The Christmas plant we call the Blooming Christmas cactus is officially known as “Schumbergera” or “Zygocactus.” It blooms at Christmas and even at Easter time if well cared for. This little surprise from Santa stays tucked away all summer and then in the early fall, you can watch the tips of the leaves beginning to grow. The tips get darker and darker until a little bud forms. This beauty is just waiting for short days and cool night temperatures to show you its blooms. The buds will open into a beautiful flower just in time for the Christmas season.
The Christmas cactus is from a group of epiphytic cacti native to the South American jungles. It has strong connections as a symbol and tradition of Christmas. According to a site by Marcus Tidmarsh, the original Christmas cactus was developed by a French botanist named Charles Lemaire and named after French horticulturalist Frederic Schlumberger. They are called Flor de Maio (May flower) in Brazil. They were originally a forest cactus that grew in southeast Brazil. They grew as an epiphyte, which is a plant that derives moisture and nutrients from the air and rain. In the wild, our Christmas cactus usually grows on another plant, but not as a parasite.
A few tips will help you have the best of luck with getting your own Christmas cactus to bloom. They like lots of indirect light but would prefer staying away from direct sun or drafts from heat vents or fireplaces. They are best in a shady spot all summer and then brought into the house when it cools off in the fall. They like our humidity but you can set a pot of these blooming beauties into a shallow tray with gravel and water if your home gets especially dry in the winter. Water them only if the soil is dry to about an inch below the surface. Some folks only water this lovely cactus by setting it into a tray of water, never watering from above. Christmas cactus is a tropical cactus, not a desert cactus, so it does love regular watering.
Add blooming fertilizer like a 20-20-20 feed about four times a year. To ensure the best blooming, don’t fertilize after the beginning of November. The blooms should begin showing soon after that. Don’t water much in October. You can place it on a tray of pebbles near water to increase humidity. After blooms fade you should let the plant rest by withholding water for six weeks. When new growth appears, re-pot and add fresh fertile soil to top off the pot. Resume watering to keep soil moist.
Many gardeners say that they get a re-bloom around Easter time!