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Getting your Christmas cactus to bloom

We'll share the secret to getting truly magnificent blooms this season.



When it comes to adding a bit of festive pink and lilac color to seasonal gatherings, the "Christmas" cactus (one of several varieties of schlumbergera) is a popular choice. It's relatively easy to maintain, and it's a marvelous attention-getter in full bloom. But getting those blooms to appear can sometimes take a bit of TLC in the weeks leading up to your social gatherings. In this post, we'll break down what you can do to help ensure that yours are full of color this year.


Provide ideal growing conditions


Christmas cacti are very different from your typical succulents, which thrive in hot, dry conditions. People frequently kill those plants by overwatering them, but Christmas cacti are native to tropical climates like Brazil, where they would typically be found growing on the sides of trees, absorbing moisture from the humid air around them. So they need more moisture than your standard succulent.


When potting your cactus, use a succulent-appropriate potting soil and make sure your container has excellent drainage. Like most plants, the cactus will do very poorly if allowed to sit in excess water. Nevertheless, it's important to remember that this particular succulent prefers a more humid environment. For this reason, bright bathrooms and kitchens often make good "living" spots for them. (Placing the pot on a tray or saucer with pebbles and water is also an easy way to create desirable humidity near the plant as the water evaporates while keeping the pot from "standing" in the water.)


Ideally, you want your cactus to enjoy plenty of bright, indirect sunlight and a daytime temperature of about 70 degrees (with overnight temperatures in the range of 60-65 degrees). Using a mild fertilizer like Medina Hasta Gro every other week when watering is also beneficial.


Give it the darkness treatment


Now, here's the secret to getting truly magnificent blooms: You want to simulate the proper seasonal conditions. Christmas cacti typically bloom from early to late winter, when the nights are getting longer and cooler. But since these conditions don't always occur naturally here in central Texas--and certainly not inside our comfortably heated, well-lit homes--you may need to artificially create the proper conditions to trigger the bloom cycle. In other words, you need to "trick" your cactus into recognizing that it's time to bloom!


Here's how it works. Approximately six to eight weeks before you want the cactus to be in full color, begin a regiment of "darkness treatment":


  • Ensure that the cactus sits in total darkness approximately 14 hours every 24-hour period. No night lights, no lamps, no porch lights. Just remember not to leave the plant in the dark all day long; it still needs light for part of the day to survive!

  • At the same time, ensure that the cactus is consistently exposed to slightly cooler temperatures ranging from 55-65 degrees during this time.

Together, these two conditions (total darkness and cooler temperatures) simulate the approaching winter and trigger the natural blooming process. Consider using a cool, dark closet or outdoor shed shielded from nocturnal light sources to help emulate these conditions. You'll want to do this nightly until buds begin to form. Then, you can leave your plant back in front of its favorite window and resume normal care.


A combination of proper care and watering, plus six to eight weeks of uninterrupted darkness treatment should elicit quite a show from your plant this holiday season!

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