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Are you looking for a way to add some vibrant colors to your home decor during the holiday season? Or perhaps you’re searching for a unique and easy-to-care-for gift for your loved ones. Look no further than the Christmas cactus.
This stunning plant, with its long, fleshy stems that bloom with beautiful flowers at their tips, is a year-round standout, and with a variety of colors to choose from, it’s perfect for adding a burst of color to your winter months.
Not only is the Christmas cactus easy to grow and propagate, but with proper care, it will continue to bloom and impress for years to come.
In this article, we’ll explore the features and characteristics of the Christmas cactus, how to grow and propagate it, potting and repotting, and its uses. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to care for and enjoy this stunning plant.
- The Christmas cactus is a stunning plant that’s perfect for adding a burst of color to your home decor during the holiday season.
- With proper care, the Christmas cactus will continue to bloom and impress for years to come.
- In this article, we’ll explore the features and characteristics of the Christmas cactus, how to grow and propagate it, potting and repotting, and its uses.
About Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus is a beautiful hybrid species of the Cactaceae family and Schlumbergera genus. It is a combination of two parent species – S. truncata and S. russelliana. The plant is native to the tropical Brazilian rainforest and attracts hummingbirds for pollination. Unlike its desert relatives, the Christmas cactus requires high humidity and is thorn-free, making it easy to care for.
The Christmas cactus blooms during the Christmas holidays, adding a burst of color to holiday decorations and maintaining its beauty for several weeks. It comes in different shades, including red, pink, white, and yellow, each with its own unique beauty. The plant can live for up to 20-30 years and can be passed down as a memory to future generations.
It is important to note that there are other holiday cacti, such as the Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus, which are named after their time of blooming. However, these cacti are often mislabeled in local stores.
The Christmas cactus is a cozy companion that requires a specific care regime, different from its desert relatives. It is also safe for pets and humans, unlike the poisonous Poinsettia plant often used in Christmas decorations. However, mealy bugs, scale, spider mites, and aphids can still pose a threat to this beautiful plant.
Features and Characteristics of Christmas Cactus
The Christmas cactus is a unique and beautiful plant that can grow up to 3 feet long. It has hanging cladodes that are flat, green, and segmented stems that are joined together in an elegant pattern. These cladodes play an important role in the plant’s photosynthesis process, helping to synthesize nutrients and water.
The Christmas cactus blooms during the Christmas season, provided it is given at least 4 weeks of beauty sleep. The flowers are tubular in shape and come in different shades of rainbow colors, measuring up to 3 inches in length. Each petal is arranged in a long, beautiful arc and then hangs down. The flowering show can last for up to two weeks.
Although the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter cacti are closely related, they differ in their blooming period and appearance. The Christmas cactus has scalloped, rounded-tooth segments, while the Thanksgiving cactus has pointed, soft-toothed segments. The Easter cactus has round-toothed segments like the Christmas cactus but has daisy-like and broader flowers.
The Christmas cactus is a great companion plant that likes to grow with the support of nearby trees, although it does not rely on them for food. It prefers to keep its roots free and does not like to grow alone.
To grow a Christmas cactus as a houseplant, provide it with average soil and give it 4 to 6 hours of diffused light daily. Provide temperatures between 70°F and 80°F throughout the growing season. Water every 2 to 3 weeks, but only when the top one-third of the soil feels dry to the touch.
In spring and early summer, feed with half-strength water-soluble balanced fertilizer. In September/October, move the Christmas cactus indoors to a diffused light location.
You can also root your Christmas cactus in water by cutting segments, around three to four inches long, with three or four leaves on every side. Place the cutting in a clean, empty glass jar filled with pebbles or stones, about two inches deep. Add water and place your cuttings in the jar.
Knowing the differences between the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter cacti is important before buying one. Even though they differ in their blooming period and appearance, their care regime remains the same.
How to Grow Christmas Cactus?
