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A Unique Holiday Gift: The Christmas Cactus

Written by Mindy on December 24th, 2011

The Christmas cactus adds color and cheer to any d├ęcor during the holiday season but did you know that this flowering cactus also has relatives that bloom during Thanksgiving and Easter? To learn more about this wonderful plant, lets take a little walk through South America.

The Christmas cactus is actually not a true cactus but instead a tropical cactus that lives in Central and South America. It is classified as an epiphyte or plant that lives on tree bark much like orchards. These plants can be found in the forks of trees where decaying leaves and debris has accumulated.

Today, you do not have to travel to South America to obtain a Christmas cactus. Instead they can easily be found in grocery stores, home improvement centers and plant nurseries. When purchasing your Christmas cactus, only pick plants whose blooms are mostly closed. This will give you a longer blooming season at home.

Once you have chosen your plant, make sure that it is protected from the outside cold by placing a plastic bag over the top and placing it in a warm vehicle. After you get it home, gently remove it from the bag. A Christmas cactus is very particular about its location. It likes to be placed in a room that is kept on the cool side and away from any drafts. This means they should not be placed near doors, windows, and heat ducts. This plant also likes indirect light during the day and completed darkness at night.

After you have decided where you are going put your Christmas cactus, the next step is to add humidity. Since this plant is from a tropical region it is important to create a moist environment. This can be done in a couple of ways. One can place a vase, cup or saucer of water near the plant. Another approach is to create a humidity tray. This is done by filling a waterproof tray with pebbles, marbles or glass beads and then filling the tray half way up with water. Set the plant on the pebbles but not in the water. As the water evaporates, it will create a humid microclimate for the Christmas cactus. Just remember though, to check the water level often.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the humidity tray will also water your plant, it will not. The Christmas cactus needs to be watered just like any other tropical plant in your home.

Once the plant has finished blooming, let it rest for 30 days by moving it to a cool room and reducing the amount of water it receives. After the rest period, you may find that it is setting blooms again. It is not uncommon for a Christmas cactus to bloom several times during the year.

During March or April, one can shape their Christmas cactus by pinching off any unwanted growth but do not throw away the unwanted plant material. The Christmas cactus is one of the easiest plants to start. All it takes is placing the pinched off growth into soil. You may even find that some of the growth already has roots, which makes rooting a lot simpler. Once the pinched off material has been placed in soil, keep the soil evenly moist until rooted. After the starts have rooted, plant into a small pot.

After the local frost-free date has passed, move the Christmas cactus outside to a shady area. Do not water but instead let Mother Nature control the moisture level.

Move the plant back inside the home before a killing frost. Once inside the plant will need to be placed in a room that receives 8 to 10 hours of indirect sunlight and 12 to 14 hours of complete darkness. Also, the room will need to be kept around 50 degrees F.

Once inside the room, reduce watering. During late October to early November begin to fertilize with an application of 0-10-10. Repeat this again in February.

If, for whatever reason, you feel your Christmas cactus needs to be replanted only do this in February, March or April but keep in mind though that the plant does much better root bound.

With a little luck and patience, your Christmas cactus will bloom again and again for many years and generations to come.

 

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