Cacti evoke images of a dry, hot desert where tall saguaros sit along sandy cliffs, but the Christmas cactus is actually a tropical plant that hails from Brazil. These unique plants thrive in cooler temperatures, which is likely where they got their festive name. Due to the vibrant colors and cheerful blooms, the Christmas cactus is a popular gift and will beautify your home all year.
The Christmas cactus plant does best in a container rather than in the ground. Start by finding a medium-size pot, and fill it with sandy soil that’s rich in nutrients — this will encourage bloom growth. Choose a high-quality potting soil for best results. After placing the plant in the pot, top up the soil to just below the rim. Avoid packing it too tightly, as this can cause the plant to “choke” and prevent it from growing healthy and strong.
Since Christmas cactus plants prefer humid conditions, the right amount of water is crucial. Plant this unique species in a pot with drain holes to ensure proper drainage. When the top layer of soil feels dry, soak the plant until you see water coming through the drain holes. Don’t let the Christmas cactus sit in the water left at the bottom of the pot’s tray, as this can cause root rot and other diseases. When the plant is blooming, it will require a bit more water than normal. You can also mist it lightly between watering to mimic its native humid environment.
Christmas cactus plants enjoy bright light, but too much direct sunlight can harm them. Keep your plant in a sunny window facing east, if possible, to prevent it from sitting in direct sunlight all day. During the summer months, you can move your Christmas cactus outside, but be sure to keep it in a shaded area and continue watering and fertilizing it as if it were still inside. In the winter months, the Christmas cactus should move indoors and get between four and six hours of indirect sunlight.
The most common pests that attack the Christmas cactus are fungus gnats, root mealybugs, and flower thrips. Overwatering your plant is a typical culprit, as standing water attracts these nasty pests. Make sure your Christmas cactus has enough water, but not so much that the soil stays soaked or that the leaves and blooms remain wet for more than an hour or two. If your plant is infested, it is best to discard it so it doesn’t affect any other plants in your home. The best prevention? Monitor the moisture level of your Christmas cactus and trim off any dead sections.
Basal stem rot and root rot are two of the most common diseases that affect the Christmas cactus. If you notice abnormal spots or areas of browning on your plant, trim them away as soon as possible. This will prevent any existing disease from spreading further. Prevent rot by only watering your Christmas cactus when the soil looks dry or when it feels dry to the touch. Keep a close eye on the leaves so you can quickly identify potential signs of disease before they spread.
Keep your Christmas cactus healthy by giving it a houseplant fertilizer intended for blooming plants, available at most nurseries and home improvement stores. Use the fertilizer at half-strength by mixing it with equal parts water. Feeding should occur during regular waterings, from late winter to late summer. Time-released plant food is another good option. Look for fertilizers with high phosphorous levels to encourage flowering.
To propagate a Christmas cactus, take a short, Y-shaped cutting from the tip of the stem. Make sure the cutting has two to three jointed segments and that it comes from healthy, green foliage. Let the cutting dry for a few hours, then place it in a mixture of sandy soil and moist peat, covering about one-quarter of its length. Put the pot in an area with bright but indirect light and water it sparingly to protect it from root rot. Allow it to root for two to three weeks before moving it to a larger pot. Water and feed it a bit more often than your established plant until it grows larger.
A Christmas cactus thrives in cooler temperatures away from the scorching sun — aim for between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep your plant away from fireplaces and heaters. A big change in temperature may cause the blooms to drop off before they open. If you put the cactus outside during the summer, choose a shady spot where temperatures stay within a reasonable range. On extremely hot days, bring it inside to prevent overheating or drying out.
One of the most popular features of the Christmas cactus is its vivid, luscious blooms. The best way to trigger blooming is to expose the plant to daylight for eight to ten hours for six weeks or more. Cover your plant with a dark-colored cloth during hours of darkness if itwill be exposed to bright indoor lighting. The flowers of a Christmas cactus form in cooler temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees. Expect to see them in late fall to early winter. If your plant sheds or drops its blooms during the winter, it should still bloom again the next year.
With the right soil, light, and temperature, your Christmas cactus should thrive and produce colorful blooms. When the buds look like they’re ready to open, water the plant a bit more often and keep it as cool as possible. It’s best to propagate your Christmas cactus in late spring. This is when the plant will emerge from its winter rest and be ready to grow new leaves. This festive plant makes a wonderful holiday gift that will reward the recipient for years to come.
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