Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Lovely Christmas Cactus

Jesse Fulbright, MSU Liberty County Extension

One of the fun things about this time of year is the seasonal foliage that you might find in homes and businesses.  One of those is the Christmas cactus, which M.S.U. Extension has a fact sheet about that is free and available to the public. 

You might be surprised to find out that the Christmas cactus actually performs better and blooms longer in cooler areas of the house, with the plant liking an optimum temperature between 55 and 68°F.  This doesn’t mean though you should put the plant right by the front door.  They don’t like drafts any more than the rest of us.
Photo courtesy of University of Delaware Extension
The Christmas cactus is what is called a short-day, long-night plant.  For them to bloom they need at least 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness per day for about 6 weeks.  They most often bloom closer to Thanksgiving it seems in our area rather than Christmas due to diurnal cycles.  This is just a fancy way of saying any pattern that recurs every 24 hours as a result of one full rotation of the Earth.  Even though they need a certain amount of darkness to bloom, once they start they can be put in a bright location out of direct sunlight.  This will increase the amount of time they bloom.
As far as water needs go, they do not require a lot of water.  The soil should only be watered when it is dry to the touch.  When they are forming flower buds and are flowering they might need a bit more water to prolong bloom time.  The biggest thing is to never over-water. 

After they are done flowering, pruning the last one or two segments at or just above the node will encourage branching, and thus more flowers once it blooms again.  You can also fertilize the plant with a complete fertilizer once a month from spring until October.  Only fertilize during these times though and not while the plant is flowering.
As you continue to treat your Christmas cactus with love, watering and fertilizing as necessary, the plant can live for 20-30 years or more.  Enjoy it and the once a year blooms it sends out!

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