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In the Dark About Christmas Cactus?

In the Dark About Christmas Cactus?

Christmas? It’s not even Halloween yet!

All the same, if you want your Christmas cactus (Sclumbergera x buckleyi ) to grace your home with lovely blooms for the holidays, then now’s the time to start keeping it away from artificial light at nighttime to encourage flowering. These plants appreciate normal household temperatures during the day, but to promote bud development, they’ll need cool temperatures (to 55-degree F) at night.

There are over 200 cultivars of this popular plant, blooming in shades of red, rose, pink, and purple, as well as satiny white. The arching, branched stems are made up of flat, jointed segments with smoothly scalloped edges.

Christmas cactus prefers reasonably bright light from an eastern exposure, with a bit of direct sun in winter. It grows well in a mix of equal parts potting soil and fine-grade fir bark; keep the medium evenly moist all year. Feed monthly with 20-10-10 fertilizer, except when you’re encouraging bud development. You can propagate the plant from cuttings, usually in spring, and give the new plants to your friends for the holidays. (Well OK, so they’ll be a bit small the first year. But they’re cute.)

A similar plant, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is popular for the November holiday, since it usually blooms a little earlier. As with the Christmas cactus, you’ll need to start placing it away from light at night so that it’ll reward you with flowers come turkey time. It takes the same basic care as its cousin. For dinner conversation during the holidays, you can mention to your guests that this plant is epiphytic, growing on trees in the jungles of Brazil. Just imagine them in bloom, in red, rose, or pink, among the tall trees and exotic birds. Quite a sight, huh?

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