By Tina Rosenbalm
Christmas Cactus are a great option for a nice Holiday plant. They are one that is more common for people to have for years and even propagate to share with friends. They are known scientifically as Schlumbergera.
Originating from coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil near the Atlantic Ocean, this sub-species of cactus grows in a region which is generally relatively cool, shaded and has high humidity.
Historical records state that it was cultivated in Europe 200 years ago in 1818. They were in the first greenhouses and prized for their fall and winter blooms. By 1852, they had fallen out of favor and most cultivars were lost.
But starting in the 1950’s, breeding resumed in North America, Europe and even Australia and New Zealand. Without going into extensive progeny and cultivar selections, there are four main cultivar groups in use today.
The flowers range in color from red, yellow, salmon, pink, fuchsia, and white or combinations of those colors.
If you are given a Christmas Cactus, place it in a sunny location indoors. A north or east window gives the ideal light. If you want to grow it indoors in a south or west window, be sure that it gets some shade, even if it is from the blinds.
Christmas cactus is easy to grow for most. The complaints often center on getting it to bloom again. Christmas Cactus will thrive in a well-drained, sterile potting medium high in organic material. A little sand may be mixed with the medium to provide weight, important as the cactus increases in size. A pH of 5.5 to 6.2 is considered optimum for growth.
Although a temperature of 70 – 80 degrees F during the growing season is considered ideal, plants will tolerate Texas-type temperatures in the 90 to 100 degrees F range, although growth may be slower. My own personal Christmas cactus does just fine under the shade of my back porch.
Reduce water and fertilizer in August in preparation for the beginning of bud development, which is regulated by the shortening of fall days, along with cooler night temperatures. By late October and early November buds should be in evidence. Help to maintain bud set by adequate watering, taking care not to expose the plant to cold drafts, unvented heaters, or rough handling. Night temperatures above 70 degrees F may inhibit bud development. While visiting with my uncle during the holidays he shared that is cactus bloomed more this year after it in a dark closet for a few days
As the cactus becomes larger, shorter tip portions may be broken off and rooted in loose, sandy medium with very little trouble. This makes great new cuttings to share with friends and family as gifts. With good tending, Christmas Cactus may live for many years.
Tina Rosenbalm is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Upshur County. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, national origin, genetic information or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.