To grow a healthy Christmas cactus, you need to use a moist, rich, humus organic well-draining soil mix. You can make your own houseplant potting mix by combining 2 parts peat moss, 1 part perlite, and 1 part sand.
Alternatively, you can buy a potting mix for succulents from the market. The potting mix should have an acidic pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
The amount and frequency of watering depend on the temperature, amount of light, rate of growth, and relative humidity. If you live in a hot, dry climate, water your plant every two to three days.
If you live in a humid climate, water your plant once a week. Water the plant until it drains through the soil, but remove any excess water in the saucer to prevent root rot.
Check the soil by sticking your finger into it to see if it’s dry between watering intervals. During the blooming phase from October to April, water the plant only when the soil feels dry.
Christmas cacti prefer bright, indirect sunlight during the summer and spring. Protect the plant from direct sunlight coming from the southern or western part of the room, as it can cause the stems to turn red or purple.
During the fall, expose the plant to 10 hours of light and 12-14 hours of complete darkness. This photoperiodism encourages the plant to bloom.
Once the buds appear, stop the cycle of light and dark and provide indirect sunlight. Do not let the plant experience a drastic change in light exposure, as it may cause the buds to drop off.
For optimal growth, keep the temperature between 70 to 80 °F from April to September. For budding, provide an evening temperature of 50 to 55 °F for 4 to 5 weeks starting from October 1.
After the buds appear, move the plant to a place with a constant temperature of 68 ºF. Do not let the plant experience a drastic change in temperature, as it may cause the buds to fall off.
If you keep your cactus outdoors and the temperature falls below 55 °F, bring it inside to prevent it from freezing.
Christmas cacti love high humidity, but it can be challenging to maintain humidity in dry climates. You can place a glass of water beside the plant to provide 50% to 60% humidity.
Alternatively, you can take a tray, fill it with pebbles, pour some water into the tray, and place the plant on the damp pebbles. Do not let the plant sink in water, as it may rot the roots.
Misting the plant daily can also maintain humidity. During the blooming phase from October to April, cut down on moisture and allow the plant to go into dormancy.
Christmas cacti prefer to be in a snug pot with enough drainage holes. Use a 6-8 inch pot that is close-fitting and well-draining.
The plant does not like wet feet, and its roots like to be comfortable in a small space close to each other. This helps the plant to bloom best. The plant loves to be pot-rooted.
Fertilize the plant from April to September using liquid houseplant fertilizer at half its strength every two to three weeks for a month. Provide fertilizer with NPK of 20-20-20 or the equal.
For adequate blooming, provide more phosphorous than nitrogen. You can also provide worm compost, which has macro and micronutrients and balances the pH if provided in the appropriate amount. Too much acidity can damage the roots and stems.
Christmas cacti also love magnesium. Take one tablespoon of Epsom salt and add it to a gallon of water. Spray it on the plant. During the blooming phase from August or early September, do not add fertilizer.
Propagating Christmas cactus
Propagate by Cuttings
To propagate Christmas cactus by cuttings, you need to prune a section with 2-5 stem segments using sterile scissors or your fingers in May or June. Leave the cuttings aside for a day or two to form callous tissue at the cut or pinch area.
Next, take a container with drainage holes, put some broken pieces of pot or stones for appropriate draining, and fill it with potting mix. Place the segments at a depth of 1 inch in a potting mix. Three cuttings can go in a 4-inch container, and 5 cuttings can go in a 6-inch container.
Place this container in a plastic bag and secure it with a rubber band. Wait for a few weeks, as this setting helps maintain humidity and acts as a mini greenhouse. Remove the plastic bag and expose it to bright indirect sunlight but not to direct sunlight. Take care of it with love.
Propagate by Seeds
To propagate Christmas cactus by seeds, you need to pollinate it first. Each blooming flower has pollen and stigma. With the help of an artistic brush, transfer pollen from one flower and dab it on the stigma of another flower. These flowers can be from the same Christmas cactus or two different Christmas cacti.
