Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Cactus ~ Advent Botanicals

The Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera truncata,is one of those plants that you probably got from someone else.  I got my first one from my grandmother.  They tend to be long-lived, even reaching heirloom status in some families.  I have heard of one that is decades old and several feet across!

A Christmas cactus is very easy to pass along.  Just break off a segment or two and put it in some potting soil.  Keep it out of direct sun until it roots.  I often put them in the pot with another plant where they will be shaded by its leaves until they root and take off on their own.

That first plant from my grandmother? Well, it did not achieve heirloom status.  It succumbed to sunburn and drought because I left it on a hot brick patio all summer.  Don't cacti need hot sun?  This plant is a member of the Cactaceae family, but it would have been better to call it a succulent and forget what I knew about saguaros.  Schlumbergera comes from the cloud forests of Brazil, not the deserts of the American southwest.

Christmas cactus
Schlumbergera truncata blossom, Wikimedia Commons
In Brazil, Schlumbergera truncata lives in the branches of trees.  (It is an epiphyte, not a parasite.) It does not need rich soil, or even much soil at all - it does not mind being quite potbound.  Water it freely during the spring and summer, but be sure it drains quickly and never sits in water.  You can fertilize it lightly if you want to.  It will probably grow more segments if you do.

Schlumbergera truncata loves humidity.  North Carolina summers are plenty humid for it, but during very dry spells and indoors, you might want to mist it occasionally to mimic its cloud forest home.

Once night time temperatures begin to drop, let it get quite dry between waterings -- even to the point of wilting a bit won't hurt. Leave it outside until just before the first frost.

Then, if you can, keep it in the sun in a cool room for a few weeks.  In my experience it does best with a drop in temperature at least at night in order to set buds.  I have had one set buds on only the branches touching a cool window in a 68 degree room.

If you want amazing Christmas cactus blooms all year long, or would like to add a "Wow, cool!" to your day, watch this video of Joost Langevelt making an origami Christmas cactus.


Here's a useful article for you - How to tell the difference between Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Cacti

Zygocactus_bonsai.jpg by Emmanuelm, via Wikimedia Commons


Now that is an heirloom Christmas cactus!  

7 comments:

  1. My Christmas cactus is starting to bloom, though I think I need to move it. Many of its buds are dropping, either from passers by or a draft from the front door. I was so excited to see so many buds when I brought them in from the screened porch only to lose almost half of them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. janet, once i bought one from a garden center full of buds and lost half or more after getting it home. i wonder if it was the abrupt change in humidity? i have often read that moving them can cause bud drop, but that's the only time i've had that problem. moving them around the house doesn't seem to bother them. you're doing well to have yours bloom at the right time...they don't always cooperate that way.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice - I have an old "heirloom" Christmas cactus that's about 15 years old and a younger, smaller one that's about 5 years old. Based on those descriptions, it looks like the smaller one, which is flowering now, is actually the "Thanksgiving cactus", which would explain why it started to flower almost 3 weeks ago!

    ReplyDelete
  4. At work we call it "Holiday Cactus", not to be politically correct, but to lump them all under one name no matter what holiday the happen to celebrate.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow! I've had the Thanksgiving cacti my grandmother gave me for at least 8 years and I didn't know nearly this much about it. I'm going to stop feeling guilty that I leave it in such a snug pot and don't give it a brighter place to sit in the summertime. Thanks for a well-written post!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I would love to give one a try...thanks for the tips and for stopping by!

    Londen

    ReplyDelete
  7. Loved the origami! Is so nice to see your cactus blooming so much, they look great!

    I hope you have very nice holidays!

    ReplyDelete