It may sound weird, but there are cactuses in nature that do love water, are afraid of sun and have no pricks. These cactuses are members of the Zygo-cactus family and belong to the South American genus Schlumbergera.
One plant of this family we all know very well. It was imported to Europe in 1816 by Alan Cunningham, and is now commonly known as the Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus.
The plant's got its name thanks to the time of its blooming period. Christmas cactus opens its colorful flowers in the middle of the tropical summer, in November-December, and stops blooming in January.
Any plant has its own specifics. Christmas cactuses are very special when it comes to their blooming period. They start flowering when other house plants thrive off. But they also have more specifics that you need to know about when going to care for a Christmas cactus.
Other specifics of Christmas cactuses we're going to review throughout the article.
Handling of Christmas zygo-cactus is totally different from handling of regular cactuses. When you forget to water a regular cactus, it doesn't harm the plant. The watering of Christmas cactuses needs to be well scheduled. They need to be moistened with settled room-temperature water, and require a high humidity environment. To provide your plant with the proper humidity level you can either spray it with water or put the pot on a wet pebble tray.
Regular cactuses love sun. Zygo-cactuses require bright light but will be harmed by direct sunlight.
There are no special requirements for the room temperature, just assure that it isn't too cold or too warm.
During the Spring, Christmas cactus needs to get extra nutrition once a month. During the Summer you need to fertilize it two times per month. In September you need to stop fertilizing.
For nourishing, use a multinutrient fertilizer for flower plants, but the dosage needs to be a half smaller than adviced on the package.
To prevent diseases, prophylactically treat your plant with a fungicide.
Normally you need to trim your Christmas cactus around June. Here and there, twist off a few segments of the stem, shortening and shaping your plant beautifully. After pruning Christmas cactus looks nicer and blooms better.
After the plant is done with blooming (normally it happens in the end of February), you can transplant it.
Young plants you need to transplant every year. Grown up cactuses need a pot change only one time in 4 to 5 years.
When considering how to choose a right pot for your plant, note that Christmas cactus has the lateral root system. So it's better to use a wide, low pot.
A grainage level needs to take about 1/3 of the pot. As the growing medium, use a soil mix for cactuses from a gardening store or make it yourself. For a good mix you need to combine 1 part of humus, 1 part of sand and 2 parts of leaf mould. Add to the mix crushed coal as a disinfectant, and crushed brick for better drainage properties. The ideal soil for Christmas cactuses must be slightly acid.
Christmas cactuses are very easy to propagate by cuttings.
Twist off some end parts of the stem, 2 to 3 segments long, and let them dry for a few days. Then plant them into a moistened soil and cover with a jar or plastic container to create a green house effect. Then put the pots in a shady place and air regularly. The optimal temperature for rooting is 15 to 20 °C.
It's handy to combine propagating with pruning. Like this you have a lot of rooting material without disturbing your plant later.
Indoor schlumbergera is attackable by insects and fungus diseases. Fusarium and phytophthora diseases an badly harm the root collar. Usually, a source of these problems is infected growing medium.
As a result the plant becomes inconspicuous and ashy, loses segments and wither in moistened soil. You can control these diseases with fungicides (for fusarium), and with bio phosphonate fungicides (for phytophlora) available in your local gardening centers.
If you noticed a rusty alike fur on the plant's stem, then most possibly it was attacked by red spider mites: tiny, bitsy red or yellow insects that appear on a plant when the air is not humid enough. To control the mites use suitable insecticides, such as Polysect e.g., or insecticidal soaps like End All by Safer® e.g.
As we mentioned before, Christmas cactus starts wither when gets sick with phytophthora or other root diseases.
When the stem is weak and unstable, it means that the roots are probably died due to hypothermia. It happens when you moisten the plant with cold water or the environment is too cold. Or when your cactus was overheated or burnt by direct sunlight.
The roots can also be damaged by nourishing the plant with high concentrated fertilizers. In this case you need to transplant Christmas cactus into the new soil immediately. The old growing medium will keep killing your plant.
To make your Christmas cactus feel that it's time to bloom, first of all you need to assure that it has a good dormant period. From end September to end November reduce watering, stop with fertilizing and move the plant into a cool room.
After the dormant period move the plant to a warm light place and start moistening. Like this you will help Christmas cactus to wake up.
Turn the plant from time to time to ascertain that all its sides have enough light. The moment you notice first flower buds, assure that the growing medium doesn't get overdry and nobody moves or turns the plant anymore. Otherwise the plant can get stressed, so the flower buds will fall off.
If you adhere to these rules, your Christmas cactus will surely gladden you with its beautiful blooming.
Sometimes it seems like Christmas cactus starts losing its leaves with no reason. But let's look at the problem closely.
We already know that it can happen due to a red spider mites attack, and we know how to control it.
If there are no red spiders on your plant, think if you fertilize it good enough. Maybe the plant needs extra nourishing. Start fertilizing the plant and after a couple of applications you'll see that it recovers and gets stronger. It this didn't help, try to change the soil.
Also, losing the leaves can be a result of dry air in the room, or a stress due to the temperature difference, drafts or incorrect transplantation.
When the blooming is over, reduce watering, place the pot with your Christmas cactus into a cool room and let it rest until the end of March. Then will start the vegetative period, and you will need to move the pot on its regular place and start watering and fertilizing your Christmas cactus again.