By Sheryl Kleinschmidt, Somervell County Master Gardener
I have had my Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera) for approximately four years now. It is actually a combination of two plants I got from my cousin. One is red, and the other is white. The red one is a pass-along plant she acquired about twenty years ago, but the white one is much younger.
In talking with her, she confirmed what I have already observed—the red-blooming cactus is much heartier than the white cactus. Since I put them both in the same pot (on a lark), I wondered whether the white would stay true to color or turn pink. So far, it has stayed white.
Of course, the main goal of owning said plant is to try to get it to actually bloom for the holidays. According to Nikki Phipps, author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden, there are a few things we can do to force Mother Nature’s hand:
- Limit water in the early fall
- Put plant in total darkness for 12-14 hours/day
- Keep it in cooler temperatures (50’s are good)
- Once buds form, move plant near a window
- Keep plant away from heaters/drafts/direct sunlight
I have also had some success from moving the cactus from outdoors (in the shade) to indoors prior to first frost. This seems to force some dormancy needed for the plant to bloom.
Further study told me that I need to mist my cactus regularly and feed it several times a year after it blooms. To promote branching, prune the cactus back about one month following the last bloom. These cuttings can then be used to propagate new plants—only two or three joints are sufficient.
Once established, Christmas Cactus needs to be repotted at least by the third year. Although it likes a crowded pot, the soil gets depleted. So, move on up to the next sized pot and you should enjoy your cactus for many years to come!