At this time of the year, it is easy to find Christmas Cactus in your local garden center. However, it is winter, they are cactus and they are blooming…. when it is cold outside. What is up with that???
Well first you have to know a bit of history about the Princess of the season. Not just the Christmas season, I found that there are not only Christmas Cactus, but Thanksgiving Cactus, Crab Cactus and Holiday Cactus….hmmm…the Holiday Cactus is better known as Easter Cactus, due to the bloom time.
There are two major groupings of Schlumbergera – Truncata and Buckleyi. The Truncata group is an early blooming species that encompasses the Easter or Holiday Cactus. The flowers are held a bit more upright. The upper and lower leaves of the bloom are also shaped differently. The Buckleyi group blooms later, the flowers hang down and are more symmetrical. What we know as Christmas Cactus is generally in this group. Originally from the tropical climate in Brazil by plantsman Charles Lemaire the first recorded species was in England in 1852 by Mr. W. Buckley. In England they were used as ornamental plants in their heated greenhouses. The late season flowering was a hit among those that enjoyed new and different plants. At that time there was another species called russelliana. As breeding of the originally three species in the early 1950’s created different strains, the older more original strains became extinct.
The care and feeding of what we know as Christmas Cactus is rather simple:
- a small, free draining container, with free draining soil with a touch of grit;
- cool, but humid indirect sunlight area. Cooler nights will induce bloom;
- water once a week and mist the foliage. Too much water will cause rotting and bud drop. Too little water will lead to its demise. Wet feet are a definite NO!;
- stop watering around October if you want it to bloom at Christmas. A saucer with pebbles and water below the pot will create the humidity needed for optimal growing conditions;
- Christmas Cactus flowers best when it is in a half pot or root bound pot. When transplanting in the Spring make sure that your new pot is not too big.
For a hardy plant that can be passed down for generations with the proper amount of subtle neglect try Christmas Cactus……..YOU CAN GROW THAT!!