Christmas Cactus Care
Native to South America's tropical rainforests, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter cacti have different needs from other desert cacti. Christmas cactus also looks different from other cacti.
In its native habitat, Christmas cacti grow in rocks and crevices in tree trunks and branches. Leaves and other organic materials accumulate in these spaces over time. Christmas cacti grow in this accumulation of decomposing organic material, where they thrive in the rain forest's filtered light and high humidity.
Easy to grow, Christmas cactus often thrives more on neglect than tender loving care. They can live a long time, and even become family heirlooms.
Grow your Christmas cactus in a well-drained soil mix rich in organic matter. For a good mix, combine one part potting soil, two parts peat moss or compost, and one part sharp sand, perlite, or vermiculite. This mix holds moisture well yet drains excess moisture, two things the Christmas cactus needs.
Keep the soil evenly moist from spring through summer, but allow it to go dry before watering from fall through spring.
Fertilize your cactus when new growth starts from the branch tips in late winter or early spring, and monthly through summer. Use a one-quarter strength solution of soluble plant fertilizer or an organic fertilizer. A strong fertilizer solution can damage your Christmas cactus's fine, scant root system.
Give your Christmas cactus high light during winter, but indirect or filtered light during summer. Too much direct light can hurt the plant.
Your cactus needs a rest in fall to encourage it to produce flower buds. In mid- to late September, let the soil dry out thoroughly before you water. This is also the time to move your plant to a brighter location if you've had it in filtered light for the summer. Most important, your Christmas cactus needs cooler conditions in fall in order to set flower buds.
Flower bud drop commonly plagues Christmas cactus for many reasons. Make sure you water properly, especially during blooming. Letting soil dry too much or over-watering can both cause buds to drop. Warm or cold drafts can also cause bud drop. Also, even slight environmental changes can prompt the buds to fall. Do not move your Christmas cactus to another site if it has buds or open flowers.
Want to grow more Christmas cacti? Try rooting some from cuttings. Make the cuttings at least two stem segments long and let them dry for several days before you plant them. The drying lets the cut end form a callus, which prevents rotting. This is true for all succulents.
Place Christmas cactus cuttings in sharp sand, vermiculite, or a mix of seventy percent perlite and thirty percent peat moss. Once rooted, plant in the recommended soil mix.
The exact color of the Christmas Cactus flowers depends upon the temperature the plant was grown. If a white Christmas Cactus is grown in cool temperatures (below 70 degrees F), the flowers have a purple tint. If yellow or golden Christmas Cactus are grown in cool temperatures (below 70 degrees F) they have a pink tint.
Due to high natural gas costs, Hirt's grow their Christmas Cactus in cool greenhouses, below 70 degrees F. Therefore the yellow Christmas Cactus has a pink tint and the white Christmas Cactus has a purple tint. If you grow your plants at higher temperatures they will exhibit the true color of yellow or white in future years.
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