The Edmond Sun

December 12, 2013

Cactus can make a beautiful Christmas-time plant

Ray Ridlin
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — Next to poinsettias, the Christmas cactus can be a popular houseplant for the holidays. In general, they are easy to grow and can live for a long time with the proper care. Native to the tropics, they are used to growing in the canopies of trees and receiving moderate amounts of moisture. Thus, a medium light intensity and a soil high in organic matter are suggested.  Do not allow the plant to dry out, water when the soil surface begins to feel dry and the plant may be kept drier in autumn. Any houseplant fertilizer may be used according to label directions.

Like poinsettias, the Christmas cactus has special requirements to get it to bloom. Cool temperatures or long nights are required to induce blooming. The plants bloom when given night temperatures near 55 degrees and day temperatures below 65 degrees. Plants will not flower at temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Flowering is related to day length and night temperatures. No research has supported the rumor that a “dry down” period induces flowering. The temperature range for flower bud development is 55-65 degrees for a six-week period. If temperatures remain in this range, this cactus will develop buds regardless of day length. If temperatures get above that range, the plant will need at least 12-14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night. This can be done by placing these plants in a completely dark room or covering them for the recommended time — or longer — each night with a dark piece of cloth. The plants can also be kept in total darkness like a closet till buds develop. For holiday blooms, this usually means in late September to mid-October.

During flower bud formation, stop fertilizing and only water enough to keep the leaves from becoming shriveled. Once buds do form, then you can keep the plant in normal light and temperatures. Keep it evenly moist and fertilize every other week with a diluted fertilizer solution. Bud drop may occur due to over or under watering or being placed in drafty areas.

A Christmas cactus plant will live for a long time in the same pot if proper soil was used originally and if the plant is fertilized and watered regularly. If the plant becomes top-heavy or root bound, move it to a larger pot.

The ideal schedule for a Christmas Cactus

January - Flowering.

February to March - Resting (55 degrees, infrequent watering).

April to May - Water thoroughly when potting mix begins to dry out.

June to August - Place outdoors in a shady spot.

September to October - Plant prepares to flower.  Reduce length of daylight hours.  Keep on the dry side and cool (55 to 65 degrees F) until flower buds form.  Then increase water and temperature.

November to December - Flowering.  Water normally.  Keep temperature to no less than 55 degrees.