Sunday, January 12, 2014

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus, one of the plants called Holiday Cactus which include Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus, can provide a great show of tubular flowers over the holidays.  Once they have finished blooming let them rest until April, when you will want to start fertilizing them regularly through the summer and into fall.  Keep them in a cool room with a good amount of sunlight.  Although they are a cactus, they are a tropical cactus, meaning that they are not as drought tolerant as the desert cactus.  They should be watered when the top half of the soil in the pot feels dry.  Be careful not to over or under water the cactus. 

Over the summer (any time the nights are above 45 degrees – which also could mean all winter!), keep them outside without a lot of direct sun.  If they get too much direct sun you will notice their leaves turn red.   During the summer you can also encourage more flowers by pruning a few sections of each stem.  You can then place these pieces in vermiculite and they will root very quickly, giving you some holiday gifts.  After your new plants have rooted, grow them out in a standard succulent potting mix.

Christmas cactus, like the Poinsettia is a short day plant.  This means it flowers once the days start to get shorter.  Beginning mid-October, you want to keep your cactus in a dark area for 15 hours away from street, car or any other lights that may disrupt this dark period.  You will also need to keep the night temperature below 70 degrees.  A Christmas Cactus is unique in that if you lived in the right area you could get it to flower just by maintaining cool temperatures (50-55 degrees) for about 6 weeks. 

Once the Christmas Cactus begins to bloom, keep it in a cool well lit room away from any heat or vents, drafts or fireplaces.  Be sure to let the plant dry out in between watering; however, not get too dry or the flower buds might drop.  If you water them too much, they will drop off as well.   

The Christmas Cactus has very few pests.  If you have stored it outside during the summer, you might want to clean it with an insecticidal soap prior to bringing it into your house.  This will keep any mealy bugs or scale from hitch-hiking a ride into your home.  The largest problem they have seems to be the same as any cactus; they are either over or under watered.  Using a good succulent potting soil and getting your finger dirty will help you avoid this problem.

Moles anyone?