The Christmas cactus is everywhere during the holiday season, with good reason. It’s a blooming succulent that is easy to care for, has gorgeous flowers, and when properly tended can live up to 100 years! It makes a great holiday gift, too.
How to Plant and Propagate a Christmas Cactus
There are three common holiday cacti, each named after the time of year they start to bloom: Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus. Each holiday cactus typically blooms closest to the holiday that it’s named after. However, most of the “Christmas cacti” sold today are actually. Thanksgiving cacti, which tend to bloom from November through February and therefore pass unnoticed as Christmas cacti.
Unlike its desert cousins, the Christmas cactus is tropical. Easy to grow, hardy, and glorious to behold, here’s everything you need to know to keep them alive and to thrive. The Christmas cactus is a tropical succulent preferring cooler weather and indirect lighting. Avoid direct sunlight. The optimum temperature is between 60 to 80 degrees. The best time to propagate is when the plant is healthy, usually right after blooming.
The Christmas cactus is easily propagated by cutting a short Y-shaped segment from the stem tips. Make certain, however, that the cutting is taken from healthy plant foliage only. Plant the segment approximately a quarter of its length deep in slightly sandy soil. Moisten it evenly and place the cutting in a well-lit area, staying away from any direct sunlight.
To root cuttings for new plants, cut back shoots from the tips, cut at the second joint of each tip. let it callous over for a few days. The cutting should show signs of growth within a few weeks, at which time the plant can be transferred to another container, if desired, with a looser potting soil mix of compost, loam and sand. The plant is happiest with a soil pH balance of 5.5 to 6.2.
How to Care for a Christmas Cactus
A lack of water and dramatic temperature swings can cause flower buds to drop more rapidly. Taking care of a Christmas cactus is a little trickier than most other desert-loving cacti that are drought resistant. The Christmas cactus is a tropical rainforest native and needs regular water to remain healthy.
Christmas cactus plants need bright, indirect sun. Water when the top surface feels dry, and never let them sit in water. Christmas cacti prefer daytime temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees, and evening temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees.
Once the Christmas cactus has ceased all flowering (usually by fall), or about six to eight weeks before you want the plant to rebloom, you should allow the plant to begin its dormancy cycle by cutting back on moisture and reducing both light and temperature. After blooming, these plants like shorter days and cooler nights. The plant goes into active growth once it has finished blooming. Simply cut back the watering and make sure the plant receives 12-14 hours of darkness and average temperatures around 50-55 F. (10-12 C.). Also, keep the Christmas cactus away from drafty areas and avoid sudden changes in moisture, temperature or sunlight.
The average lifespan of a Christmas cactus is between twenty and thirty years, but some have been known to live for a centennial!. The oldest known Christmas cactus was 111 years old and had been passed down to family members for generations. Christmas cacti release oxygen at night, rather than during the day like most houseplants.
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