Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera, Central and S. America)

Magenta Christmas CactusUsing my simple methods, this Christmas cactus blooms year after year. Photo by Randall Prue.

where night are cool (17°-18° C, about 65° F.). There are several types of Schlumbergera and at least one type of Zygocactus. They are called Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter cactus. The name given to one of these plants may be its correct name, or may the name of the next holiday.

You may have one that always blooms at the same time of year. I have known this plant to change its mind and bloom at irregular intervals. Many growers control the plant's environment to trigger blooming when it best suits their marketing needs.

Christmas cactus is a succulent from the Cactus family. It required much more water than a desert cactus. In fact, the soil (PHILODENDRON SOIL (see "Potting Soils" on page 25 of Keeping Them Alive)), can be kept moist at all times. Allowing the soil to dry will not harm the plant, but it may have to be left sitting in water to remoisten the soil.

Ideal conditions are: warm days and cool nights; and bright light (away from full sun). The plant will grow in less light, but is not likely to bloom.

High humidity is not critical, but will make for nicer foliage and easier flowering. Misting is good for the plant and helps to keep leaves clean.

This plant normally grows through spring and summer, goes into dormancy in the fall, and then begins to flower.

Encouraging a Christmas cactus to produce its white, pink, red or purple flowers is the concern of a great number of people. In autumn, the plant should be entering its dormant period. New leaves are not likely at this time. When this happens, ease up on the water. Allow the plant to dry between light waterings.

It should have at least 12 hours of darkness, with light in the daytime. Stop all feeding. Night temperatures should be below 18° C. or 65° F. Daytime temperature should be cooler than during the plant's growing season. If a long night is not something that you can provide, a night temperature between 5°-10° C. (40°-50° F.) can compensate for it.

When buds form, increase watering and begin a light feeding program. If buds form but fail to open, the plant may need more water or higher humidity.

Put the plant on a normal feeding schedule while it is growing (or during its active growing season to encourage it to grow) and once the first buds have opened.

A leaf cutting with several segments (at least 2) will root.

Watch for mealybugs.