Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Check Out the Blooming "Christmas Cacti!"

Looks as though I should have cleaned my tabletop before taking this photo!
Lots of pollen all over! :-)

The cactus in the foreground bears light pink blossoms. I picked 34 spent blossoms off the plant (and table top) before I took this photo! Perhaps you can see there are still buds?

I have included a lot of information about what we normally call the Christmas Cactus below. My comments are in dark, bold, italic print. You can also visit this site... Purdue University Extension service.

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.

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. (This happened to my pink flowering plant, as it got a little too dry while I was out of town last week.) 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. (I always keep a plastic tray under my plants... sometimes even putting a layer of rocks in the saucer, under my plants.)

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. (This is why, in the Summer, I place my plants outdoors in a bright, 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. (My plants have been in their same pots for about three years. I believe I'll re-pot them to slightly larger pots this Winter.)

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. (I've never pruned my plants, but starting new ones sounds like a great idea!)

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. (Because I've never done this, my plants bloom whenever they want... last Winter they each bloomed 3 - 4 times!)

(Mr. Brown Thumb, of Chicago, has provided this information. It might be interesting for you to determine the type of cactus you have!) 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.

The above subject contains only slightly shady topics. ;-)


joey said...

Thanks Toots, great post (I care for mine like you care for yours :) My Thanksgiving cactus is loaded with buds! Enjoyed catching up! I'm finished in the garden
except for stubborn leaves that I won't allow to stress me out and, yes, hard work outdoors makes me happy, very happy :)

Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

I'm having a hard time finding a christmas cactus. I had one years ago that was huge and bloomed so wonderfully. I was hoping to find one this year but I'm not having much luck. I'll keep looking though... in the meantime I'm going to force some amarylis bulbs to get some color inside.

Anonymous said...

You must be doing something right. Yours are gorgeous.

Dellits said...

Oh I LOVE these!!!

bobbie said...

Absolutely beautiful plants! Great post!

Randy Emmitt said...

We have two large plants that have just started blooming, pink and red in the same plants. My mom has one that was given to her mother before she died back in 1982 it is still going strong and has made many many new plants with pieces broken off.

Rosemary said...

Great info! My cactus is just finishing.. I summer it outside in the good weather and it seems to respond well to extra light .

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

I knocked over my T'giving cactus earlier this year and a LOT of pads fell off. I wasn't expecting much of a bloom, but I do see little pink buds! Yay!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Thanks for the info. This is definitely not the plant for me & my forgetfulness about watering houseplants.

Rosey Pollen said...

This is just what I needed to read about, how did you know I was desperately trying to get mine to bloom again. I will try the closet method. THANK YOU so much SHady!

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

I just bought one of these a week or so ago. This was great info since I was pretty much clueless for what to do with it.
My mom has one that blooms every year. She was given a start of it by the lady who did my sister's wedding flowers around 15 years ago.

Kathleen said...

I think you do a great job getting your Christmas cactus to bloom shady Gardener. This is all great info ~ I wish I'd seen it last winter. I finally gave the one I bought (last fall) to my Mom. It was not happy here!

Kate said...

Hi, Shady!
I have a Christmas Cactus named Edna. Not sure where that name came from, it was many decades ago.

My mother gave her to me when I was in college which is so long ago I shudder to think! I am seeing tons of buds but no flowers, as yet... Yours is gorgeous! :)

Anonymous said...

We can never seem to find these in our area. We would probably forget to water it anyway. Maybe we need the fake house plants.

Patsi's 'Garden Endeavors' said...

Bloomed 3 to 4 times ?
Wow, that's great !
Looking good !
Sure did a great job of giving all info needed regarding the Christmas cactus.

Shady Gardener said...

Hi Joey! Way to go. I hope you're enjoying weather as great as ours! Our son and his wife will be in Iowa for a week or so during the week of Thanksgiving. We so look forward to their visit (as well as that of our daughter & fam) - everyone all together! :-)

Hi Jackie! Do you have a discount store nearby? They are usually a good source for Christmas cactus - we will be seeing them soon. If not, please let me know... I'll send you a few sections of my plants. :-)

Grace, Dellits & Bobbie - Thanks! :-) They are so generally very easy to grow... just bright light and weekly watering!

Randy, Isn't that wonderful? My mother-in-law had a plant for many, many years. She got rid of it a couple of years ago, before I knew she was going to do that! I'd have loved a couple of pieces of her plant!

Rosemary, It sounds like you're doing all the right things! :-)

Monica, You have the beginnings of some great Christmas Gifts!!

MMD, Oh... I wouldn't be so sure. Mine go quite awhile without my watering them, sometimes. They also will let you know when they're thirsty! (They get a little droopy and the "pads" look a little wrinkly...)

Hi Rosey! Please keep me posted on your plants! :-)

Catherine - Our moms can often be great inspiration, can't they? I will look forward to having my plants be 15 years old (hopefully)! I'm glad to hear you've just brought home a plant. I hope you'll post about it!

Kathleen, Do you want to try again? These plants are fairly easy to find around the holidays... they should be showing up soon... and usually are fairly inexpensive. (Otherwise, I'd be glad to send you a couple of pieces, too!)

Hi Kate! (Is your Mom's name Edna?) You must have a great green thumb to keep this plant for so long~ don't shudder... it's been even longer since I was in college (the first time!) ;-)

Chad and Brandy - let me send you a couple of pieces of my plant!!!

Hi Patsi! Do you have any of these? I would imagine they would do just as well (or better?) for you! :-)

VW said...

Here in Spokane, we are definitely past rose season and into Christmas cactus (and other houseplants) bloom season, just like you! But I stockpiled pictures from the summer to keep my blog blooming through the winter, I hope.
You asked where in Iowa I designed a garden. We lived in Des Moines for three years, in a little brick duplex just down the street from the governor's mansion. Charming neighborhood, cobblestone streets. Our little row of duplexes must have been homes for the 'help' for the large mansions all around. Though it was a rental, I could help myself and put in a garden around our side. Our landlord was so pleased that he asked me to design a simple plan for a new home he was building and planning to sell. That was the extent of my designing in Iowa - less exciting than one might think from the sidebar, I'm afraid!

Shady Gardener said...

Hi VW, Thank you for returning to answer my question!! You must have done a great job in "blooming where you are planted," in that you were asked to design another garden. :-) I'm hoping you have fond memories of your time in Iowa. :-)