rich, porous soil and mild fertilization.

Many Christmas Cactus plants are grown in crowded pots and eventually the soil becomes hard and compacted. If they are transplanted every year or two into the next larger-size pot and provided with rich potting soil, the plant stands up tall, drooping only toward the end of the branches when in bloom. Watering frequently with a mild fertilizer is helpful, and bright light is also a requirement.

The extra care makes perfect sense. Would you want to wear a size 6-1/2 shoe when your feet require a size 8? You would not be able to stand up and be noticed either!

Sue Ann Ley, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


CHRISTMAS CACTUS

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is an old-fashioned plant that your grandmother may have grown. It is characterized by glossy, flat, chain-like segments and forms a pendant (flower) that is usually red or reddish-orange. Christmas cactus is an epiphyte, which means in nature it grows hanging from trees in tropical forests.

As a houseplant Christmas cactus does best in course, porous soils high in organic matter. Use half sand and half fine bark or course peat moss. Provide excellent drainage and allow plants to become somewhat drier between watering just prior to bloom. Fertilize every two-to-four months with a standard balanced houseplant fertilizer when plants are actively growing. Place it away from doorways, heating vents or other drafty locations. And Christmas cactus blooms best if kept somewhat pot-bound.

Difficulty in getting Christmas cactus to re-bloom is a frequent complaint. Because they are short-day plants, one sure way to form buds is to subject them to total darkness from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. beginning September 1 until buds form. If keeping them in total dark at night is difficult, there's another option. At temperatures around 55 degrees or slightly lower, Christmas cactus loses its short-day requirements for flower bud setting. If you leave plants outside until frost threatens, they should have a nighttime temperature of 45-55 degrees for four weeks, which should encourage buds. Be sure to bring them inside before a frost.

You can start new plants after blooming season by cutting three-to-four inch segments and inserting them in moist sand. Repot once the roots are visible.

Barbara Mole, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


CHRISTMAS CACTUS CARE

Their spectacular blooming habit makes Christmas cacti extremely popular but, also, because their care is relatively easy. They require a rich well drained soil, bright, indirect light. Feed it with a well balanced houseplant fertilizer between April and October. Christmas cactus is not drought tolerant. Water the plants thoroughly and let them dry out between watering. Do not ignore it, or, kill it with kindness. The leaves will wrinkle if the soil is too dry and when over watered which can lead to root rot. Water the plant less in winter.

Prune the plants in the summer to encourage more branching by pinching off at the joints. When the plants are in bloom it is important not to let the plant dry out or expose them to direct heat as that may cause the flower buds to drop. Too much light can fade the flowers. Fertilize with a high potassium fertilizer when the buds form and continue until the flowers fade.

There are two important factors in encouraging bud formation: 1: The Christmas cactus requires at least 14 hours of darkness. 2: It needs prolonged cool temperatures of 50-55 degrees. Bud formation will not happen if temperatures are above 70 degrees. The plant should bloom within six weeks.

With a little effort and understanding, one can repeat the flowering process year after year.

Janine Phillips, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


CHRISTMAS CACTUS

Have you ever seen anything more beautiful than a Christmas cactus in full bloom? These beauties come in a variety of colors: red, purple, orange, pink, fuchsia and white. They are native to Central and South America and are very different from the desert cactus we know. Since they are tropical their needs are different than those for a true cactus.

It always amazes me how the plant knows when it is Christmas. All of a sudden the lacey blooms just appear. Well not exactly! The key to getting the Christmas cactus to bloom on time is to ensure proper lighting, temperature and watering.

In October and November, the cactus needs to be placed indoors where it will receive indirect bright light during the daylight hours and total darkness at night of at least 12 to 13 hours. Placing it in a dark room or covering with a dark trash bag will provide the needed darkness.

The Christmas cactus needs to be placed where the temperatures are cool during the fall months. Fertilize with an all purpose houseplant fertilizer. Since the cactus is a tropical plant it needs to be watered like a tropical plant. Do not let the plant dry out. Water when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch. Over watering will cause buds to drop.

The best time for repotting is in February, March and April. Keep in mind that the plant will flower best if it is kept in a container where it is pot-bound. If pruning is to be done, you need to do it before the buds form on the tips. Go easy on fertilizing so as not to have only vegetative growth.

If a stem breaks off, place it in a pot of sandy type soil. Keep it in bright indirect light and moist soil. In two to three weeks you will see signs of growth.

Place the potted cactus outside in the summer in an area where it will be protected from the strong afternoon sun. Bring in before the first frost.

Finally, just enjoy this beautiful plant during the Christmas holidays.

Brenda Ilschner, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service


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