Denver Plants

Christmas is just around the corner, so are the colorful Christmas plants... Amaryllis, Schlumbergera, and Poinsettias. Last month we sent you an article on growing Amaryllis. This month we'll talk about Schlumbergera.

What is... Schlumbergera?

Schlumbergera is possibly the second most popular houseplant for the holiday season. Schlumbergera is the correct botanical name for... Christmas Cactus. Their also frequently called Zygocactus, which at one time was their proper botanical name.

A little Christmas Cactus history

Christmas Cactus have been kept as a holiday houseplant since the 1800's. Early breeders crossed Schlumbergera truncata with Schlumbergera russelliana creating the beginnings of the hybrid plants you see today.

Christmas Cactus are normally available in bud or bloom from late October thru December. They can be found in a variety of tabletop container sizes as well as hanging baskets. Usually the largest pot size that you'll be able to find is 8". Christmas Cactus in larger containers were probably holdovers from the previous holiday season. These holdovers are well established and typically your best buy. 

Growing and Caring for... your Christmas Cactus

Growing medium...
Christmas Cactus are best grown in a peat based potting media. By this we mean a potting soil that has more peat moss in it than any thing else. 

Lighting...
Christmas cactus will do best in bright indirect light. Placing the plant near any window... or below a skylight should do nicely. For those of you with light meters this equates to 1500 to 2500 foot candles. Long term direct sunshine can stunt the plants growth and burn the leaves. If you put your plant outdoors for the summer... be sure to place it in a shady location.

Temperature...
Christmas Cactus are quite tolerant to temperature. They will survive in temps as low as 35 degrees and as high as 100 degrees... both of which we don't recommend. Normal house temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees is perfect.

Watering and Fertilizing...
Christmas Cactus are not a true cactus... which rarely need watered. Christmas Cactus fit closer to the category of a houseplant. When the soil is dry to the touch... its time to water.

Christmas Cactus don't require much in the way of fertilizing. Feeding your plant 2 to 4 times per year is sufficient. Use any high quality feed that reads 20-20-20 on the label. If you have lived with your Christmas Cactus for a few seasons and know when the plant sets bud... stop feeding a month before buds appear. If not, stop feeding by the end of October.

Pruning your Christmas Cactus...
It is best to prune your Christmas Cactus after it has finished flowering. Pinch your plant back 1 or 2 leaves (the leaves are called phylloclades). Either cut the phylloclades at the joint with scissors, a sharp knife, or pinch with your thumbnail and index finger. Pruning helps the plant to branch out which should increase your bud count the following season. It also helps to promote new root growth.

Re-flowering your Christmas Cactus...
Christmas Cactus are what they call thermo-photoperiodic. In short this means bud set is triggered by a combination of day length and temperature. When day length is approximately equal to darkness... the plant knows its time to grow buds. The secondary trigger that most hobbyists miss is temperature. Chilling the plant at 50 to 60 degrees for a week or two should cause the plant to start setting buds.

Now you know the secrets of Christmas Cactus. A properly cared for plant can live for 20 years or more... flowering year after year. Several of our sponsors already have Christmas Cactus in stock. Next time your at the Garden Center, take a few minutes to look at all the wonderful hybrid Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus.


Do you know somebody who's enjoys Christmas Cactus... or perhaps a friend that might be interested in this site. Send them a link to this page by...

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