Christmas cactus are lovely in bloom and add a grace note of living green to our homes the rest of the year. There are a vast number of species and hybrids and I, Dr. Jacqueline Soule the Botanist, will not bore you with the details! Just know this – whatever they are called, they make great houseplants, especially for low-light areas!
Christmas Cactus Love Living Indoors
A cactus in low light, you ask? Why yes! Christmas cacti come to our homes from the cooler mountain rainforests of South America. Cactus in rain forest?! Sure. These plants are epiphytic in the wild. They live upon (epi) other plants (phytic). A Christmas cactus lives far away from the ground in the crooks of trees, so it doesn’t need much water or soil either. They push their weak little thread-like roots into the dead outer bark of the trees they perch upon, so they don’t need much fertilizer. Note that Christmas cacti are not parasitic, they don’t steal anything from the trees they live on.
Naturally perched in the highest branches of giant canopy trees, Christmas cacti get dappled sunlight plus a little rain. Then that rain runs away down the bark crevices, leaving the plants high and dry. Quick storing of any water is the job of those many tiny thread-like roots. Being a succulent is great way to live in tree tops.
You Can Grow Christmas Cactus
Remember these cacti are from cooler areas of Brazil. Avoid super high or low temperatures. Not under a heater vent and not next to a winter window (unless maybe you have thermal glass. Anything under 55 degrees is too cold for them.) So no- you can’t plant them outdoors either. Our Southwest summers are too hot, our winters too cold. Indoors all year is just fine.
Keep them out of direct Southwestern sun! It is brighter and lasts longer than the sun of the equator in Brazil. Indirect sun, just like most of us have flooding our homes, is more like those treetop roosts of home for Christmas cactus.
Less is more with Christmas cactus. Too much water will quickly drown them. Do be sure they have proper drainage! Cut any decorative foil wrap to open a large drain hole in the bottom. Place in a saucer to catch drips.
Let the soil dry three days or even more between waterings. Not bone dry, shrinking away from the sides of the pot, just dryer and crumbly, damp but not wet to the touch. Then add water until it trickles out into the saucer.
The soil the plant came in should be fine for a few years. In the future, any good cactus mix will do. Christmas cactuses have tiny thread-like roots and do not appreciate frequent repotting. They do best in a pot that looks too small for them. Indeed, Grandma Soule had one in the same pot for more than a decade in Vermont.
To rebloom, let your Christmas cactus rest after blooms are done for the season. Water less through the spring and summer. Around September first, apply quarter strength rose fertilizer when you water, and keep this up until buds form. Now keep the plant evenly moist with plain water through the bloom period.
And there you have it – five simple things to know so you can grow that Christmas cactus!
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