Christmas Cactus 101

It’s that time again–when thoughts of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the many preparations necessary to make the season beautiful begin. Not the least of holiday preparations are those for Poinsettias, Narcissus, Amaryllis, and Christmas Cactus.

Lovely Christmas Cactus

Lovely Christmas Cactus

Unlike Poinsettias or bulb flowers, many people tend to keep their Christmas cacti from year to year. After all, they are extremely easy to grow and–with just a bit of effort–are easily made to flower each holiday season.

 

A watercolor I painted years ago

A watercolor I painted years ago

The dangling, tubular flowers of the Christmas cactus (or crab cactus) begin as buds that are set in August and September for a holiday bloom. The term “cactus” does not really apply to these plants, as they are native to the humid jungle areas of Brazil.

They are epiphytes, the tree-hugging plants. For this reason, they do not like heavy and soggy soil. Keep them in quick-draining soil and do NOT over-water.

The Christmas cactus starts to bud

The Christmas cactus starts to bud

The longer, cooler nights are what trigger the buds to form. Unfortunately, people bring them indoors so they won’t freeze (which is entirely appropriate) but that’s about the time the heater kicks on. These plants do not like night-time temperatures above 60° F.  The hot, dry air can also destroy the buds.

An ideal location is an enclosed porch that does not freeze. You may also put your cactus in an unheated basement or back room at night. (They will continue to need sunlight every day, as usual). If you don’t have any of those locations, put your cactus as far away from a source of heat as possible and hope for the best.

Christmas cactus are extremely easy to propagate. When spring rolls around, just twist off a piece (don’t cut) that has at least 3 segments on it. Stick that piece into a pot of quick-draining soil and keep slightly moist. In about six weeks you should have a new plant.

Don’t you just love Christmas?

© Wade Kingston

4 thoughts on “Christmas Cactus 101

  1. I love the way that some flowers are named for the ancient Greek mythological creatures. The beautiful Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and drowned.
    Amaryllis fell in love with Alteo, who ignored her while she stabbed herself outside his door for a month. Finally a beautiful red flower stemmed from her blood, so Alteo was moved to fall in love with her and kiss her.

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