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Christmas cactus, also known as Schlumbergera, is a tropical cactus, native to Brazil. It blooms during the winter holidays where it in fact got this name. This is precisely the reason why so many people buy it also as a gift during the holiday season. Yet, whether you want to buy it for someone or you have one at your home you should know its basic horticultural characteristics.
Christmas cactus care guide: This adorable plant is really easy to cultivate. You only have to water it twice a month, place it on a window sill or a shelf where it will get indirect light. It prefers moderate temperature, between 60 and 70 degrees, and well-drained soil which allows the air to flow freely. When it comes to repotting, it is usually done once per three or even five years. If you want it to look fuller, then you should prune it.
Everything necessary for the caring of Christmas cactus is available in this article.
Should you decide to cultivate it more meticulously you will find here all the relevant aspects of how to take care of a Christmas cactus. Stay with me and enjoy!
1. Lighting Requirements of Christmas Cactus
The right amount of sun will most definitely affect your plant, so pay close attention to where you will place it. For your Christmas cactus, you will have to provide a space where it will get indirect light for several hours a day. This means that you should put it somewhere near the window where it will receive some light, but not too much and not too bright.
More specifically, put it on north or east-facing window sills as you will not have to worry about putting curtains when there is direct sunshine. If your windows are not facing to East or North, then consider putting curtains to protect your plant.
Remember that even though this plant is called a cactus, it actually acts like a succulent so any direct lighting may lead to drying out of its flowers and leaves. The same goes for warmer places, so put it away from any sorts of fireplaces or if your plant is placed outside put it away from exposed areas to the sun.
Overall, this plant needs about 12-14 hours of darkness, so at night, try not to turn on lights near the plant.
2. Important Watering Tips
In order to properly care for your Christmas cactus, you will need to water it in the right amount at certain intervals. In the spring and summer, you will have to water it more than in the fall and winter. That is the first step to remember.
You should water your Christmas cactus once every 2-3 weeks but always first check one-third of the soil because if it is still moist you should wait for it to dry. On the other hand, if it is dry it is ready for watering. Bear in mind that too much watering can make the roots rot which will be a difficult issue to repair.
As you water your Christmas cactus, soak it in water for 15 minutes tops and then drain all the excess water. When it is drained leave a tray under the pot and let it rest for a couple of weeks.
3. What Type of Soil Does it Prefer?
Using the right type of soil can maintain the endurance of your Christmas cactus and help it grow its flowers of magnificent pink color.
For this plant, you should use well-drained and well-aerated soil as too much water can lead to rotting of the roots and ultimate termination of the plant. As a Brazilian epiphyte, the Christmas cactus plant can be found on tree trunks where it feeds on the remaining foliage from the tree and takes moisture from both soil and air.
For this reason, not a lot of water is necessary for it which is why you should pay attention to the drainage of its soil. You will need to mix three parts of regular soil with two parts of perlite (20-40%) to make the perfect soil mixture for this cactus. The alternative is to mix compost with an equal amount of perlite and milled peat.
The peat and perlite will aid the plant with drainage and aeration. In addition, your mixture should be pH neutral, meaning between 6 and 7.
Related: Best Potting Soil for Indoor Plants
4. Proper Temperature for the Christmas Cactus
The Christmas cactus prefers a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees F (15-21 C) which means that it will not improve if you place it in warmer rooms near the fireplace. Such dry air could decrease your efforts when caring for Christmas cactus.
On the other hand, if your home is warmer than 70 degrees F, you can put a tray with pebbles and water beneath the pot of your cactus. This will help the plant with humidity. Also, in the fall when the cactus ceases with the blooming, you have to decrease the temperature and light so put it somewhere shady with a temperature of around 50 degrees F (10 C). Bear in mind that this is only necessary when it needs help with blooming.
5. How to Choose the Adequate Pot Size?
Choosing the right pot size is very important because:
- Too small pots can constrain the plant roots and limit their improvement
- Too large pot for cactus like this one can be disadvantageous as every watering will be excessive due to the large amount of soil that soaks all the water
The first piece of advice you need to remember when picking out the pot for your Christmas cactus is that it has drainage holes. Pots without holes will ruin your plant roots as the water will not be able to pull through when you water the plant.
As for the depth of the pot, you will know it is not adequate once you notice roots coming out of the bottom. It signals that it is time for repotting. Finally, the pot width should be about a quarter of an inch wider than the plant as this will give it enough space for new leaves and flowers.