A darker green color swelling appears at the base where the flower emerges, indicating successful pollination. Let the fruit develop, which takes months and even years. This fruit will turn soft and red, like a small berry.
It’s time to harvest seeds from it. Take a clean tissue paper and burst this tiny fruit onto the paper. Let the juice dry off. Pack these black-colored seeds into small zip lock bags and store them in a dry place.
Spring or early summer is the best time to sow seeds. Take a sterile potting mix in a small container with enough holes for drainage. Place this in a tray containing water and let the soil get moist. Remove the container from that tray and sow seeds in horizontal rows all over the potting mix.
Place the container with sow seeds in a plastic bag and keep it under indirect sunlight. After 3-4 months, you will observe baby Christmas cacti. Remove the plastic bags and expose them to appropriate indirect sunlight, humidity, and temperature.
Potting and Repotting
To keep your Christmas cactus healthy, it is essential to repot it every three years. If you notice your plant drying out or wilting, it may be time to repot. Spring is the best time to do this, allowing your cactus to acclimate to its new home before blooming.
To repot your Christmas cactus, tilt the existing container and remove the plant. Shake off any compacted soil. Choose a new container that is 1-2 inches wider than the existing one and fill it 1/3 full with potting mix.
Place the cactus in the new container and fill with potting mix around the root ball, leaving 3/4 inch of space between the soil surface and rim. Water the cactus and let it drain. Expose it to the required conditions for flourishing in its new home.
Common Problems and Solutions
Issue: White spots and stems falling off
Solution: It is because of White rot fungal disease and because of overwatering.
Issue: Christmas cactus wilt and its flower buds dropping off
Solution: It is because of:
- Under or overwatering watering
- Blast of air, extreme weather change
- Insufficient lights
- Low humidity
- Exposure to fumes from burning stoves, high temperature (16).
Issue: Christmas Cactus Fails to Bloom
Solution: It needs complete darkness of 12-14 hours from October to December. Artificial lights can disturb our Christmas cactus sleep cycle.
Issue: Christmas Cactus Turning Red
Solution: Because of excessive direct light exposure.
Issue: Bacterial Soft Rot
Solution: It is due to growth of Pectobacterium carotovorum . This is because of high humidity and temperature over 86°F.
Issue: Woody Corky Christmas Cactus
Solution: Well this is not an issue. This means that your Christmas cactus have grown old.
Issue: Slime Gooey stuff on Christmas Cactus
Solution: Mealy bugs attack. Apply 70% rubbing alcohol on bugs. Wash plant and Repot it in another container. Spray neem oil on to this plant.
Issues: Brown Segmented Stems
Solutions: It indicates root rot due to overwatering. Follow watering regime as mention above. Propagate as mention above.
Issue: Silvery Grey Growth on our Christmas Cactus
Solution: Botrytis blight attack caused due to over watering. Prune the section. Use insecticide for cure and prevention.
Issue: Christmas Cactus Roots Appear Black Slimy Appearance
Solution: It is because of overwatering. The roots became susceptible for fungal, pest and bacterial attacks.
Uses of Christmas Cactus
Christmas cactus is a popular indoor houseplant that adds a burst of beautiful colors to holiday decorations.
It is also a popular green gift during Christmas. It can stay for decades, making it a perfect present for the occasion. The plant helps to purify the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and giving oxygen during photosynthesis.
It also increases humidity around, making it a perfect plant for dry environments. Appreciate the beauty of Christmas cactus by planting it in your home. This complete guide will help you in your journey to care for and grow your Christmas cactus.
You now know that Christmas cactus is a unique and attractive plant, even when it is not blooming. Its elegant leaf-like pads and low-maintenance nature make it a great investment.
However, it does require attention and care to bloom. With proper care, it rewards you with vibrant flowers of various shades.
Remember to love and care for your Christmas cactus, and it will continue to be a center of attraction in your home.