Christmas cactus botanically referred to as Schlumbergera bridgessii typically blooms at Christmas and also sometimes around Easter when cared effectively. It grows best when it is potted. Christmas cactus is commonly referred to as Thanksgiving cactus, holiday cactus or crab cactus. The name crab refers to the leaf-shaped stem segments that have curved, pointed teeth or claws along the edges.
Christmas cactus originated from coastal mountains of southeastern Brazil. In their natural habitat, Christmas cacti are epiphytes (air plants), they grow on other plants or rocks that are generally shady with high humidity. In Brazil, the genus is referred to as Flor de Maio (May Flower), reflecting the period in which they flower in the Southern Hemisphere.
The cactus will generally grow up to 10 inches (25.4 cm) in height and 24 inches (60cm) in diameter. It prefers moist and well-drained soils. It adapts well to low light conditions but the cactus will produce blooms more readily if exposed to bright indirect light. Too much direct sunlight can burn its leaves; therefore if you are growing it indoors, it is appropriate to place it in a north or east facing window, where it will get twelve hours of bright indirect light and twelve hours of darkness each day.
The hanging branches of Christmas cactus are flat, glossy and green and can grow up to 36 inches long. The flowers bloom at the tip of these branches, have several tiers of flowers and are about 3 inches long. The flowers of this cactus are tubular and have a flower-within-a-flower aspect. The flowers can be pink, red or orange.
The good thing about Christmas cactus is that unlike other houseplants, they are non-toxic; therefore, your curious pets are perfectly safe. It is also easy to propagate from the cuttings and it doesn’t require repotting or pruning very often.
|Botanical Name||Schlumbergera bridgessii|
|Common Name||Christmas cactus, Holiday cactus, Thanksgiving cactus|
|Native||Subtropical and Tropical climates (Brazil)|
|Temperature||70oF to 80oF|
|Sunlight Requirement||Diffuse light|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained soil|
|Flower Color||Pink, red|
|Feeding||Monthly with a diluted fertilizer|
|Pruning||Prune After blooming for the best shape|
|Common Problems||Stem rot, root rot, botrytis blight, mealy bugs|
How To Plant, Grow And Care
Christmas cactus thrives in full sun or partial shade. It adapts well to low light conditions but the cactus will produce blooms more readily if exposed to bright indirect light. Place the pot or hanging basket near a sunny window or on a sunny patio or balcony.
A Christmas cactus is a tropical cactus and not a desert cactus. Unlike most desert cactus, this variety cannot tolerate completely dry soil. A moist, well-drained soil is ideal for growing this cactus. If the soil gets too dry, the flower buds will drop and the plant will wilt.
Christmas cactus requires limited watering during its growing season. Water your Christmas cactus during the spring and summer when the top inch soil dries out. During the fall, reduce watering to at least once per month. In winter, keep the cactus dry, avoid overwatering as excessively moist soil combined with the cool temperatures and dormancy can cause the roots to rot and the leaves will likely fall off. The soil should be evenly moist for best growth. The rule of the thumb is less water is better than too much water. Check the soil moisture every two weeks from spring through fall. Water the Christmas cactus when the potting mix does not stick to your finger when you poke it into the soil.
Feed your Christmas cactus during the growing season with a low-nitrogen fertilizer formulated for succulents. This is best done for plant that is 4-5 weeks old. Follow the directions on the package for the size and age of your plant. Do this once in late spring and then again in late summer.
Christmas cactus prefers warm temperatures of about 70 to 80 Degrees Fahrenheit (oF). It requires cooler temperatures of about 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The Christmas cactus needs to be protected from frost and does poorly when the temperature drops below 45oF.
50 to 60% humidity is effective for the growth of Christmas cactus. However, when grown in dry conditions like heated homes, providing the plant a source of humidity is the ideal thing to do. Put a tray of water next to the plant so that the water evaporates and provides humidity. Alternatively, you can make a humidity tray by placing the pot on a waterproof saucer that is filled with gravel and halfway filled with water.
Like other types of cacti, Christmas cactus grows relatively slow and therefore, it rarely requires pruning or repotting. Repot your Christmas cactus in the spring if they become pot-bound, roots are growing from the drain hole in the bottom of the container and the plant becomes top-heavy. Use a new container that is 2 inches wider than the previous container.
Protection From Freeze Damage
Freeze injury generally cause cosmetic injury on Christmas cactus. The injury could appear as black or yellow dead areas on the plant. Freeze injury appears first as a blackening of the areas of the plant that were exposed to the cold before these areas become dry, crisp and sometimes yellowish. When the freeze is not hard, the Christmas cactus usually overcomes the damage within a few years.
Keeping your Christmas cactus indoor away from cold drafts or windows during cold weather and covering it with a cotton sheet during the night when temperatures dip near freezing offers adequate cold protection.
How To Grow Christmas Cactus In A Planter/Container/Pot
A potted Christmas cactus is easy to maintain both indoors and outdoors. With a little water and enough warmth, Christmas cacti can thrive in any home.
