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Care of Christmas Cactus

Cheryl Asked

I am a first time owner of a Christmas Cactus. It was full of beautiful blooms when I received it as a gift. I was told that it would bloom once during the holidays and grows best in a Southeastern exposure. Now it is getting pail in color. How should I best take care of it? What do I need to do for it to bloom next Christmas?

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The Gardener’s Answer

Hi, Cheryl: Christmas Cactus are a festive addition to any space during the holiday season. These succulents are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. They are considered a tropical plant for Kentucky gardeners. Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are happy to live outdoors during our warmer months but will not tolerate the winter temperatures and must over-winter indoors. Christmas Cactus do not call the dry, desert home. They are native to the rainforest of coastal Brazil, where they grow as epiphytes, attaching themselves to crevices in tree branches and broken down plant material. Mimicking this environment can be tricky but knowing the environment in which they thrive is key. Good air circulation and drainage is essential for any epiphyte. When living in a container, drainage holes are a must and the growing medium should be light, peat/humus based soil that allows for excellent drainage. Over watering can be a sign of discolored foliage which may be why yours has started to yellow. They will benefit from being fertilized during the growing season. Any water-soluble, complete plant food such as 10-10-10 is fine. Be sure to follow the recommended application rates of the product that you purchase. During the winter months Christmas Cactus should be placed in a bright window where there will receive optimal light. The light levels are much lower this time of the year. Keep the soil on the dry side and make sure that the container has drainage holes. Your watering routine will adjust throughout the year. Indoors it will depend on the temperature and humidity of your home. The top layer of soil should be allowed to dry out before watering. Outdoors will depend on Mother Nature and location. Less is better. Christmas Cactus are short day plants. This means that they require a long period of darkness in order to initiate flower production. 12-14 hours of complete darkness (no artificial light) is necessary for this process to begin. During this time, the temperature should be between 50-65 degrees F. This should begin about 8 weeks before ideal bloom time. If you leave your plant outside during the growing season May-October, Mother Nature should take care of the temperature and day length needed for flower buds to form. Indoors, this can be achieved by covering your plant with a cardboard box or paper bag for 12-14 hours per day and placing it in a cooler room of your home. Christmas Cactus bloom in a variety of colors with continuous blooms for 4-6 weeks. Enjoy your gift! I hope this is helpful.

Angie Oakley

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