Buds N Bugs: Christmas cactus

Published: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 02:04 PM.

Christmas cacti are adapted for pollination by hummingbirds including tubular flowers with abundant nectar, and colors towards the red end of the spectrum. Most species require cross-pollination from a separate plant to set seed. The fruits of Schlumbergera do not open spontaneously when ripe, and appear to be adapted for distribution by birds, which eat the seeds and pulp contained in the fruit.

The holiday cacti grow best in light shade. Full sunlight is beneficial during fall and winter, but bright sun during the summer months can make plants look pale and yellow. Ideal spring and summer growth occurs at temperatures between 70 to 80 °F.

During the fall, these cacti depend upon shorter day lengths of eight to 10 hours and cooler temperatures to set their flower buds. Do not let temperatures rise above 90 °F once the flower buds are set in the fall. Continuous warm temperatures can cause flower buds to drop.

Fourteen hours or more of continuous darkness each day is required before flower bud set will occur. Long nights should be started about the middle of September and continued for at least six continuous weeks. If your plants live on a windowsill, consider moving them to the closet each night.

Pinch back the stems in early June to promote branching and more terminals for more flowers.

Water only when the soil is dry to the touch. The holiday cacti are tolerant of dry, slightly under-watered conditions during the spring and summer. It’s ok if the stems shrink a little. Do not let the soil become waterlogged, especially during the dark days of winter. Never let water stand in the saucer beneath the pot.

Fertilize plants monthly when the days are growing longer but when they begin to shorten stop. I use orchid fertilizer on mine. Some experts recommend a dose of Epsom salts in the summer especially if the green begins to fade.

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