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Last updated on January 21st, 2020
The Christmas Cactus gets its name because it is a cactus traditionally bought in December around Christmas time when the flowers are in bud or full bloom which means they also make excellent gifts at Christmas. That said, they are also available all year round at local garden centres and nursery but you will have to grow them correctly to get them to flower successfully which means they need to rest periods in a cooler room which we discuss further down. These cacti are fairly easy to grow and care for, and overwinter are sure to add some colour and light to your home.
Growing Christmas Cacti
When it comes to growing the Christmas cacti, you need to treat it the same as other epiphytes or plants that typically grow on other plants. It, therefore, needs sufficient drainage; consider that in their natural environment the water would never stay stagnant but run right off and onto whatever plant or rock the cacti are growing on below.
They need a humid environment which mimics the jungle habitat
Opposite of desert cacti, these are tropical and they need a humid environment which mimics the jungle habitat which means giving them plenty of light but not direct light and a humid environment. Growing them in your home, you need to be cognizant of whether your air is dry or not and then compensate by misting the cactus now and again. Alternatively, you can create humidity near the plant by filling a tray or saucer with pebbles or small stones, and filling the tray with water, then placing the cacti pot on top of those pebbles.
Place in a cool but bright position but not in direct sunlight
As already mentioned, the position where it is placed should be cool but bright but not in a front window facing the sun. We also recommend you don’t place it near the radiator or fire as this will cause them to quickly dry out. Originally from the rain forests of Brazil, they grow under forested, shaded conditions in the wild so you need to replicate these conditions at home as much as possible.
Promoting More Flowers
When most people buy a Christmas cactus it is likely in bud ready to flower and when flowering, you want to water regularly but avoid feeding. After they have finished flower usually around January, the cacti will need a little rest in late winter and in autumn to mimics its natural environment and help it recover as its flowering period.
After flowering rest reduce watering and place in a cooler room until late March
Once the flower has finished, move your cacti to a cooler place with temperatures that ideally range between 12-15 degrees Celcius if possible, this can be easily done by moving it to a cooler room where you might not have the heating as high or on at all. Keep it there, watering just enough to prevent the soil from drying out.
From April to September, bring into a warmer room and increase watering and feed
Come April (or September, if you are resting it in Autumn) bring it back out to a warmer spot between 18-20 degrees Celcius and this is when it will start the process or forming buds again. At this point, after winter you can start to increase watering and give it a liquid houseplant feeding too. This is when the plant is growing and it needs nutrition to do so which is why its the best time to feed them.
From September when buds start to form reduce watering and rest in cool room again
Thereafter, you will notice buds beginning to form at which point you want to move it back into the pool place and give it a second rest where you also reduce the water like the first rest.
Buds should be fully formed around November when they can be taken out of resting again and put on display in a warmer room
Once you notice flower buds have fully formed usually around November, put it back into the warm place and enjoy the floriferous show.
If you do this well, the flowering period should last for 2 months on average so they do give a long-lasting show that many indoor plants struggle to compete with. The individual flowers will not remain in place for long but you will enjoy a lot of them.
These plants require little or no pruning but overgrown plants can benefit from the removal of some old stems and by removing the tips of stems. If you have one for a long time, it might get congested with age or leggy and you can help alleviate that by removing some of the tips alongside the oldest, most damaged of stems. When pruning to remove old stems, you always want to remove entire segments of the stems back to soil level so that the plant maintains its aesthetic appearance. Pruning is best done after flowering before the formation of new buds as begun.
Repotting Christmas cactus
Christmas cactus prefer to be a little snug in a pot so they ideally need to be repotted every two years to get the best displays. The first thing to note is that Christmas cactus does not like to be potted into pots that are too large, this will cause them to rot and plants can become limp. Ideally, they need to be repotted at the start of the growing season which is around March, plant into a slightly larger pot using cactus compost.
Christmas cactus problems
The good news is that Christmas Cactus is virtually pest-free except for mealybugs but even these are not too common. However, some of the more serious problems such as none flowering plants or shrivelled leaves are more related to cultivating and physicality. If the plant is too hot or in too much sun, the stems will usually start to shrivel up. The stems can also become discoloured if they are scorched as well.
Some situations the plant isn’t flowering which could be the result of temperatures or short daylight hours. If the temperatures are too drastic– to warm during the day and cold at night, it can result in flower buds dropping or not even forming. This can also come about because of overwatering. All these problems can be overcome simply by placing them in a favourable condition such as in a room with plenty of light but not in direct sunlight and not in a room that is too warm or too cold. So this means at around 12-15°C (55-59°F) after flowering when resting and 18-20°C (65-69°F) over summer.
Propagating Christmas cactus by Taking Cutting
If you want to propagate from a particularly successful plant, you need to take the cutting one month after your cacti have finished flowering which is usually some time in February. Another good time to try is around May after the first rest when they start to actively grow again.
The cuttings should be 2-3 segments long. Once you have the cuttings, place them in a cool place for a few days so that they dry out, this is something you only really do with succulents and not with most other house plants. Place them in the same cool place where you are allowing your original plant to rest. Over the next couple of days, the cuttings basal wound should have healed and is now ready to pot on.
Place them each in small pots with a 50/50 mixture of cutting compost and sharp sand to improve drainage and stop them rotting off. now plant the healed ends into the compost, just enough to keep them upright but they should not go deeper than 1cm into the soil otherwise they will rot.
Place the pots somewhere bright and cool but not in direct sunlight. After about 12 weeks or sooner in some cases, the roots will fully develop and thereafter you can transplant them as necessary in larger pots or grow them on further if they are already in there own pots.