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Connecticut Garden Journal: Christmas Cactus

Dec 1, 2016

I'm always fascinated with plant names. Take Christmas cactus, for example. It's not really a cactus, and can bloom from November until March. Yet it's this time of year when we see Christmas cactus everywhere. 

There's a reason why it's so popular. Christmas cactus is an easy plant to grow, and transitions well to a permanent house plant. With little care, it can be induced to bloom every fall and winter.

Christmas cactus is native the southeastern coastal mountains of Brazil. It flowers in response to the shorter day lengths and cool temperatures. That's why it blooms for us now.

Most Christmas cacti are hybrids of a few species that bloom at different times.

If your cactus is flowering now, like mine, it probably has a dose of Thanksgiving cactus in its blood. If you have one that blooms closer to New Year's, it's the traditional Christmas cactus. If you have one that doesn't bloom until late winter, you may have an Easter cactus. Purchase one of each for flowers all winter.

Christmas cacti are easy to grow. Plant them in rich potting soil and place them where they'll get filtered light.

To induce flowering, place your cactus in a cool room or porch in fall, not letting it freeze, and keep the soil dry.

Or place the plants in a room that stays dark 14 hours a night with no artificial light, but is brightly lit during the day.

Once the flower buds form, avoid hot or cold drafts, or the buds may drop. Repot overgrown cacti after flowering, feed them with an organic fertilizer, and take cuttings to start new plants.

Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about holiday wreaths. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.