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    January 01, 2024 5 min read 0 Comments

    Christmas Cacti Care and Propagation


    Christmas cacti are a festive star among houseplants that bring vibrant splashes of color to your home during the holiday season. Unlike their desert-dwelling cactus, they thrive in cooler, indirect light environments, preferring the cozy indoors over the harsh, arid outdoors. Their lush, green, flattened stems cascade beautifully from hanging baskets, while their blooms, ranging from bright pinks and reds to elegant whites, add a touch of natural charm to any room.

    What makes Christmas Cacti so special?

    As its name suggests, the Christmas cactus has a knack for blooming just in time for the holiday season, turning heads with its festive floral display. This punctual blooming and striking appearance has made it a symbol of holiday cheer worldwide.

    The allure of this plant extends well beyond its beauty. Christmas cacti are not only easy to care for but are also known for their longevity, often becoming cherished heirlooms. Plus, they're non-toxic to pets, making them a safe choice for families with furry friends.

    Whether you're a seasoned indoor gardener or a budding plant enthusiast, the Christmas cactus offers a rewarding and straightforward indoor gardening experience. 

    Related:  How to Save Your Flowering Bulbs from the Holidays for Repotting and Reblooming

    Christmas Cactus

    How do you tell the difference between Christmas Cactus and look-alikes?

    Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera bridgesii)  are often confused with Thanksgiving cacti (Schlumbergera truncata) and Easter cacti (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri or Hatiora gaertneri), primarily because they all belong to the same family (Cactaceae) and have similar care needs. Many commercially available “Christmas cacti” are a hybrid of the bridgesii and truncata species and go by Schlumbergera buckleyi.

    Leaf Shape: The leaf shape is the easiest way to differentiate these plants. Interesting note: They are not leaves but flattened stem segments called phylloclades. Christmas cacti have smooth, rounded 'teeth' along the edges of their leaves. Thanksgiving cacti have pointed, claw-shaped 'teeth,' which makes their leaves look more jagged. Easter cacti have rounder leaves with small bristles on the tips.

    Flower Form: The flowers of these cacti also differ. Christmas cactus flowers hang down like lovely bells with slightly recurved petals. Thanksgiving cactus flowers are more asymmetrical with pointed petals and do not hang down as much. Easter cactus flowers are more star-shaped.

    Bloom Time: 

    As their names suggest, these plants typically bloom near their respective holidays in the US. Christmas cacti usually bloom in December, Thanksgiving cacti in November, and Easter cacti in the spring.

    Remember, these are general guidelines, and actual blooming times can vary depending on specific environmental conditions.

    Making sure Christmas cacti bloom in time for the holiday season: Best care and growing conditions.

    Light Control: Christmas cacti need a period of darkness to set buds. Aim for about 14 hours of darkness each day for about six weeks. This mimics the shorter days of winter and encourages the plant to bloom.

    Temperature Control: These plants prefer cooler temperatures when setting buds, ideally between 50°F and 65°F. Avoid placing them near heat sources like radiators, heater vents, or warm south-facing windows.

    Watering and Feeding: Continue to water and fertilize your cactus as usual during this period. However, avoid overwatering as this can lead to root rot. A houseplant fertilizer or diluted regular liquid feed is ideal. Cacti do not need high levels of fertility.

    Bright but Indirect Light: While the cactus needs periods of darkness to set buds, it also requires bright but indirect light during the day. An east-facing window with plenty of light but no direct sun is ideal.

    Cutting in clear pot near windowsill getting light

    Watering protocol for Cactaceae Family Cactus:

    Only add water when the soil's surface feels dry to the touch an inch or more deep. After watering, remove excess water from the tray below so the soil doesn't sit in it. If the flat stems of the cactus become soft and mushy, it's a sign of overwatering, whereas shriveled stems can indicate underwatering.

    During the flowering season, keep the soil evenly moist at all times. Flowering causes the plant to use more water. Once flowering stops in January, a twice-monthly watering schedule should be plenty.

    Cacti Cutting in clear 2.5 pot

    Pest Control

    Regularly check your Christmas cactus for common pests like mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites. Treat all plants near the infested one if infestation occurs to limit further spread. Ensure ample air circulation around your cactus to minimize pest issues. Avoid using fungicides as they can harm the beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

    Combating pests in Christmas cacti can be done effectively using natural methods. Here are some of the top recommended ways to get rid of pests:

    Insecticidal Soap: Insecticidal soap effectively controls outbreaks of mealybugs, aphids, or spider mites. The soap can be sprayed directly onto the plant.

    Dish Soap Spray: A solution made from mixing a teaspoon of dish soap with a quart of water sprayed on the plant should kill most soft-bodied pests. A few days after treatment, spray the plant lightly with pure water to dilute any residual soap. Do this a few times over the next week or two, as too much soap residue can make transpiration difficult.

    Rubbing Alcohol: A mixture of three parts rubbing alcohol and one part water can treat infested spots on the cactus. Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and rub it on the affected areas. Alternatively, you can make an alcohol spray by mixing one alcohol with two parts water for a broader application.

    Isopropyl Alcohol Spray: Regular 70% isopropyl alcohol can kill insects immediately without harming your succulent. It can be put in a spray bottle for easy application.

    With any of these treatments, test a single stem first to ensure your solution is dialed in first. 

    Remember, each plant may have unique needs based on its specific environment and health, so observe your Christmas cactus regularly to catch any potential issues early.

     Christmas Cactus cuttings in clear propagation cups

    Propagating Christmas Cacti 

    Propagating Christmas cacti is an exciting and rewarding process that allows you to create more plants from your existing ones. Here's a step-by-step guide to get you started:

    Choose the Right Time: The best time for propagation is late spring or early summer, right after the blooming period has finished. This allows the plant ample recovery time before the next blooming season.

    Select a Healthy Cutting: Look for a healthy stem segment about 2-3 inches long. Make sure it has at least 2-3 jointed segments. Use a clean, sharp knife or snips to cut off the segment above the joint.

    Drying out Cacti cuttings on a paper towel

    Let it Heal: After cutting, leave the segment to dry for a few hours or even a few days. This allows a callus to form over the cut end, which helps prevent rotting when planted.

    Plant the Cutting: Once the cut end has developed a callus, insert it about a quarter to half an inch deep into a pot filled with a well-draining soil mix, like a combination of perlite and potting soil. Ensure the segment is oriented the same way up as it was on the parent plant.

    Christmas Cactus cuttings in a Propagation Kit

    Create Ideal Conditions: Place the pot in a warm location with bright, indirect light. Keep the soil slightly moist but not overly damp.

    Patience is Key: In about three to six weeks, the cutting should start developing roots. Be patient and resist the urge to tug on the cutting to check for roots; this could damage the delicate new growth. Using the clear pots in our propagation kit allow you to see the roots without moving the delicate new plant.

    Care for the New Plant: Once the cutting has rooted, care for it like a mature Christmas cactus. You should see the first blooms with proper care in one to two years.

    Cactus Cuttings Take Time to Root

    Remember, each cutting is unique and may take time to grow. Be patient and enjoy watching your new Christmas cactus develop its root systems. Enjoy learning a new skill that will translate into other propagation projects as you inevitably amass a jungle of houseplants.

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