Is it too soon to say the holiday season is upon us? Regardless of whether or not you’re ready to start decorating, you’re likely to come across a Christmas cactus over the next few weeks. You may even be gifted one, so knowing how to care for this plant – year round – may be useful.
Did you know there’s also a breed known as the Thanksgiving cactus? The “Christmas cactus” we know today is actually a blend of Schlumbergera truncata – the Thanksgiving cactus – and Schlumbergera russelliana – the Christmas cactus. They come in a variety of colors, such as red rose, lavender, white, magenta, pale gold, orange, and salmon.
While referred to as a “cactus,” these plants aren’t actually from deserts – they’re from Brazil. According to the Louisiana Ag Center, these plants are epiphytes – meaning that they get their moisture and nutrients from the air and rain, spending their lives perched in trees. Knowing these living conditions will help you to keep your holiday cactus thriving all year long.
Caring for a Holiday Cactus
When you take your holiday cactus home, place it in front of a window but not near a heat source. You’ll actually want your cactus to stay cooler, especially at night, but to still have access to sunlight during the day.
During the first few days, you may notice your plant is losing some of its flower buds. Avoid the temptation to overwater it and instead, just make sure the soil remains moist. When blooming, you can expect your flowers to last about a week, with the plant producing consistent blooms for two to three weeks.
Care for Spring
You can continue to care for your holiday cactus well into Spring. Keep the soil moist and fertilize with a slow-release formula. If your plant seems to be outgrowing its pot, transfer it to a slightly larger pot, but remember: these plants once grew in the nooks of trees in Brazil, so they’re used to confined spaces.
Encouraging Their Blooms
Beginning in September of next year, you can prepare your holiday cactus for its blooming season. These plants’ blooms are triggered by dark nights of more than 12 hours and chilly temperatures below 65 degrees, according to the Louisiana Ag center. To create this atmosphere, you can place your plant outside in the Fall, as long as the temperature doesn’t dip below 40 degrees. Make sure your plant is hidden from any street lights or landscaping lights, so it receives the most darkness possible.
In a few weeks, you should begin to see buds forming. When they’re about an eighth-inch long, move the plant inside to its previous location. Congratulate yourself on extending the life of your gifted plant, and get ready to enjoy its beauty all over again!