What says holiday cheer more than a beautiful blooming Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii or Schlumbergera truncata) in your living room with its gorgeous array of red, pink, yellow, orange, white, or purple blooms? Depending on the variety, your cactus could bloom at Thanksgiving or Christmas providing color throughout the holidays.
Available now at many local stores, it's a plant that will bring pleasure year after year with a little care after it stops flowering.
While blooming, place your plant in bright, indirect light with daytime temperatures of 70 F and evening temperatures of 60-65 F. Keep away from blasts of heat or cold.
Although called a cactus, the Christmas cactus does need water, but not too much. When the top couple inches feel dry is the time to water. Don't overwater as that can lead to stem and root rot. Too little water can cause wilting.
A native of South American rain forests, this cactus also needs humidity. Place it on a tray with pebbles and water just below the top of the pebbles. Continue this until the cactus stops blooming.
Don't fertilize your Christmas cactus while blooming as that can cause bud drop.
To keep this long-lived plant growing stop watering for six weeks after flowering. When new growth appears, resume watering and fertilizing. Use plant food formulated for succulents following label instructions or a half-rate of liquid houseplant fertilizer every other week.
This cactus likes to be pot-bound. Keep it in a small container as long as possible and only then transplant it to a slightly larger pot using a mix of half potting soil and half sand or perlite.
After frost danger is over, move your plant outside to an area with bright, indirect light. Too much sun can cause wilting or leaf burn.
To encourage budding in the fall, 16 hours of uninterrupted darkness, 8 hours of daylight, and cooler temperatures are required. To stimulate bud formation, don't fertilize or overwater at this time. Also don't move the plant as buds may fall off. Once buds form, the light/dark regiment ends. Continue watering but don't fertilize. Move indoors when temperatures below 50 F are predicted.
By following these simple guidelines, you will enjoy your Christmas cactus for years to come!
Written by: Joanne Kollar, Extension Master Gardener volunteer