Cactus signals season’s arrival

Cactus signals season’s arrival

Yes, my front porch is dressed with a few poinsettias, and I have holly in respectable places around the house, but my true passion is Christmas cactus. Let me clarify, the enjoyment comes in getting this seasonal cactus to survive 11 months of the year and then bloom right about now. A beautiful Cuban friend of mine has a pink Christmas cactus that has been blooming annually for 15 or more years. It was her mom’s, so she is proud to see it flower every Christmas season.

When your Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera brigesii) blooms, you know it’s not long until you hear those reindeer hooves on the roof. The flowering is another joyful surprise of the season. The leaves are green, glossy and a little droopy. They are wonderful in hanging baskets. The blossoms last for weeks, and you can find them in shades of red, pink, orange, cream, lavender or white, depending on the variety you find.

There is also a Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus than you will know because of when they bloom — and the segmented leaves. The Thanksgiving variety usually flowers a month before Christmas, and the Easter ones bloom in the spring and sporadically throughout the year. In its native habitat, Schlumbergera grow as “epiphytes” up in tree branches in shady rain forests. Spanish moss and many orchids are epiphytes. They grow on other plants and get their moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and debris that gather around them.

Treat your Christmas cactus right and she will bring you blooms for weeks. They like more water than a typical cactus. Water when the soil is dry about 2 inches down from the surface. They store water in those thick leaves, so don’t overwater. And of course, it’s important to not forget to water a little during the other 11 months of the year. Place in bright light. I add a little plant spike of fertilizer every month or so all year. My friend keeps her prolific Christmas cactus outside all year on a covered patio until temps start to head down to 50 or so.

When you want to encourage blooming, make sure the plant gets less light (10 hours or less a day maximum) during October and November. Some folks cover them with a cloth for a few hours a day in the fall. Pinching back the stems in early June promotes branching and more terminals, giving you more flowers.

Having trouble with your blooming cactus? It needs 14 hours of dark every day to bloom. Even passing traffic lights or streetlights or indoor lighting can affect this blooming. Blooms will also be fewer if there is too great of a temperature change or way too much water.

You can share your Christmas cactus with friends with a simple cutting that you take in May or June. It’s best to pinch of sections of stems with three or more segments. Allow the ends of the cuttings to callous, and then place them down into a good quality potting soil. Next year you will have another blooming beauty to welcome Santa Claus down the chimney.