Christmas Cactus: Easy Care All Year

Decorating for the holidays? Of course! It’s time to bring out all the treasures from past holiday celebrations that get used during one season of the year. Fun to unpack old friends again. Memories good and maybe a little sad come out of the boxes or containers. At the holiday’s end back in storage they go with maybe a few new decorations to pack. How about a holiday decoration that adapts to any season?

A stunning flower arrangement often smells good, but has a short life – a couple of weeks at most. A live flowering plant like the Christmas cactus continues to grow all year. Blooms are abundant and add energizing color to your holiday arrangements as only a blossoming, living plant can.

Sometimes called the Thanksgiving cactus or holiday cactus, this indoor plant produces many spectacular two to three inch flowers throughout the season. After the holidays and bloom time are over it’s an undemanding plant with arching green branches. It’s ready for the next decorating assignment!

Flat and barely spikey green leaves grow in segments creating branches.
At branch’s end a sturdy leaf yields a delicate flower bud. Each bud produces a bloom that telescopes out as petals open and fold back to reveal the next layer of the flower.

Follow along the flower towards the end to see the cream colored almost fuzzy looking stamen. The “fuzz” is pollen.  Look beyond the stamen to the pistil with a delicate red seed pod hanging down as the final touch. Fascinating and beautiful flower!

This plant is a species of cacti called an epiphyte. Epiphytes grow on the sides of trees in the rainforest. No harm done to the tree, this epiphyte cactus just needs the structural support of the tree branches. It gets its food and water from air and rain and sometimes the plant material that falls around its base.

Hybrids of these epiphytes are sold as houseplants during the holidays.

Features

  • Native:  Grows in Brazil along the mountains of the country’s southeast coast.
  • Names:  Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and holiday cactus. The names refer to the time of year that the flowers bloom north of the equator. 

The genus name Schlumbergera is a nod to a Belgian horticulturist Frederick Schlumberger who it is said grew different species of this plant in his home. According to research there is some mystery about who or which Schlumberger actually gets the credit. But one of them lends their name to the plant.

  • Zones:  10-12. Generally grown as a houseplant in other zones.
  • Leaves:  Segmented, slightly leathery and green all year. A segment joined to the next segment and then the next and so on creates a branch.
  • Blooms:  Most bloom November through December.  Flowers come in red, pink, purple, orange or white. The blooms are generally two to three inches long. No scent to detect.
  • Height: 12 inches.
  • Width: 12 inches to 24 inches.
  • Propagation: New plants easily grow by leaf cuttings.  A couple of months after blooming is finished cut the plant back by trimming the leaves off where they join at the segments.  Place segments at least halfway into premoistened soil in a pot.  Water lightly when dry.  So that they receive the same light grow the pot of starter plants in the same area as the parent plant. New growth occurs at the end of the planted segments.

Care

Sunlight: After decorative use during the holidays place in low light from an east or west window. This avoids scorching leaves. It may be hard to find the right spot for the plant at first but keep experimenting. Once it has the right location it is easy care. 

You know you have the right spot when it surprises you with buds and telescoping flowers during bloom time. In the right place many people report plants that get larger and bloom like crazy year after year.

If moved outdoors for summer, part shade on the east or west side of the home is best. Remember the original plant of this hybrid grows in the under shade of a rainforest tree in its native environment. Strong hot sun will scorch leaves and dry out the plant.  In zones 10-12 where it can grow year round outdoors, part shade is also best. 

Soil: Part potting soil, humus and sharp sand.

Water: Sparingly but regularly. Keep the plant on the drier side. Overwatering causes root rot.

Fertilize: Use a weak solution of fertilizer during the growing season spring through early fall.

Problems/Pests

Soil that is too wet causes root rot which is the most common problem. The usual indoor insects like aphids, scale and spider mites may also attack if the location for the plant is wrong.

Uses

Decorative in special containers for holiday displays anywhere you want to show it off. Follow directions for sunlight (above) once holidays are over.   Make gifts of new plants from cuttings that were rooted earlier in the year.

Christmas cactus is a flowering fresh plant that livens up any holiday décor and with care, continues to add to room arrangements all year.

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2018

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juli

Juli is a writer and serious gardener. She gardens a small yard in an older suburban neighborhood. There is a lot of problem-solving and fun on a small property. She likes to share what she's learned. She learns from others too.

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