Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus

Christmas Cactus has been considered to be a favorite house plant, since ages. Christmas Cactus has a long life and grow easily. However, if you need them to bloom for the upcoming holiday season, then you will have to take a little special care in the coming weeks. Since many years back, hybridization method has been adopted and hence in present times, we now see many new varieties of thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Cactus. There plants belong to the Zygo-Cactus family and they are mostly seen in Central and South America. There plants are called cacti but they are truly different from all aspects from the common desert cactus. There plants are called epiphytes and are found in the forks of tree limbs where they grow in decayed leaves and in other natural debris. The above type of Christmas cactus plants should be kept in a cool room but should not expose them to freezing temperatures. If you want the Christmas cactus to flower during the holiday season, you need to expose the Christmas cactus with proper lighting, correct temperatures and limited watering has to be done. During the fall months, the Christmas cactus should be located in a place where it is able to receive indoor indirect bright light during the daylight hours and it should be in total darkness during night time. Christmas cactus is a tropic plant and the best procedure to follow is to water the plants properly and then the top inch of the soil should be made to dry before watering again. But if you want the plant to bloom well during fall and winter months, you must then water the plants less frequently. About 50 to 60 percent of humidity is required for a Christmas cactus. Hence, it would be advisable to place a glass, vase or tray of water near the plant in order to create an humidity environment. In other words, as the water starts evaporating, it will provide the required humidity that the cactus needs. One should never keep a Christmas cactus near a door that opens and closes to the outside. Also, keep the cactus away from heating ducts or near the fireplace. It is often noticed that once the Christmas cactus starts developing flower buds, they start dropping off the plant. Bud drop are caused due to various conditions. It is often caused due to over-watering, lack of humidity or even due to insufficient light. Once the Christmas season is over, the Christmas cactus should be given one month rest period. It must be placed in a cool room and limited water should be provided to it. You should not panic if you find your cactus loosing some few leaves or appearing to be weak during the resting period. During these days, you must not pinch, prune or shape the Christmas cactus. You can start pruning the Christmas cactus in the month of March when the new growth begins. The Christmas cactus will flower the best if it is kept in a container where it’s pot-bound. If you give proper care and place the Christmas cactus in the right location then it is likely to flower several times throughout the year.

Christmas cacti are not only popular holiday gift plants, but they are also the subject of frequent debate among gardeners. There appears to be much confusion about these unique tropical cacti regarding care, maintenance and, especially, on how to get them to re-bloom. The following tips address the most frequently asked questions.

We typically think of cacti as being heat tolerant, but Christmas cacti will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures. Keep the plant in a well-lit location away from drafts from heat vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air. Drafts and temperature extremes can cause the flower buds to drop from the plant before they have a chance to open.

Christmas cactus is a tropical type plant, not quite as drought tolerant as its desert relatives and, in fact, may drop flower buds if the soil gets too dry. The plants will wilt when under drought stress. Water thoroughly when the top inch or so of soil feels dry to the touch. The length of time between waterings will vary with the air temperature, amount of light, rate of growth and relative humidity.

The plant does not particularly need to be fertilized while in bloom, but most gardeners enjoy the challenge of keeping the plant after the holidays for re-bloom the next year. While plants are actively growing, use a blooming houseplant-type fertilizer and follow the label directions for how much and how often to feed.

While the Christmas cactus can adapt to low light, more abundant blooms are produced on plants that have been exposed to more light intensity. Keep your plants in a sunny location indoors. Plants can be moved outdoors in summer, but keep them in a shady or semi-shady location. Leaves may start to turn a bit red if exposed to excessive light. Too much direct sunlight can actually burn the leaves or may cause them to become limp. When it's time to bring the plants back inside in the fall, slowly adjust the plants to life indoors by gradually increasing the number of hours they spend indoors each day.

If your plant tends to dry out and/or wilt frequently, it may be time to repot the plant into a slightly larger container. Well-drained soil is a must for Christmas cactus. Use a commercially packaged potting mix for succulent plants or mix your own by combining two parts plain potting soil with one part clean sand or vermiculite.

Pruning your Christmas cactus after blooming will encourage the plant to branch out. Remove a few sections of each stem by pinching them off with your fingers or cutting with a sharp knife. These sections can be rooted in moist vermiculite to propagate new plants.

Christmas cactus will bloom if given long uninterrupted dark periods, about 12 hours each night. Begin the dark treatments in about mid-October to have plants in full bloom by the holidays. You can place the plants in a dark closet from about 8 P.M. - 8 A.M. each night for 6-8 weeks or until you see buds forming. Christmas cacti will also bloom if they are subjected to cool temperatures of about 50 to 55 degrees F, eliminating the need for the dark treatments. Plants should be blooming for the holidays if cool treatments are started by early November.

Other species of holiday cactus bloom at different times of the year and have slightly different growth habits. Christmas cacti have scalloped stem segments and bloom at the stem tips. Thanksgiving cacti have 2-4 pointy teeth along the edges of the sections and will bloom earlier than Christmas cactus if left to natural day-length. Easter cacti have rounded teeth along the segments and bloom primarily in the spring but may also periodically re-bloom at other times of year.

Facts about Christmas Cactus

  • Cacti are believed to have evolved in the last 30 to 40 million years ago.
  • Like many tropical cacti, Christmas Cactus is also an epiphyte.
  • The flowers are available in a wide variety of colors including red, purple, orange, pink, fuschia, cream, etc.
  • Christmas cactus is a member of a group sold as holiday cacti that also includes Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus.
  • The green, flattened, leaf-like structures that make up the majority of a Christmas Cactus are actually modified stem segments called cladodes. In most cacti, the leaves have been modified into spines which have many different functions for the plant. In the Christmas Cactus, the leaves and spines are absent.
  • Various plant species require cues from the environment to regulate the timing of certain events, like flowering. This mechanism called photoperiodism occurs when plants initiate flowering or other activities in response to relative lengths of daylight and darkness.

Growing Christmas Cactus

  • The Christmas Cactus is easily propagated by taking short Y-shaped cuttings of the stem tips.
  • Remove a single segment and plant it a quarter of its length deep in a pot filled with slightly sandy soil.
  • Place the pot in a well lit area (but not direct sunlight) and keep the soil moist.
  • The cutting should begin showing signs of growth after two or three weeks.
  • To root cuttings for new plants, cut back shoots from the tips, cut at the second joint of each tip.
  • Place cuttings in a moist peat and perlite, or peat and sand mixture. Water sparingly at first to prevent rotting of cuttings.
  • After two or three weeks, water as you would do to any other cutting.
  • When cuttings are rooted, pot them in a very loose mixture of good potting soil.
  • While the Christmas Cactus can adapt to low light, more abundant blooms are produced on plants that have been exposed to high light intensity.
  • Keep your plants in a sunny location indoors or in semi-shady location. Too much direct sunlight can burn the leaves.
  • The ideal soil for Christmas Cactus is composed of equal parts of garden loam, leaf mold and clean coarse sand (not sand from the seashore).
  • After plant completes blooming, let it rest by withholding water for six weeks.
  • When new growth appears, re-pot and top-dress with fresh soil. Resume watering to keep soil fairly moist.
  • As tender growth appears in the spring, apply a weak solution of liquid houseplant fertilizer at 2 to 3 weeks.

Caring Cactus plant:-

  • Do not let the plant dry out, water when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Be careful not to over water which can cause buds to drop.
  • To add more humidity to a dry atmosphere, place the pot on a tray of pebbles and keep the pebbles moist.
  • Christmas Cactus needs bright location out of direct sunlight.
  • Apply a mild houseplant fertilizer solution every alternate week.
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