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Getting The Best From Your Christmas Cactus

Looking for something a little different this year to brighten up the home over the holidays? Why not try a Christmas Cactus, it begins blooming right before the big day (hence it’s name) and the flowers are really quite vibrant and lovely. The blooms come in a variety of colors: red, orange, fuchsia, yellow, pink, white and coral (with some bi-colored or mixed).

If you need a low-maintenance houseplant that won’t care if you forget about it, this one’s for you. It will do well outdoors during the summer (keep it in a pot), bring it in over the cold weather season and you can keep it going year round.

Neat to Know: This little beauty is native to Brazil, it’s tropical and is actually a forest cacti that thrives in the rainforests. It can live for up to 30 years! It’s an Epiphyte (air plant) which means it grows on top of trees, bushes and large rocks in the forest. So cool!

Here are some helpful tips to get you started:

Soil: Does well in almost any good garden mix. Needs no feeding during the blooming period, after blooms are done use a houseplant 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer once/month (half strength solution only–dilute this twice the package recommendation). Stop feeding in late summer.

Water: Avoid too much. It needs to be gently pushed into dormancy at the beginning of November to ensure holiday blooms, allow the plant to dry out between light waterings during this time. Keep soil slightly moist during blooming.

If You Keep It Too Dry: The leaves will start showing signs of shriveling.

Pests: Almost immune. Yellow leaves and flower buds dropping off may be caused by over-watering.

Heat: Moderate to cool. Keep away from heat sources when trying to trigger its dormant period.

Light: In the Fall encourage bud development by placing it in a room where it will be in complete darkness at least 12 hours a night (up to 14 hours). When buds begin to show, place in a location where it gets sun part of the day.

Propagation: Take cuttings in Spring, at place where aerial roots have come out. Let cuttings lie for a few days to callous over, then pot in ordinary soil or a sand/peat mix works well too. Just an inch deep will do the trick. If a stem breaks off (it happens, especially if you have pets), just set it aside for a few days then plant about 1″ deep after it has callused over and it will begin to root. Voila! You have a new houseplant.

Starts to Droop or Limp: You’re either overwatering or giving it too much direct sunlight.

Pot Size: They like to be snug and crowded so no need to fuss with frequent re-potting. Just ensure there’s good drainage and it will be happy. If it’s clear the time has come to repot (about every 2 or 3 years), wait until it’s done blooming (late winter).

Misty Treat: Keeping in mind this fella thrives in rainforests, give your cactus a treat by misting it with water now and again. It also enjoys a tray of pebbles sitting in water placed underneath it or a bowlful beside it. As it evaporates it will increase the humidity around the plant.

Magnesium Boost: Treat the plant to a feeding of 1 tsp Epsom salts/gallon water. Do this each month during Spring and Summer (not during the same week as giving fertilizer).

Notes: Set pot outdoors in summer and forget about it (avoid harsh sun locations). Bring it in before frost, withhold water for about six weeks, then begin to water when it’s around the time to produce buds for holiday bloom.