How to care for your Christmas Cactus
Written by: Dottie Baltz
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Christmas Cactus tend to bloom better when they are root bound (African Violets are the same way). I only repot mine about every 3 or 4 years. When you do repot them, choose a pot that is only one size larger than the original pot and do it in early Spring or late Winter so that the plant has time to get re-acclimated and form buds in late fall. Gently pull apart a few of the roots, especially if they are twining around in a circle, and use a potting mix as described in the beginning of the article. Water the plant well, as new potting soil may take a little time to hydrate. Let the plant drain and remove any water that accumulates in the saucer.
Your Christmas Cactus should bloom on its own since it is so in tune with Mother Nature and the amount of sun in day. But if yours is not blooming or is blooming too early, try these tips to force your plant to set buds.
- Reduce the temperature in your home, especially at night. Below 65 degrees is ideal, as low as 50 degrees.
- Make sure your plant is in total darkness for about 14 hours a day starting 6-8 weeks before you want it to bloom. You can move it to a closet for the night until you start seeing buds form. Or you can put a box over it if you are afraid you'll forget to bring it out of the closet each morning.
- Make sure your plant is in bright indirect light during the day.
Once your Christmas Cactus begins to set buds, stop fertilizing it and water it a little more frequently. They still don't like wet feet, just don't let it dry out completely. I generally water about once a week during this time. Maybe every five days if the plant is more root bound or if the air is on the dry side.
Once the plant sets buds, don't move it or even turn it around in front of the window. Doing so may cause the buds to weaken and fall off. That is why you should avoid buying a Christmas Cactus that is budding because the buds will likely fall off after you get it home. Depending on how many buds your plant forms in a season and the age of your plant, you can have blooms for several weeks. Once the blooms have faded, I generally wait for the spent blooms to drop on their own so that potential new blooms are not damaged, since plants can have several buds on the end of each segment.
To encourage the plant to branch, it can be pruned about a month after it stops blooming. Simply twist or cut off segments of the cactus at a "joint". The pieces can be used to start new plants if you like.
Cut off a three segment piece of Christmas Cactus and allow it to dry overnight. Then put the cut end of the segment into a small pot with the same type of potting soil as the mother plant. Make sure half the first "joint" is covered with soil. You can use a rotting hormone if you like, but it's not necessary. Water the soil once and place in bright indirect light. Mist the soil every few days as necessary to keep the soil from drying out too much. Once the cutting has grown a new segment, you can fertilize. Don't be alarmed if the cutting wilts at first, this is perfectly normal and it should perk up once roots begin to grow.
If you have a Christmas Cactus that is dropping buds, it's usually because it has either been moved, is being overwatered, or is not getting enough light. Low humidity in the air could also be a factor, so using a humidifier in the room you are growing the cactus in during the winter months is a good idea, not just for your plant, but for your health as well.
Christmas Cactus can be grown outdoors in milder climates, and are pretty easy to take care of especially when you grow them in pots. This makes it more convenient to move them when freezing temperatures approach or if they are getting too much water. It also makes them a snap to bring indoors so you can enjoy their blooms up close and personal during the winter months.
Grow your Christmas Cactus in the shade. A short amount of morning sun is OK. Water when the soil feels dry about an inch down. Your Christmas Cactus will begin to set buds when temps start approaching 50 degrees and when the nights get longer. If your plant is in a pot, you can delay the blooms by giving it more light and warmer temperatures.
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