Christmas cacti, also known as Zygo or Schlumbergera, are one of the holiday season’s most iconic plants. They grow wild in some parts of the world, like Central and South America, but in the U.S. they’re usually grown indoors as houseplants, making elegant Christmas décor.
They’re not very similar to the true cacti that grow in the desert, as these varieties are tropical. They typically grow in the forks of tree limbs where there are plenty of decaying leaves to provide nutrients. One of the most endearing qualities about a Christmas cactus is that it can live for generations, sometimes being passed down in families for hundreds of years.
To get your Christmas cactus to bloom in time for the holidays, you’ll need to induce a period of darkness. They need six weeks or more of darkness for 12 hours each day. The Salinas Californian suggests that eight days of 16-hour darkness will also do the trick, as long as the temperature is below 61 degrees. A colder room with window coverings or a cool garage could be the perfect place to store your Christmas cactus. Once you see buds developing, you can move the cactus into a brighter room.
Christmas cacti require the same amount of water as typical tropical plants, but they should be watered less when you’re trying to get them to bloom. HumeSeeds.com recommends watering them thoroughly, then allowing the top inch of soil to dry completely before you water again (less when you’re waiting for blooms). You should also put a container of water somewhere near your Christmas cactus, as it requires humidity to grow healthy. As the water evaporates, your plant will get the amount of hydration it needs.
If you want to start more plants or share your beloved Christmas cactus with a friend, you can twist pieces off and grow them separately. It’s important to twist, not cut, the pieces. Sever sections that have two or three leaf pads and let them dry for a day. When they’re ready, push the bottoms into a container of soil mixed with a bit of sand. It should begin to root in a few weeks. You may want to put several pieces in one pot, as this plant likes to be a bit crowded.
Christmas decorations as gifts are always a great idea for the holidays, and you can be sure that whoever you give a Christmas cactus to will be able to enjoy the plant for years to come.