Post-Holiday Plant Care
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Whether you call it a Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus, this pet-friendly evergreen houseplant in the genus Schlumbergera is popularly encountered during the winter season. In the weeks that follow and we resume our busy lives, some holiday cacti quietly, and unintentionally, perish on the sidelines. Here are some tips to help you enjoy your lovely cactus through 2022 and beyond.
These are not traditional cacti of the desert. These beauties are native to shady coastal rainforests of Brazil. Your holiday cactus will enjoy overwintering in a sunny room between 60-68F. Adding a humidifier or regular misting will help it feel right at home. In late winter/early spring, fuel new growth with a monthly application of half-strength, water soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20. Epsom salt mixed at 1 teaspoon per gallon of water is recommended as holiday cacti are heavier than average magnesium feeders. Provide Epsom salt on a different week than the regular fertilizer. During the growing season holiday cacti are tolerant of dry, slightly underwatered conditions. Basic rule of thumb, avoid water-logged or completely dry soils. Dig into the soil with a finger to test soil moisture. When there is no soil moisture detected until about 2 inches depth, water. To prevent root rot, don’t let water sit at the bottom of the saucer.
May-Sept., holiday cacti enjoy 70-80F temps, but offer protection from direct sun by moving it to a north or east-facing window. Don’t worry about repotting, they prefer slightly crowded roots which means they will only need repotting about once every 3 years. A good substrate contains 60-80% potting soil and 40-60% perlite.
In early June, promote lateral branching by pinching back terminal segments less than 1cm. These short immature segments will not produce flower buds until mature. Buds will form on the previous, more mature stem segments. Fertilizing should stop late summer. Fall/winter blooms can be initiated in September or October. For 6 weeks give your cactus 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness per day, 10 hours daylight, and keep in a cool environment at night ~68F.
Here, holiday cacti get picky. Take note; street lights, car lights, or indoor lights during the “uninterrupted” 14 hr. long night period can negatively affect flower bud formation. Photoperiod has no effect on flowering once bud set is completed, meaning the plant can be set out in the room as usual after the 6 weeks. Maintain the 68F temperature (avoid temperature swings) during bud maturation and bloom which follows about two weeks later is key. Another hint, keep the soil evenly moist to prevent buds and flowers from falling off.
Follow these tips to enjoy 7-8 weeks of splendid holiday color from your Christmas cactus for years to come. For more information contact Anson Cooperative Extension at (704) 694-2915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.