Holiday cacti are so named because they bloom around Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter! Christmas cactus is a true cactus, but without the spines. It thrives in bright indirect light.
This plant can live for many years and produces a significant number of blooms in pink, violet, orange, red and white. Best flowering occurs when evening temperatures are 50 to 60 degrees. It’s a short-day plant, like poinsettia, meaning it forms flower buds during fall days after the plant receives 12 to 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness daily. If exposed to artificial light, such as street lights or outdoor driveway lights, the plant will not produce flower buds.
You can force this plant to bloom by moving it into a dark area from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day starting around Oct. 1. By Nov. 1, buds should be developed and will open between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This plant does need frost protection, so you may want to move it into your garage or home if frost conditions are forecast.
Well-drained soil is required or the roots will rot. The soil should be moist but not wet. Fertilize every month or two using a water soluble or slow-release fertilizer from April to September.
Christmas cactus prefers being root-bound, so don’t plant it in a significantly larger pot. Be sure there is a hole in the bottom for drainage. Re-pot approximately every three years.
Although pruning encourages flowering and branching, don’t prune after midsummer.
This is an easy plant to propagate from cuttings.
Be sure to keep it away from drafts and heat sources, such as heating vents, fireplaces and televisions. For information on this holiday beauty, please see the following University of Florida publications from which this article was adapted: “Christmas Cactus” at http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/giam/potpourri/holiday/xmas_cactus.html, “Christmas Cactus ― The Other Holiday Plant” at http://pasco.ifas.ufl.edu/Christmas_Cactus.shtml and “Holiday cactus creates a colorful display” at http://santarosa.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn_gar den/friday/holidaycactuscreatescolor fuldisplay.pdf. Stop by the Discovery Garden to see our lovely Christmas cactus in full bloom.
The Bette S. Walker Discovery Garden is one of several demonstration gardens at the UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Service, 5339 County Road 579, Seffner.