- Choose a relatively large container/planter with significant number of drainage holes or take a hanging basket that will allow water to drain away quickly.
- Fill a container with a potting mix formulated for cactus or succulent plants or you can combine equal parts peat, garden soil and sand to create your own potting mix. A good soil mix for Christmas cactus should contain one part organic matter such as potting soil or coconut coir, two parts mineral material such as sand, perlite or fine rinsed gravel.
- Plant the Christmas cactus in the prepared container at the same depth it was growing at in the garden.
- Water the potting mix lightly after potting so that some moisture drips from the bottom of the planter. Allow the soil to dry out before the next watering.
- Place the planter in an area that receives all-day sunlight with a temperature of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the cactus outdoors during dry, warm weather, if desired.
- Apply a slow-release 5-10-10 fertilizer or a fertilizer formulated for cactus plants in spring. Follow the recommended application amount on the label for your cactus and planter size, as this varies among fertilizers formulas.
How To Get A Christmas Cactus To Bloom For Holiday Season
The most appropriate way of getting a Christmas cactus to bloom is proper light exposure, correct temperatures and limited watering. If you can manipulate these three things correctly, you can make the cactus bloom just as how you’d like. From September and October, the Christmas cactus should be kept in a cool environment or room where temperatures will remain in the range of 50-55oF.The plant will definitely bloom during the holiday season if the basic treatments are started by early November.
Common Problems Of Christmas Cactus
If aphids are plaguing your Christmas cactus, don’t fret. At one time or another, these pests invade nearly all garden or indoor plants, reducing their vigor and blemishing them with their waste. Aphids drink sap from the stem of succulent plants and the underside of leaves. Aphids are small enough that you may not notice an invasion until their feeding visibly damages your cacti’s health. To deal with these tiny insects, spray your cactus with water mixed with insecticide liquid soap daily for at least seven days.
Some common factors that contribute to stem rot on Christmas cactus plants are overwatering or improper drainage, too much shade or humidity and damaged plant tissues from insects, pets, human etc. The first signs and symptoms of stem rot that you may notice are yellow to dark brown or black spots on the cactus. However, these spots are just what you see on the surface. Damage on the inside of the plant could be much more severe. Trim away stems with brown spots if you suspect basal stem rot, so cut it below the damaged area if possible.
Although root rot in cactus can be caused by pests or serious pathogens, the most common cause is chronically wet roots due to over-watering or heavy soils. Dealing with this problem entails pruning damaged roots, creating a faster-draining environment for troubled cactus and modifying your watering habits.
Botrytis blight also referred to as gray mold commonly occurs after an extended period of rain or drizzle in spring and summer. When your Christmas cactus has been attacked by botrytis blight, symptoms may include spotting, discoloration and wilting. Controlling of botrytis begins with good sanitation. Pick up and destroy the debris that fall to the ground under the plant, this includes flowers and buds. Prune off and destroy infected parts of the plant.
Red Spider Mites
Christmas cacti speckled with tiny, white or pale-yellow spots and shrouded with white webs harbor red spider mites. These mites typically hide on the undersides of the uppermost foliage, stabbing the leaves with their sharp mouthparts and draining the fluids. Without immediate control measures, they can eventually kill your cactus and then migrate to a healthy one. Managing these mites is quite easy; you can physically scrap them off from the plant or dabbing them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Also Read: Growing And Caring For Calathea Vittata
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How Often Do You Need To Water A Christmas Cactus?
If you are growing the Christmas cactus indoors or under a shade, you need to water it at least three times every week. If growing outdoors or in a humid and hot environment then water every two to three days. You should also water less in the fall and winter.
How Many Times A Year Does A Christmas Cactus Flower?
Christmas cactus can bloom several times a year. Generally, it will bloom in November or December and again in February. The number of times it blooms depends on whether the plant is growing indoors or outdoors as well as the amount of sun, water and humidity it is exposed to.
How To Make A Christmas Cactus Flower During Holiday Season?
The key to getting Christmas cactus to flower during the holyday season is proper light exposure, correct temperature and limited watering. If you can manipulate these three things correctly, you can make the cactus bloom just as how you’d like.
Why Are Parts Of The Christmas Cactus Turning Black And Slimy?
If some parts are turning black and slimy, it is likely that the plant has a fungal or bacterial disease.
Why Is My Christmas Cactus Wilting?
Wilted or limp Christmas cactus is often caused by lack of water or too much direct sunlight.
When Should You Put A Christmas Cactus In The Dark?
During the fall months, the Christmas cactus should be placed in a spot where it receives indirect bright light during the daylight hours but total darkness at night.
Is Christmas Cactus A Succulent?
A Christmas cactus are succulents that are usually grown as houseplants.
Should I Prune My Christmas Cactus?
Pruning a Christmas cactus, large or small, will help it to grow fuller and bushier, which in turn results in more blooms in the future. The best time to prune a Christmas cactus is right after it has bloomed. At this time, the Christmas cactus will be entering a growth period and will start to put out new leaves.