Christmas cactus

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Owners of Christmas cactus that mistakenly treats them like a desert cactus, soon find a dry winkle up plant on their hands.  Most of the Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus which most of mine seem to be require 50 to 60% humidity, and found in the wilds of Central and South America in the same environment as orchids. Zygocactus which is the scientific name are most often found in the forks of tree limbs where they grow in decayed leaves and other natural debris that accumulates there. Since they are tropical cacti, their cultural requirements are totally different from true cacti.

There are three types, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus. The Easter are more difficult to grow and aren’t seen commercially that much.

Christmas cacti have flattened leaves with scallop-edged margins that are smooth and spineless with tubular 3 inch flowers. Thanksgiving crab cactus has sharply toothed edges with two large teeth at the end of the last joint on each branch and shorter tubular flowers with spreading, pointed petals. The Easter cactus grows more upright, has fibrous hairs at the joints and produces different flowers.

Now the directions for making them bloom  call for moving them to a cool room in the 50’s starting in September and October where it will have around 14 hours of darkness and temps much like you would treat poinsettia’s.  I keep mine in a spare bedroom with the heating vents closed and another in my bedroom, and they usually bloom several times a year. In the summer, I put left over ice cubes from watering my orchids in the bottom tray of the hanging baskets and will have them bloom afterwards..  Best care practice also calls for placing the plants on a gravel filled saucer and adding water hallway up the gravel.  I have a humidifier on my heating system and a adjustable thermostat that lowers the temperature when I’m not at home so I don’t need to fuss much over them.   Resist the urge to remove spent blooms until they are ready to fall off. Breaking off the old blooms seems to damage the segment it is attached to and it later drys up.

Water the plants thoroughly and let them dry out between watering.  The leaves will wrinkle if the soil is too dry and also when over watered which can lead to root rot.  The main problem I had that causes wrinkling is a bacterial infection in the soil, especially in newly acquired plants.  To treat the condition, I’ll remove all the planting mix and replant the cactus in a sterile mix that I use for my African violets. (Recipe I use found on the African violet page).

To start a new plant, it’s best to do after blooming in the spring or summer. Cut off a two or three segment section at one of the joints and place into planting medium and keep moist until rooted. Then treat as normal.

I fertilize with the same worm compost tea I use on my African violets and orchids.

I found a website designated to Zygocactus questions/answers at: http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/houseplnts/xmascctus.htm

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3 Responses to Christmas cactus

  1. Phillip says:

    I have one (Thanksgiving I think) and bring it in from outside when it turns cold. It stays on the kitchen island (north end of the house) and has bloomed beautifully for the past two years. I didn’t know it needed 14 hours of darkness. I know ours doesn’t get that much and there is even a flourescent light that stays on all the time in the room with it.

  2. I don’t move mine either so that it gets less light. The couple I have in the bedrooms seem to have more blooms and blooms more frequently than the ones in the kitchen windows. Mine seem to be more temperature driven in blooming than the amount of light also. Mary

  3. Phillip says:

    I think next year I’ll put it in the little breakfast room when I bring it in. It stays really cool in there. It didn’t bloom as profusely this year as it did last year.

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