A Beautiful Plant for the Holidays
by Holly Boettcher
As I wander through stores this time of year, I am awestruck by the beauty of Christmas Cactus blooming profusely in shades of red, yellow, salmon, pink, fuchsia, and white.
Besides the beauty of the plant, did you know there are benefits of having indoor plants that date back over 25,000 years ago to Cyrus the Great of Persia who enjoyed relaxation gardens? It is no surprise to learn that research has shown having house plants around especially in the winter reduces stress and anxiety. Houseplants also help to remove toxins from the air. Of all the indoor plants available, there is none more stunning than the Christmas Cactus.
The Christmas Cactus is scientifically known as Schlumbergera and originated in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil. It is a sub-species of the cactus and thrives in relatively cool temperatures with high humidity.
In the summer, they will do well on your porch. However, they don’t like full sun since it will burn the leaves. In the fall, they need to be moved indoors and will do best in a north or east window. Keep them away from heat sources such as fireplaces and heating. Keep them away from frequent drafts and beware that fluctuations in temperature can cause the buds to fall off. And by the way, unlike the Poinsettia, it is non-toxic to dogs and cats.
To Encourage Buds
To get them to bloom, the Christmas Cactus needs high light and temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees for at least six weeks. And they like their sleep! To encourage blooming try to give them at least fourteen hours of darkness each day early in October (which can be discontinued once buds’ form). To keep them blooming, put them in medium to high light, but not direct sunlight. Fertilize every two weeks with a succulent fertilizer to keep it healthy.
Monitor your plants weekly for signs of insects such as spider mites. One of the easiest ways to treat the infested plant is to fill your kitchen sink with warm water and mild dish soap. Put some aluminum foil over the soil and around the base of the plant to keep the soil from spilling out. Now submerge the plant in the soapy water, swish, then rinse. If your plant has an acute case of pests, it may be necessary to use an insecticidal soap or an insecticide specific for indoor plants. Read and follow directions carefully.
Do Not Overwater
Overwatering is the most common cause of premature death of the plant. Water only when dry to the touch. Remember, they thrive on high humidity and love a regular misting with water.
A Gift That Keeps on Giving
With proper care, a Christmas Cactus can live 20 – 30 years. What a great gift to give a friend or loved one over the holidays, or anytime for that matter! Every time they see this lovely plant, they will think of you.