The Christmas cactus is an endemic plant native to Brazil, where it forms long, overhanging shoots high in the tree canopy. However, it is also popular here, especially because it needs a short day to flower – so it blooms in winter, especially at Christmas time. The flower colour can be white, pink or purple. The basic requirements for its cultivation are:
- A bright location without harsh sunlight
- A calm, rather cooler temperature
- Limited watering
- Fertilisation during flowering
Christmas cactus will do well in a brighter spot, but beware of direct sunlight, it could burn the leaves. If the cactus has insufficient light, its shoots will be long and elongated and it will not produce as many flowers. It thrives in light, aerated soil. We can also buy a ready-made mix for epiphytes. It is a good idea to fertilise the Christmas cactus with a fertiliser designed for cacti at the time when the first buds are noticed. After flowering, we stop fertilizing.
The Christmas cactus likes room temperature (18-20°C), but needs 12-15°C for a few weeks if it is to set flowers. During this time, when the plant is in its “dormant period”, it can also be placed outside in a well-lit area, protected from wind and rain. However, once the outside temperature drops below 10 °C, it is time to bring the Christmas cactus back inside and wait for it to set its buds.
Watering and propagation
The plant retains a lot of water in its shoots, so it can tolerate any omissions. Over-watering is a far greater problem, causing root rot. During the so-called ‘dormant season’, water the plant only sporadically so that the root ball does not dry out completely. Non-flowering plants can be watered with soft water.
The plant is relatively easy to propagate when it is not flowering and has no buds. Cut off a few pieces of the shoot and place in water or a mixture of sand and peat. After a few weeks, roots will appear.
Why does the plant flower in December?
In its native habitat, the Christmas cactus blooms in May. But since Brazil is in the opposite hemisphere, below the equator, May is the equivalent of November there. The cactus needs short days and long nights to bloom, which is why, with the right care, it will grace us with its beautiful and huge flowers in winter.