Christmas Cactus Care
One of the most festive, vibrant holiday plants is the Christmas cactus. Easy to care for, they are known for their colorful tubular flowers, which bloom from November into December. If you understand the basics this is an easy plant to care for.
First, keep the plant in bright, indirect light when it is in flower. "Indirect" is the key word here. Direct sunlight can cause the cheerful flower color to fade or, if the sun is hot, the flower buds to drop off.
Second, keep the temperature around your plant about 70°F during the day and 60-65°F at night. This is the ideal range to keep it looking its best. Sudden changes in temperature will often cause the plant to drop unopened flower buds so protect it from drafts caused by open doors or windows.
Third, be sure to water your plant thoroughly, letting the top of the soil dry slightly between watering. Even though this is a cactus it does not like to live in drought conditions. It will give you a hint that you are not giving it enough water because the leaves will wrinkle if the soil is too dry. When the plant is flowering it is especially important to water it regularly or the flower buds may fall off.
The plant can continue to grow as a terrific houseplant after the flowers fade. Be sure that the soil is well drained and fertilize it monthly from April to October with a good quality houseplant fertilizer. Pruning your cactus in June will encourage it to branch out and have more consistent, abundant flowers during the holidays. To prune you just need to remove a few sections of each stem with sharp pruning shears or a knife. You will be able to coax it into flowering as long as you understand two basic things about the Christmas cactus - they bloom when nights are at least 15 hours long and they need to have a period of exposure to cool temperatures (between 50-55°F) in late summer/early fall. You can leave them outside in a shady spot in the garden until the nighttime temperatures get below 45 degrees, usually mid to late October. At that point, bring them inside and you should be ready for another season of beautiful flowers.