So you want to learn how to grow and care for a Christmas cactus? Christmas cactus have been a popular indoor house plant for many generations, and, in fact, many Christmas cactus plants are passed down for generations as these branching cacti are very long-lived with proper care. Christmas cactus are noted for their blooms, usually red but sometimes pink or white, that appear around the winter holidays. They also come in Thanksgiving and Easter varieties, with subtle differences in shape and earlier or later blooming periods.
Although these are cacti, they have many traits similar to orchids in that in nature they grow in the crooks of trees, living in leaf debris. This makes them epiphytes and tropical cacti. Thus, their growing requirements are different from typical desert cacti.
Christmas cactus requires 50 to 60 percent humidity so care must be taken to provide this. Place a glass of water nearby or set the cactus on a humidity tray. You can make a humidity tray by filling a shallow container with gravel then filling the container have full with water. Place the cactus on top of the gravel.
Getting a Christmas cactus to bloom at the desired time is a matter of proper care in the months leading up to the holidays. Beginning in September or October, they should place your Christmas cactus in a cool location where it gets indirect bright light during the day but total darkness at night. Water should be limited to get them to bloom. Once the buds set, be careful to avoid bumping or moving the cactus too hastily as the buds are easy to knock off. Bud drop can also be caused by overwatering, lack of humidity, or insufficient light.
In late October or early November, feed your Christmas cactus with 0-10-10 liquid fertilizer to encourage blooming. After the plant blooms, give it a 30-day rest by placing it in a cool room and providing limited watering. It may lose some leaves or joints, and might appear weak during this time. Do not prune at this time. When new growth appears in March or early April, you can prune your plant if desired. During the growing season, from April through September, fertilize monthly with a 10-10-10 liquid fertilizer.
Christmas cacti flower best if they are slightly root bound. However, if you need to repot the plant, do so in February, March, or April.
Propagating a new Christmas cactus is simple and makes a great gift. Take a Y-shaped cutting from a healthy branch, making sure to get at least two or three joined segments. Let the cutting dry for a few hours to avoid root rot, and then repot in a moist peat and soil mix. Insert the cutting about 1/4 of its length into the potting mix. Place in a well-lit area, but avoid bright direct sunlight. When the cutting shows new growth, usually small red buds, you can transplant it into new potting soil with a little sand or compost added. Start watering regularly, fertilize as needed, and place in brighter light.