As the days of the calendar, houses with holiday decorations and a flood of promotional emails tell me, it is almost Christmas, but who needs all that — my Christmas cactus is in bloom, it must be Christmastime!
Oh, I know you have seen photos of Christmas cacti blooming for weeks, but let’s talk about that. There is a Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncate), a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesti) and an Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertner). Who knew?
All three are short-day plants, meaning they need darkness and cool temperatures to prepare and set blooms. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti need six weeks of short days or mostly darkness to bloom. Easter cacti need a bit more, 8 to 10 weeks, earning its Easter name.
Maybe you had your plant outside for the summer. If so, think about placing it in a dark room for a few weeks until it sets buds. Then move it to a spot where you can enjoy the flowers as they appear. A monthly shot of fertilizer is good, until it has buds. Then just water — but not too much. Let the soil dry slightly between waterings.
After all of this advice, I must confess my Christmas cactus is full of buds and I haven’t done a darn thing to encourage them. Early in the year when my office closed and I began working from home, I brought my plants with me. Best move ever for this lovely cactus. It loves my kitchen.
Again, I am breaking all the rules. A Christmas cactus may drop its buds if near a draft (mine is by a door), if the room temperature is too warm (hello gas burners and oven), or it gets too much water and direct sun. Finally, I am doing something right, it gets indirect light from the door, and in an effort to not over water, I am forever forgetting to give it a drink.
My plant is young; a Christmas cactus can live for years and be passed down through generations of plant lovers. As it matures, it will develop more stems and more blooms. The plant flowers at the end of its cascading stems, and because of this, it works well as a hanging plant or having a spot to let the stems drape and grow downward. No need to worry about repotting this plant. It is happiest when slightly root-bound in the container.
The shape of the flat leaves or stemmed segments is a good indication of when the cactus will bloom. The Christmas cactus has a scalloped shape to the leave’s outline, the Thanksgiving cactus has more pointed details on the edges and the Easter cactus is more round. These are not desert cacti; they are native to tropical rainforests and need regular (but not too much) water.
Expect each bloom to last about a week and the plant to continue to produce flowers for up to six weeks. Blooms are often red or pink. Don’t be surprised if your plant blooms again in the springtime, it’s a sign of a happy plant although the blooms may not be as plentiful.
My Christmas cactus was a gift from a friend who knew I loved the profusion of flowers when in bloom and thought it was time for me to have one of my very own. I read that they thrive on neglect; I laughed and thought this recommendation of care was an additional gift for the busy or forgetful gardener.