Along the Garden Path: The Magical Christmas Cactus


The Poinsettia is a beautiful flower we see a lot during the Christmas season but the Christmas cactus plant makes a great addition to nearly any indoor setting. It’s a long lived plant with flat, segmented stems. Most of the year its appearance is fairly unassuming; looks like some potted green in the corner of the living room or parked under a tree in the back yard.

Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant but rather has its origins in the tropical rain forests of South America.

Around Christmas, however, something magical happens. With care, this plain looking plant will blossom with flowers of red, white, pink, purple or orange.

Christmas cactus is not only easy to care for but propagates easily too making it an exceptional plant for holiday gift giving.

One can propagate the Christmas cactus by cutting a short Y-shaped segment from the stem tips. Make certain that the cutting is taken from healthy plant foliage. 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 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 with a looser potting soil mix of compost, loam and sand.

The Christmas cactus will adapt to low light conditions but the plant will produce blooms more readily if exposed to brighter light. The plant requires frequent and thorough watering, during its active growth. Applying a mild houseplant fertilizer solution every other week is good for the plant.

If your home is dry, placing a tray of pebbles filled with water beneath the Christmas cactus container is a good way to add more humidity to the home.

When do you want blooms — for Christmas or Thanksgiving? Count backward eight weeks to determine the autumn date to begin to prepare the plant for reblooming. When buds appear, increase the number of times that you water, but not the volume of water used. Too much water may cause buds to fall, as will moving the pot around. The Christmas cactus will remain in flower for four to six weeks, with each flower lasting six to nine days. After the plant has flowered, prune back each stem by pinching off enough sections to achieve a uniform habit. Resume normal watering and fertilization when new growth appears.

Once the Christmas cactus has ceased all flowering, or about six to eight weeks before you want the plant to rebloom, you should allow the plant to being its dormancy cycle by cutting back the 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 55 degrees.

The spectacular show of flowers will be well worth the effort!

By Charlene Thornhill

Along the Garden Path

Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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