All About Your Christmas Cactus

by Beverly Stormoen, Master Gardener

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Did you receive a Christmas cactus as a gift for the holidays? While the blooms were wonderful, you probably want to know a little about the plant and whether it will rebloom next Christmas.

The Christmas cactus was discovered in the 1800s growing in South American jungles. They never seem to lose their popularity, in part because their flowers come in an array of colors such as yellow, salmon, pink, fuchsia and white. These easy-to-grow plants can live up to 20 years.

Christmas cacti are one of the short day plants that set its buds as the days shorten and the temperatures drop. The plants must be kept in total darkness from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. starting in early October for Christmas blooms. If exposed to artificial light such as street lights or indoor lighting the buds will not form or mature. A night time temperature of 50 degrees is best for bud formation.

Once in bloom, temperatures above 70 degrees can cause the flowers to drop.

A Christmas cactus should do quite well outdoors in Northeast Florida for most of the year if protected from frost. During warm summer months, it should be kept out of direct sun as the leaves will burn.

Christmas cactus is not a true cactus and is not quite as drought tolerant as its name implies. Water when the top half of the soil feels dry to touch. The time between watering will vary based on temperature, humidity, light and growth rate. By fall, water only to prevent wilting, and once in bloom, keep the soil moist. When it has finished blooming, withhold water for six weeks and then resume normal watering.

Fertilize every month or two from April to September with a weak soluble fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer.

Propagation is done by taking short Y-shaped cuttings of the stem tips. Place the cuttings in a light, moist potting mixture, but water very little to prevent root rots. Once cuttings begin to form roots, they can be potted in a succulent soil mixture and watered normally.

Pruning encourages branching and flowering.

A blooming Christmas cactus would be a great gift idea for that special gardener on your holiday list. In fact, consider purchasing one for yourself - you deserve a special treat!

Beverly Stormoen lives on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For information on the Master Gardener program and application requirements, contact Becky Jordi at 548-1116 or rljordi@ufl.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly Stormoen

Beverly Stormoen lives on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer.