Growing Christmas Cactus
I’ve had many people ask me how to re-bloom their Christmas cactus, so I’ve decided to write a blog post on the topic. Plus, this is good timing at least in my area of the world, since our days are getting shorter and this is going to trigger blooming soon! More on that topic though shortly. In this blog post, I will give you tips on growing, propagating, and reliably re-blooming your Christmas cactus. If you follow my tips, you will have a beautiful, long-lived houseplant that will bloom for you every year!
While growing up in my parent’s house, I received cuttings of a Christmas cactus from my great aunt’s house and used those to make a new plant. I took care of it for over 15 years while I still lived in that house, and it grew into the largest Christmas cactus I had ever seen. In fact, it grew so huge that part of the plant collapsed under its own weight! It hung in front of a large sliding door, facing a Northern exposure, so it received plenty of bright indirect light. It was so huge that it remained in bloom for a solid 3-4 months! Although I can’t promise you the same until your plant grows to mammoth proportions.
Christmas cactus (genus Schlumbergera), despite the name cactus, actually grow in tropical rainforests and originate in Brazil. They are actually epiphytes, similar to many orchids, so they’ll grow on trees instead of in the soil. Christmas cacti generally prefer bright indirect light, although some sun is OK. You’ll know if they are getting a little too much sun because their leaf segments will start to turn reddish. If this occurs, your Christmas cactus is likely getting too much sun. A northern window will do fine (especially if it is a larger northern window), and an eastern window would work beautifully. A west or south window would work as well as long as you can protect your plant from too much direct sun by using sheer curtains or slightly closed blinds if needed.
Don’t underestimate the importance of LIGHT in growing houseplants, especially flowering houseplants. Over the years, I’ve heard so many people complain about how poorly their plants are doing, when they don’t even have their plant situated in front of a window! With few exceptions, most of your houseplants should always be directly in front of a window in order to achieve the best results.
Water & Fertilizer Requirements
Ensure that your Christmas cactus has excellent drainage and is not sitting in water for long periods of time. Since it is an epiphyte and grows on trees in nature, they require good drainage. I can’t recommend a frequency to water your plant, since it depends on your individual lighting and temperature conditions. Allow the top inch or so of your Christmas cactus to dry out before watering again, but at the same time, you should avoid letting the entire pot dry out.
You can use any balanced houseplant fertilizer for your Christmas cactus. Right now, I’m using a 7-7-7 fertilizer that’s actually made for African Violets, but plants do not know the difference! I’ll continue to fertilize until about October or so. Then I’ll refrain from fertilizing until new leaves start growing in the Spring.
Getting your Plant to Re-bloom!
This is the million dollar question! There are two main tricks to get your Christmas cactus to rebloom in December or so (as its name implies). The first is uninterrupted darkness at night. If you have your plant in an area where you have lamps or any other lights on at night, this will deter your plant from blooming! Even if you have lights on for short periods of time. They need evenings of complete darkness in late summer and Fall in order to set buds. This is probably the most important factor. The other factor that helps the plant set buds is cooler nighttime temperatures. Any drop in temperature at night would be helpful, with night temperatures in the 60-65F range probably being ideal.
Propagating Christmas Cactus
I already mentioned the gigantic plant that I propagated from my great aunt’s plant. Unfortunately that plant did not come with me when I moved out of my parent’s house. However, I was able to propagate a new plant from my grandmother’s Christmas cactus before she passed away. The plant is shown in the picture below.
Propagating this plant is easy. I took a few segments off my grandmother’s plant and then placed them in a jar of water. They grew roots fairly quickly, and then I potted them up in ordinary potting soil. You could also put the cuttings directly into soil, but I tend not to use this method. There is nothing wrong with it, but I prefer to use a jar of water because you can clearly see when the roots start growing. After the roots are visible and growing actively, then I pot up the cuttings.
If you follow the tips in this post, you will eventually have your very own, gigantic Christmas cactus that will bloom for months during the dreary winter season!