6. Repotting Highlights
When the spring begins, your Christmas cactus will start to bloom and that should be the best time for repotting. Before the fall, it will start to set the buds, so you have to repot it prior to that phase.
Regarding the choice of soil, you can put one-third of sand and two-thirds of potting soil, or one half of potting soil and one half of orchid bark. The point is that only soil will not be enough. Putting sand or orchid bark is important for drainage.
If you noticed that your cactus grew and the roots started to appear at the bottom of the pot, it is time to change the pot size. Try not to change the size into a too larger a pot, one inch larger is enough.
Moreover, try to be gentle when removing the plant and carefully loosen the roots as you do not want to break them when transferring. After you place the plant in a new pot, fill in the soil medium and pat it gently.
You can add the water slightly and rest the plant somewhere with no light for two days and then continue with your regular Christmas cactus care. Usually, repotting is done every 3-5 years, but you can always check the roots and the soil yourself and see whether that time has come.
7. Instruction Manual for Pruning
If you want your Christmas Cactus to become fuller in size and more abundant, you should learn how to prune it properly.
The time to do this is when the plant has stopped blooming and when it starts growing new leaves, or if you forget to notice this remember to do it by the end of the spring.
Always use sharp scissors or a sharp knife when doing this as it will be easier for you and it will do the job better. Some twist the stems and break them, but this can create damage to the plant if it is not done correctly.
Also, if you want to prune it to reduce the size, then cut one-third of the plant once a year. But, if you wish for it to grow, even more, you can trim only some of the stems’ ends.
8. How to Propagate Christmas Cactus?
If your flowering cactus has become fuller than you have expected, you can propagate it into another pot.
After you have taken cuttings of 3 to 4 segments length, you should leave them to dry for about three days. Then, you can plant them by using new soil, preferably one with a mixture of peat or sand and soil.
Place it about one inch deep in the soil and water it sparingly just this once. After it soaks in this water, you can water it once in two to three weeks by first checking the soil. Remember to drain the water always after watering.
9. Quick Tips on Fertilization
If you do not follow how your cactus progresses, the soil could become too old and deficient in nutrients which could lead to the potential decline of the plant. This is why it’s necessary to fertilize your Christmas Cactus.
Any type of food can be used, for instance, all-purpose or balanced fertilizer. Also, it is advised to use 20-10-20 or 20-20-20 formulations in diluted water. When you add the fertilizer, water the plant and drain it.
Bear in mind that you do not need to add nutrients when the cactus is blooming. From April to October, you can fertilize your Christmas Cactus every two to four weeks and stop with fertilization at the end of September. Around October, the plant will start to produce flower buds and nutrients are not effective during that period.
In one month you can also try fertilizing the Christmas cactus every other week with a teaspoon of Epsom salt in a gallon of water. This is good for the cactus’ need for magnesium since it is an epiphyte.
It is vital that you do this on a month when you are not nurturing your plant with regular fertilizer. After you have finished with the monthly magnesium nutrients, you can continue with regular fertilization.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does Christmas Cactus live?
Believe it or not, this lovely plant can live more than 100 years. This means you can pass it from one generation to another, of course, if you take good care of it.
What are the most common problems affecting this plant?
Those mostly come from inadequate light, or watering, and include rots- basal stem rot and root rot.
How do you get Schlumbergera to bloom?
To initiate the production of flower buds, you need to provide it at least 16 hours of dark and eight hours of light each day for eight days. That should inspire those enchanting flowers.
Is coffee good for Christmas cactus?
Yes, it can be a great boost for your plant if you want to initiate blooming. So, the next time you prepare coffee for yourself, make one for your cute cactus as well.
How many times a year does it bloom?
They can produce flowers two or even three times a year, if the conditions are optimal. For this one, it means wetter.
How to clean Schlumbergera?
You can accommodate it in the shower and gently rinse it off. Mind the temperature of the water and handle the plant with care, it is fragile, after all. This should remove any dust that may have accumulated.
Cultivating this plant is very beneficial since it can last for up to 30 years. Simply remember these four basics: room temperature should be around 60 degrees, you should use a pot with draining holes, water the plant once every 2-3 weeks, and place the cactus where the light is indirect.
How often does your Christmas Cactus bloom? I’d like to hear from you, so hit the comments section below!