Coaxing Christmas Cactus

If your Christmas cactus blooms on the 4th of July, consider yourself lucky. Many people who grow them would settle for any blooms at all. If you're willing to follow a few simple rules, you can coax this shy cactus into blooming for you year after year-just in time for the holidays.

At Home in the Forest

If you are already growing a Christmas (or Easter) Cactus, then you know they're not like other cacti. Even though they are succulents, they have much different requirements than their spine-covered cousins from the desert. That's because their natural habitat is actually in the forest-more specifically woodlands and jungles. In fact, they are actually referred to as Forest Cacti.

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A typical forest cactus has leaf-like stems and a trailing growth habit that makes them suitable for hanging baskets. But their greatest feature is really their flowers. From creamy whites to vibrant reds and fuchsias, the flowers on some varieties get as big as saucers.

Shy Bloomers

Unfortunately, unless you are able to meet their specific needs, Forest Cacti can be shy bloomers. If you want a good display ever year, you need to provide them with a cool, dry place to rest in the early spring, be careful not to move them an inch once buds appear, and allow stems to harden outdoor during the summer. To complicate things, each type also has specific needs.

General Growing Requirements

Temperature: Ideally, Christmas Cacti prefer temperatures in the range or 55-70 degrees F. During their resting period, most prefer cooler temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees F.

Light: These plants need a well-lit location out of direct sunlight.

Food and Water: After a period of rest, watering should be increased when buds begin to form. During flowering and active growth, water and feed as you would most houseplants. Water liberally when soil starts to dry. Christmas cactus don't like hard water, so use rain water or filtered water if possible.

Humidity: Leaves need misting frequently.

Repotting: Christmas cacti benefit from annual repotting after they finish flowering.

Propagation: Christmas cacti root easily from cuttings. Take stem cuttings from a terminal stem tip in the summer. Allow it to cure for a few days before inserting in into a peat-based compost.

Calendar of Care

Mid-November through January: This is the normal flowering period. Water normally and maintain a minimum temperature of 55 degrees F.

February and March: This is the important period of rest. Move plant into cooler temperatures (50-55 degrees F.)

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April and May: Resume normal feeding and watering. Water well when compost starts to dry out.

June through Mid-September: Set your Christmas cactus outdoors. Forest Cacti need a spell outdoors to harden their stems in order to produce next year's flower buds. Place cactus in a shady spot and protect it from snails and slugs by placing crushed eggshells (or other sharp material) around its base.

Mid-September through Mid-November: This is considered the pre-flowering period. Keep plants on the cooler, dryer side until you see flower buds form. Then increase water and temperature and leave it alone to flower.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

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December 4, 20050 found this helpful

If you put your cactus in a room with cooler temperatures for September and October. As soon as you see flower buds forming move it to a room with lots of light. Be sure that it doesn't get moved again until after it has finished. It also has to be root bound to flower. I cheat and start feeding mine a 15-30-50 fertilizer starting The end of October.

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December 5, 20050 found this helpful

I keep mine in my kitchen window year round. It has beautiful blooms right now. Just so full of beauty.

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October 15, 20131 found this helpful

I started adding Castor Oil several years ago & have had the most beautiful flowers! It pretty much blooms year round. As soon as one cycle of blooming is done, here comes another!

I don't do anything special...water it when it is dry, add plant food when I remember to. It sits in a south window & grows like crazy.

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November 20, 20160 found this helpful

How often do you give it castor oil and how much? My cactus is not blooming just bought it last year.

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November 23, 20160 found this helpful

How often do you give it castor oil. Mine is not blooming and I want to try this.

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November 7, 20160 found this helpful

After moving south from the mid-atlantic, I had to experiment with locations and amount of bright light for my Thanksgiving cactus. It loves a sunny afternoon window October through bloom. It loved it's new spot on the front porch catching the morning sun nearly the entire summer...brought it inside in August and returned to porch in late September for a bit. This is November and it is in the window catching the afternoon sun and loaded with buds! We live in coastal S.C.

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