You know it as a cactus, but Christmas cactus isn’t your typical sun-loving, dry climate plant. Actually, it’s an epiphytic plant that hales from the tropical rainforest. In its natural environment, Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckley bridgesii) lives on tree branches where it receives moisture from rain and absorbs nutrients from leaves and other plant debris.
Christmas cactus is relatively low-maintenance in spite of its exotic origins, but it does have a few basic growing requirements.
Place Christmas cactus in bright, indirect light. In other words, put it near a sunny window, but not on a sill where it may be scorched.
Christmas cactus needs regular irrigation, but too much moisture may cause root rot or leaf drop. Water deeply when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, stopping only when water trickles through the drainage hole. Wait a few minutes, then pour off any water that remains in the drainage saucer.
Christmas cactus performs best in temperatures between 65 and 70 F. (18-21 F.) during the day and 55-65 F. (13-18 C.) at night. Place the plant away from hot air or cold drafts.
Feed Christmas cactus monthly from late spring to early fall. Use a general-purpose fertilizer diluted to half strength.
Trim your Christmas cactus to create a fuller, bushier plant about a month after blooming, but never prune a Christmas cactus after late spring. To prune the plant, just pinch off one or more of the sections. Replant them in a separate pots if you want to create new plants.
Don’t be in a hurry to repot. As a general rule of thumb, once every three years is sufficient because Christmas cactus likes to be a little crowded. Repot in spring, after blooms have completely wilted and new growth is emerging. Never repot a blooming plant.
Christmas cactus may be bothered by various small pests. Spray spider mites lightly with insecticidal soap spray or pick them off with a toothpick or soft toothbrush. Scrape scale gently from the leaves, or apply a systemic insecticide for severe infestations. You may be able to control fungus gnats with insecticidal soap. If that doesn’t work, replant Christmas cactus in a clean pot filled with fresh, potting mix.
How to ensure blooms at Christmas: Your cactus may bloom on its own, but sometimes, getting the plant to flower requires a little finesse. Place the plant in a closet or another completely dark space for 12 hours a day beginning six to eight weeks before Christmas. Expose the plant to bright, indirect sunlight the remaining 12 hours. Water sparingly and withhold fertilizer during this time.
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