Christmas cactus is a tropical plant native to South and Central America. They are not actually a cactus. They grow in similar environments as epiphytic orchids, in the forks of tree limbs, where they grow in decayed leaves and other natural debris that accumulates there.
When you bring your Christmas cactus home, it will most likely be in bud and bloom. To prevent bud drop, locate the plant in a humid environment, or place water in a saucer with gravel under the plant to increase humidity. Do not place them close to a door, heating ducts, fireplace or drafty areas.
During the bloom period and for about a month after blooming, water less frequently than you would in the spring and summer, allowing the soil to dry between soakings.
Pruning or transplanting should take place in February, March or April. Christmas cactus have shallow root systems, and bloom better when root-bound.
When new growth begins in March or April, begin fertilizing with a weak application of houseplant or African violet fertilizer once a month until September.
The key to getting Christmas cactus to flower during the holiday season is proper light exposure, correct temperatures and limited watering. In September and October, locate plants where they will receive temperatures of around 50 degrees. They should receive bright, indirect light, and 12-14 hours of total darkness at night. Since Christmas cactus is a tropical plant, it will require watering thoroughly, then allowing the top 1” of soil to dry before watering again. Fertilization from October to February should be limited to a nitrogen ratio below 10 percent, and may be mixed half strength.
Your Christmas cactus should begin to produce buds before Thanksgiving in Central Texas. Blooms should continue to open for about 3-4 weeks in a cool room.
Cuttings may be taken March through September. A 4” cutting may be rooted in a peat/perlite mix, and may be shared with friends and family to enjoy for years to come!