Christmas cactus ~ A Tradition

Christmas cactus a tradition
Christmas and cactus may seem to be a contradiction of terms.
But Christmas cacti are among the easiest, showiest, holiday houseplants you can grow. And yes, despite their succulent appearance and lack of spines, they are a cactus, and they do bear their sparkly, iridescent flowers during Christmas.
What’s more, they’ll live for years. Certain specimens are said to be 75 to 100 years old.
So start a new family tradition. Instead of exchanging a much-maligned heirloom fruitcake, propagate a Christmas cactus that will last from one generation to the next, spreading throughout your family tree.
Getting Started

Much of the year, Christmas cacti are rather quiet, with their jointed, olive-green stems clumped neatly in a pot. But come November, buds begin to swell at the tips of those stems, then billow out into flowers linked in a series of colorful, glistening tubes. The shimmery shades of pink, purple, coral, red and white are the result of more than 150 years of breeding between several species of the genus Schlumbergera.
Christmas cacti are native to Brazil, where they grow north of Rio de Janeiro in the Organ Mountains. They’re epiphytes, meaning they pull moisture and nutrients out of the air. In nature, they grow in cracks between boulders or in decomposing leaf litter caught between branches of trees.
It’s surprisingly easy to replicate those conditions at home.
For starters, mimic the forest canopy by providing bright light, but little direct sun, especially during summer. A lattice-covered patio or a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade should be just right if you choose to move your potted cactus outdoors for the summer months.
You will want to grow your Christmas cactus in a container filled with a fast-draining blend of soil, peat moss, coarse builders sand, vermiculite, pumice or even Styrofoam beads. Or, use a packaged cactus and succulent mix for growing your Christmas cactus is not likely to survive if you plant it in the ground the is New England after all.

Instead, the plants are often at their best in hanging baskets, where they get plenty of air flow and their stems and flowers can cascade over the sides. A bonus of that portability is that you can easily bring them indoors to enjoy during the holidays.
Some store-bought Christmas cacti are planted in a soil mix composed primarily of peat moss. While peat moss offers quick drainage, it’s difficult to rewet if it dries out. If you see the soil mix shrink away from the inside of the container, that might be the problem. If so, submerge the pot in a tall bowl or saucepan of cool to lukewarm water for half an hour to saturate the peat moss. Then, drain the pot thoroughly in your sink.

You can move your Christmas cactus outside once any danger of frost has passed (this means in summer). The plant may bloom again between March and May if you get lucky. But wait until active, green growth begins in the spring before fertilizing or pinching any errant stems to maintain the overall shape.

The growing season is typically from late May through early September, or when daytime temperatures range between 70 and 80 degrees. You can fertilize with a mild, water-soluble solution once a month during that time.

Finish any pinching back by mid-June. Any snipping after that will be at the expense of flowering at the end of the year.
There’s no need to repot your plants unless they begin to push up and out against the sides of their containers. These plants love to be 'pot bound' and will do their best for you in this condition. If it is time to repot, wait until fall, when the growth slows down. Take care to avoid knocking off any emerging flower buds.

Buds can fall off if the plants are subjected to major shifts in temperature, light or irrigation. If few buds even form, the cause may be too little water, too much cold or too much heat. If your plants look pale or yellow, they may be getting too much sun.

So start a new Christmas tradition this year by stopping into Carey's Flowers and buying a Christmas cactus.

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