The Christmas cactus is a jolly little plant that gets its name from the months when it bursts into a kaleidoscope of cheery pink and red color, just in time for Christmas. Between late November to late January, the cactus, or Schlumbergera, blooms with red and dark pink tips.
The Christmas cactus is relatively easy to maintain once in bloom, making it a great houseplants for beginners, but it does require a few very important steps to make sure you get the perfect blooms in time for the festivities. Christmas cacti actually need very specific conditions to set their flower buds into motion. To help, I've spoken to the experts who have set up these important five steps.
1. Limit its water
First up, when it comes to how often to water your Christmas cactus, in this period, it's important to be a little more reserved. The amount of water the plant receives should be limited to promote blossoming. Like most plants, you should reduce the amount of water your plant gets when the summer fades into autumn. November is a good month to cut down on your watering.
The plant should still be moist if you put your finger into the pot, but getting into a slower routine of watering means your Christmas cactus can enter dormancy, which is crucial for blooming to take place. An ideal schedule is to water your Christmas cactus every two or three weeks and give it a short mist, but only when the top one-third of the soil feels dry to the touch.
2. Encourage flowers with the perfect amount of darkness
Perhaps the most important step out of the five relates to the light levels. You need to black out your cactus otherwise there is no chance of those beautiful blooms. Instead of the more conventional Christmas cacti, these plants actually grow faster with a dark period. 'They require at least 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness per day,' says Lina Cowley, a master botanist and senior editor at Trimmed Roots. 'This long dark period signals to the plant that it's time to bloom.'
To do this, put it in a room or a closet where it is completely dark, with no light infiltrating through any gaps in the door. Putting a sheet over the plant to block out the light isn't a good method, potentially crushing its delicate leaf-like stems. A good way to get into the routine is to put it in darkness in the evening time, giving it the same nightly routine and schedule as your daylight and nighttime hours for your own convenience.
In the morning, fetch your cactus plant out of the darkness and give it its dose of light. Repeat this process of blackout time for about a week, and you want to start the process around four weeks before you want your cactus to be in full bloom. 'About 12-14 hours of darkness per day for at least 2-3 weeks can stimulate blooming,' recommends Zahid.
'Once flower buds appear as small nubs on the ends of the leaves, it won't be long before they burst into full bloom,' says Lina.
3. Remember the optimum temperature
Dark conditions aside, your Christmas cactus will also need cool-ish temperatures. This should average out to about 50 to 55 degrees F. 'Temperatures between 55-65°F during this time are known to encourage and stimulate bud set,' says Lina.
'To initiate blooming, expose the Christmas cactus to these cooler temperatures for a few weeks,' says Zahid. 'After this period when the blooms have begun, return the Christmas cactus to its regular environment and temperatures.'
4. Avoid fluctuations in conditions
If you start to notice buds on your Christmas cactus, this is a good sign that the flowers are about to bloom. But this is also a pivotal moment, so make sure there are no drastic changes in temperature or humidity and avoid those drafty spaces that might threaten the Christmas cactus display, causing the dreaded 'bud drop'.
'Maintain moderate humidity levels,' says Zahid. 'Placing a tray of water near the plant or misting it occasionally can help.'
5. Look after your Christmas cactus so it blooms for years to come
Unlike many other cacti and succulents, the Christmas cactus can bloom again in the spring if the above steps are followed. 'With the right care, Christmas cactus will reward its owner with gorgeous holiday blooms for many years to come,' says Lina. It's the perfect houseplant as fall decor, so when you want your plant to bloom again come next winter, just repeat the steps. Place your Christmas cactus into an east-facing window to give it that dose of necessary sunlight in the day, then get back Christmas cactus can bloom again in spring if given the short days condition.
Placing a Christmas cactus into the east-facing window that receives abundant amounts of sunlight during the day and 12 hours of darkness each night can encourage the plant to flower again.
It's important to remember to prune your Christmas cactus. Without proper pruning, the stems get long and leggy, when what you want from the cactus is a more bushy appearance. Don't prune your cactus while it is in bloom but after the blooming stage. Cut off around two or three segments of the plant and set it aside - this becomes a good starting point for propagating a Christmas cactus.
Remember to fertilize too. 'Fertilization is important,' says Zahid. 'Feed the Christmas cactus with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer).'
3 buys to ensure a Christmas cactus in full bloom
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Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.
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