Christmas Cacti are easy to grow. When they bloom, they produce colorful tubular flowers in pink or lilac colors. They bloom a long time indoors and they are low-maintenance houseplants, which makes them popular. We’ll bet someone in your family has a Christmas Cactus!
Also, note that there are several types of Holiday Cacti: Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They bloom closest to the holiday of their name. To confuse matters further, most of the Christmas cactus sold are actually Thanksgiving cactus. If you find your Christmas cactus blooming near Thanksgiving, guess what?
These colorful cacti have blooming periods corresponding to the holidays, hence their common names. But I have always loved these because they are simply stunning plants! The hanging branches, composed of glossy green segments, can reach up to 36 inches long; while the flowers appear from stem tips and measure up to 3 inches long with several tiers of petals. Each bloom lasts for several days, and the entire blooming period spans several weeks.
Let’s look at how to how to plant Christmas cactus and care for it. The Christmas cactus is easily propagated by cutting a short Y-shaped segment from the stem tips. Make certain, however, that the cutting is taken from healthy plant foliage only. Plant the segment approximately a quarter of its length deep in slightly sandy soil. Moisten evenly and place the cutting in a well-lit area, staying away from any direct sunlight. To root cuttings for new plants, cut back shoots from the tips, cut at the second joint of each tip. The cutting should show signs of growth within a few weeks, at which time the plant can be transferred to another container, if desired, with a looser soil mix of compost and standard potting soil.
Advice for Christmas cactus care tells us that it performs well under average home conditions with moderate care. The Christmas cactus will adapt to low light conditions, but the plant will produce blooms more readily if exposed to brighter light. That being said, too much direct sunlight can burn its leaves, so keep the Christmas cactus in an appropriate area to avoid this.
Christmas cactus moisture is important as well. The plant requires frequent and thorough watering, during its active growth in spring and summer, keeping the soil slightly moist. Allow the moisture levels to drop and dry out some between watering intervals, but never completely, and never let the plant sit in water, as this will lead to root and stem rot. Applying a mild houseplant fertilizer solution every other week or two is also acceptable. When considering how to care for Christmas cacti, keep in mind that they prefer temperatures hovering between 60 and 70 degrees F. with average to high humidity levels. Placing a tray of pebbles filled with water beneath the Christmas cactus container is a good way to add a bit more humidity to the home. Once the Christmas cactus has ceased all flowering (usually by fall), or about six to eight weeks before you want the plant to rebloom, you should allow the plant to begin its dormancy cycle by cutting back on moisture and reducing both light and temperature. Simply cut back the watering and make sure the plant receives 12-14 hours of darkness and average temperatures around 50-55 F. Also, keep the Christmas cactus away from drafty areas.
When you know how to care for Christmas cactus, this plant is not difficult to manage, and when given proper care and placed in a suitable location, the Christmas cactus may even surprise you with additional blooming cycles throughout the year.
Many years ago, my friend named Darryl, had fallen on difficult times. He was living “at home,” on the family farm with his father. The two were living on what had become a rundown farmstead. Darryl’s mother had died years before, and his father was quite elderly.
Needless to say, the cactus was vibrant and healthy and in full bloom, it took my breath away. It could have held its own against the colorful blooms of plants rooted in tropical climates where garish flowers are the norm.
I was thinking my Christmas cactus story wasn’t really a Christmas story. But maybe it is. It’s certainly a story about families and the joy and memories that we can all find both this time of year and in a humble plant.
From my home to yours, here's wishing all of you a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.