(This article first appreared in the Somervell County Master Gardeners Newsletter in 2010. However, since many folks may have received or bought this plant in November or December of 2014, it was thought it would be a good idea to repeat this information.)
by Sandi Stringer, Somervell County Master Gardener
The Christmas Cactus is not your normal cactus that is found in the desert. Most are native to the tropical areas of Central and South America and are members of the Xygocactus family. These plants are typically long-lived and easy to grow. However, if you want to get them in bloom for the holiday, they will need a little special care.
When selecting a plant, make certain it has an even green color throughout. Yellow spotting and branches that appear purple can be indicators of disease. But, don’t buy the plant that is full of blooms, buy the one with the most buds that are just beginning to elongate and open.
When caring for your plant, make sure the soil is moist, not completely dry or saturated. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Humidity is very important so have a glass, tray, or vase of water near the plant. Keep in a cool room with temperatures remaining around 50 degrees, don’t expose it to freezing temperatures or drafts and have it in a place where it receives bright indoor light during the day but at least 12 hours of total darkness at night. Having met all of the previously listed conditions, you should have a blooming Christmas Cactus during the holiday season.
After the holiday season, give the plant a 30-day rest, place it in a cool room and provide limited water. Do not prune or shape until March or April when new growth begins. Likewise, the best time for repotting a cactus is in February, March or April but keep in mind that the plant will do better if it’s in a container where it’s pot-bound. With proper care and placement of the plant, the cactus may flower several times throughout the year.
Other indoor plants that you might want to consider for holiday decorating or, as gifts for friends and family are the Poinsettia, Amaryllis, Rosemary Topiaries, Norfolk Island Pine, and the Cyclamen.
Source: Cactus and Succulent Society of America; Doug Welsh’s Texas Garden Almanac