Christmas cactus comes back to bloom every holiday

Joette Reger of Garden Gate

It is such a thrill each year to see the little buds come out on my Christmas cactus plants. Seems like they tease me for about three weeks before the buds turn into gorgeous blooms. What a seasonal decoration! Between blooming seasons, I keep them along with “expired” orchids on the tile floor under a piano. That way, it is hard to forget to give them watering every week or so until they surprise me with blooms again.

These colorful cacti have hanging branches that can get to be a yard long and flowers that can reach 3 inches long. Each bloom usually last for days and the plant blooms for almost a month.

If you want to keep your Christmas cactus year after year, the experts advise to keep the soil moist, allow indirect light and repot each year after flowering. I add one tiny plant food spike to the plant every few months after the last one dissolves. Honestly, there are a couple of my little cacti that have been in the same pot for years and they still perform each December. Sometimes I even get a re-bloom around Easter.

This is a tropical cactus, not a desert variety. They appreciate our humidity and regular watering year round. When the soil feels dry, add water, but make sure the container allow excess water to drain off. If you have a frustrating bud drop just after the flower buds develop, its usually because you have over watered or there is not enough light on your precious plant.

You can find Christmas cactus in colors of white, pink, yellow, red, orange, red and purple. If anyone ever finds an orange blooming one, please let me know because I have found her to be elusive. The botanist Charles Lemaire gave the name Schlumbergera to this genus in 1858 to honor Frederic Schlumberger. Schlumberger was a French collector of cacti and other succulent plants. He had a collection of rare cacti at his chateau near Rouen, France.

Wiki reminds us that Shlumbergera is a small genus of cacti with six species. Plants grow on trees or rocks or in habitats that are mostly shady with high humidity. One genus, Flor de Maio (flower of May), blooms in May. Schlumbergera occurs naturally only in the coastal mountains of southeast Brazil. You can travel to Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and sites close to the Tropic of Capricorn and find them in the coastal moist forest and in rocky zones. Serra dos Orgaos National Park is a popular place for travelers looking for Schlumbergera. They often grow on moss-covered tree branches or in rock crevices.

By 1818, Schlumbergera was being cultivated in Europe where they were kept as ornamental plants in “stoves” (heated greenhouses). The flowers of the Christmas cactus are known to attract hummingbirds and other birds that eat the seeds and pulp in the bloom. So whether you call your blooming beauty Christmas cactus “cactus de Noel” or “cacto de Navidad,” you can enjoy her almost as a member of the family every Christmas.

Joette Reger is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. Email joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”

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