Christmas cactus can be forever gifts

December 28, 2022

Christmas is always changing. Even the reindeer names Donner and Blitzen were originally Dunder and Blixem, which is Dutch meaning "thunder and lightning.”

Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo or Mass of the Rooster, with people bringing roosters to midnight mass, because a rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus.

Saint Nicholas, the precursor to Santa Claus, is the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, sailing, thievery, orphans, royalty, and perhaps redundantly, New York City. And Charles Dickens’ Tiny Tim was almost named "Little Fred."

While poinsettias have been the go-to Christmas flower for years, we are starting to see more Christmas cactus options available. And no wonder – they bloom in a wide variety of colors, including red, white, purple, orange, pink, cream and fuchsia. Best of all, Christmas cactus are non-poisonous for pets.

But now the show is over, or will be soon, so it’s time to put the Christmas cactus away for another year. Start by moving your Christmas cactus where it will get four to six hours of indirect sunlight. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.

Once the blooms fall off, keep the soil very dry. After it stops blooming is a good time to prune a Christmas cactus, since that will encourage new growth in the spring.

Christmas cactus plants bloom best when slightly potbound, so you only need to repot them every three or four years, if that often.

Fertilize Christmas cactus in the spring and early summer. When summer is in full swing, you can move them outside to a shady area. Continue watering and fertilizing all summer when your plants are actively growing. To encourage blooming, stop all fertilizer use before the end of summer.

These are tropical plants, so move them indoors before temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Even though we tend to associate cacti with dry, desert-like conditions, the Christmas cactus is originally from the tropical rainforests of southeastern Brazil, so it prefers more humid conditions than other cacti.

Try misting the Christmas cactus every day. Only water at the base of the plant when the soil is completely dry to the touch. Force your Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) into bloom by giving it long nights of total darkness starting around Oct. 1.

Rather than toss them out, start new plants from cuttings. You can easily root Christmas cactus in water by taking short, Y-shaped cuttings with at least three joined segments. Because you are rooting the cutting in water, you do not need to let it dry first. Place the cutting into the water with the cut end downward until two nodes are submerged. Put the container where the cuttings will get bright, indirect sunlight. Roots will grow quickly, and in six to eight weeks, you can pot up the rooted cuttings.

With a little luck and leftover holiday cheer, you will have infinite water and infinite Christmas cacti. One family in Montana has passed down the same Christmas cactus for more than 145 years.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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