One of the most surprising popular plants for Christmas gift-giving is a cactus. Not the spiny desert cactus, but the lovely green, flat leafed, Christmas cactus with buds and blooms at the very end of the leaf. They come in a variety of colors. With minimal care these plants can be grown for years. You probably know someone who has a plant grown from cuttings from their grandmother's plant.
Selecting the Christmas cactus
When purchasing these plants, look for healthy leaves, not dried or wrinkled. You will enjoy the plant's color longer if you select a plant with several buds and blossoms rather than already in full bloom. It is true that buds will drop when the plant is relocated to different light or transplanted into a new pot, so don't be alarmed if buds drop. The plant is not dying, but it is sensitive to changes.
Caring for your plant
Place the plant in as much light as possible, but not in direct sun. Keep it away from drafts and away from cold window panes. Water when the surface of the soil dries.Allow the water to drain out the bottom of the pot. Throw out the excess water. Do not over-water because it will rot the roots of the plant and kill it.
When spring arrives with warmer weather and longer days, increase the water, but allow the top surface to dry between waterings. Place the plant in a bright area. Start feeding with a 20-20-20 or similar house plant fertilizer at one half the label rate. Trim the long stems back and remove a couple of the leaves from the other stems to promote a stronger, compact plant. You may set this plant outdoors in a shady area when the weather warms up. Remember to bring it indoors before frost.
How to make the cactus bloom again
Stop feeding the plant at the end of September. The shorter days of October will begin the flowering process, producing buds at the end of the stems. At this time, keep the plant in bright light during the day and total darkness during the night-about 12 to 14 hours. Watch out for lamplight or even street lights, which will interfere with the buds forming. When the buds begin to appear, move the plant to a display area but make sure there is not a great deal of variation in temperature. At this time, the plant can receive nighttime light.
The Christmas cactus grows more beautiful each year as it increases in size and blossom count. If you decide to repot, carefully transplant after flowering or in the spring to a pot no larger than one inch in diameter from the previous pot's size. The container should have a hole in the bottom for drainage. Place a layer of potting soil from the garden center into the bottom of the pot. This allows the roots a lovely, comfortable spot for them to snuggle into. Carefully knock the cactus out of the pot by holding onto the topsoil area and turning the pot upside down into your hand. After placing the plant into the new growing container, fill in with potting soil around the sides and top. Water thoroughly and allow to drain.
Taking time to care for your Christmas cactus will reward you with a beautiful, flowering plant for many Christmases to come.
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The Christmas Cactus is a plant with a long life, even if sometimes neglected. They brighten the winter with their cheerful blossoms and give plant lovers something to mull over: Is it a Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter Cactus?