If you’ve never seen a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) you might be surprised to learn that it’s not at all like those you see growing in the Mojave or Sonoran deserts. It lacks the pokey spines of the desert cactus and, although it is a succulent, it hails from the tropics. Plus, unlike it’s arid-loving cousins, it blooms in winter – December, typically.
Christmas cacti, in fact, bloom more prolifically with age and they tend to live a long life, if properly cared for. Paul Brunelle, renowned cactus expert, claims that his 30-year old plant produced 800 flowers between November and May one year.
Pruning is best done when it finishes blooming. This also happens to be the ideal time to take cuttings that you can then root in water.
What you’ll need to root a Christmas cactus cutting and care for it afterward
- Sharp scalpel or small knife
- Small jar, vase or other container that holds water
- Planting pot
- Coarse compost
- Small aquarium gravel or perlite
- Houseplant fertilizer
- 0-10-10 fertilizer
How to root the Christmas cactus cutting in water
Use a sharp scalpel (we like these sterile, disposable cutting scalpels) or small knife to remove a length of Christmas cactus. As long as it has at least two sections, it will root.
Fill the jar, vase or whatever you’ve chosen as the rooting vessel with water and place the cut end of the cutting into the water until two nodes are submerged.
Place the cutting container in an area that receives bright but indirect sunlight and allow it to sit until roots form and grow as long as the cutting. This may take up to eight weeks so you’ll need to keep an eye on the water level to ensure that the two nodes remain under water. Add more water as needed.
When ready, plant the Christmas cactus cuttings into a planting pot filled with three parts of coarse compost (Fafard manufactures a coarse orchid blend, ideal for the Christmas cactus) blended with 1 part of small aquarium gravel or perlite. Ensure that the planting medium remains slightly moist and that the air temperature remains no cooler than 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and between 60 and 65 degrees overnight.
Ongoing care of the Christmas cactus
Remember, your Christmas cactus is more of a tropical plant so treat it as you do your other houseplants. In fact, if you grow orchids, your Christmas cactus will enjoy the same care. Water the Christmas cactus when the top inch of soil is dry and fertilize it monthly, April through October, with a standard houseplant fertilizer.
One of the kindest things you can do for your Christmas cactus is to place it outdoors when the weather turns nice. Never place the plant in direct sun, rather mimic its natural environment by placing it under a tree where it will receive dappled sunlight. Bring it back indoors before fall’s first frost.
Forcing the Christmas cactus to bloom
Force the cactus to bloom during the holidays by providing it with the proper light, moisture and fertilizer. Beginning in September, set the Christmas cactus in a room where it receives bright, indirect sunlight during the days and a pitch-dark room that remains near 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Ensure that no lights are turned on during the evening hours, even for a few minutes. Allow the plant to remain here through the end of October.
Water half as frequently as you do during the growing season during this period. In early November apply a 0-10-10 fertilizer (buy it online, here) to the soil around the cactus according to the rate listed on the label. Reapply, at the same rate in February.
If you’re interested in purchasing a Christmas cactus, Amazon.com has some lovely varieties for sale. We especially like the peachy tones of the Samba Brazil or the striking magenta Christmas cactus, sure to chase away winter’s gloom.
Photo: By Schlumbergera_truncata_02.JPG: Lestat (Jan Mehlich) derivative work: Peter coxhead (Schlumbergera_truncata_02.JPG) CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
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