The Christmas Cactus (also known as Zygocactus) is one of my most favorite plants. Native to South American jungles, it has proven to be a low-maintenance beauty right here in Florida. They are recommended for use in gardens or patios in USDA Zones 9-10. They do extremely well as a houseplant; however, I enjoy mine out on the screened patio.
There are many varieties available regarding the Christmas Cactus, due to world-wide hybridization. Multiple colors exist – from light and dark pinks, salmon, fuchsia, white, red, and even yellow blooms. While I have read that some varieties will bloom more than once per year, the ones that I have only bloom once – right around Christmas. Their profusion of vibrant colors, peeking at such a special time of year, makes our holidays that much more special.
I have learned over the years that the plant prefers to be in a cool spot, and in order to bloom sufficiently at Christmas, it needs to be dormant beforehand. If your Christmas Cactus did not bloom, you will need to try and force it to bloom by putting it in pitch darkness for about 12-14 hours per day, for a period of approximately 6-8 weeks (or until buds begin forming). This regimen should start in the Fall, around the end of September. Once buds have formed, it usually takes several weeks for blooms to appear. It is at this time that the plant should be relocated to a bright and draft-free area. Refrain from putting it in direct sunlight, for this can cause the plant to become droopy.
Watering requirements are about as easy as they get. The plant can tolerate drought, but do not do so for an extended period as this could seriously harm or kill it. I have forgotten to water mine in the past, since it resides on the patio, but if you quickly and sparingly water it … it will rebound in no time. Never give the Cactus too much water, for that might kill it as well – and it will definitely make the leaves go limp. The plant prefers that the top inch or two of its soil be dry to the touch before getting watered again.
I use a fertilizer on the plant sparingly, and never do so during the blooming stage. It is when the plant has finished blooming and its flowers have vanished that it gets fertilized. The food that has really attributed to my Cactus’ health and vitality is the Schultz Cactus Plus 2-7-7 Liquid Plant Food. There are other good fertilizers on the market as well; however, this one is easy to use and always provides me with excellent results.
I believe that the Christmas Cactus plant is one of the easiest plants to grow. It provides such beauty during the holiday season, and its long green arms are still attractive even when it has dropped all its blossoms. It also is not toxic to pets, and that is big plus for me – especially since I have two big dogs. If you were lucky enough to receive one of these plants during the holidays, or if you are buying one for the first time, I hope these growing tips will help you keep your plant thriving. With proper care, the Christmas Cactus should provide you with happiness throughout the holidays, and all through the remaining year.