“Helping You Find Plants That Work”
by Ana Morlier , The Crazy Plant Lady
Looking for another aspect of your life in which to interject the holiday spirit? Try the Christmas cactus! It’s actually a pretty low-maintenance plant. Other cacti in the Cactaceae family also have holiday names: the Easter cacti and the Thanksgiving (or crab) cacti. Because of our instantaneous consumer market, people are more likely to end up buying a Thanksgiving cacti or a hybrid of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti, which blooms much faster.
Holiday Cacti — How Can You Tell the Difference?
These cacti bloom according to the season. If it blooms in fall and perks up when you watch the Macy’s Day Parade, it is a Thanksgiving cactus. A Christmas cactus has rounded or scalloped “teeth” or edges with lots of ornaments on them (not true, but you could deck out your cactus with holiday garland and the like, if you want!). Thanksgiving cactus’ leaves are jagged. The Easter cactus has very rounded edges, which are centralized on the leaf.
Contain Your Excitement
While you may think you need to put such an exotic plant in a greenhouse, this cactus thrives indoors. They are great container plants; however, to maintain the nutrients of the soil, replanting every two years is necessary.
The perfect planter pot can honestly be anything (well, not Fido, for example), as long as the plant can receive sunlight and the soil can be well-drained. You can get a traditional pot, or maybe an unused bin or something funky—like a cookie tin—to make a statement. I almost bought a high heel as a planter, but a child’s galosh could hold more soil. When looking for a container, make sure there is enough volume for the cactus to expand as it grows (usually about 3-5 inches deep, with a width of 1-2 feet). If you want to save money on containers, thrift stores such as Goodwill come in handy.
The Dirt on the Christmas Cactus
Rocks and pebbles at the bottom of the container help drain the soil so there isn’t an excess of water. This can cause fungal problems for the root of the plant, leading to a slew of horrifying diseases. Believe me, when examining a bunch of gardening books, there are always a disease-troubleshooting section with everything from aphid attacks to powdery mildew. After that, I was way too overprotective of my plants, leading to the death of a zucchini plant. If you’re cheap like me, you can find small pebbles at the dollar store. Mulch also helps to drain soil, and you can find it for free at any playground (just kidding. Please do not use mulch from public property. While it causes so many splinters and cuts, it still provides some safety for children.). You can find mulch (and most likely stones) at local hardware, gardening, and feed stores.
Soil exclusively for succulents can also be found at home improvement stores. This specialty soil is sensitive to the shallow root structures of the plant. If you don’t want to fork over your paycheck for a few measly pounds of dirt, you can make your own (for dirt cheap! Pardon the pun) by mixing pebbles or pea gravel with potting soil.
Here Comes the Sun
Grow your cactus friend in indirect sunlight, in cooler temperatures (50-55 degrees is enough to coax out beautiful blooms). Make sure that your plant doesn’t get too little sunlight. It will still grow, but the leaves will become weak and the blooms not as apparent. I know that I mentioned earlier that it would be pretty easy to grow, but there are a lot of conditions to be met to ensure your little buddy keeps thriving. Hang the plant up to encourage more growth. It can make the room look more tropical, which is great in such a dreary winter season.
I Say Let It Grow!!
Now, you can rest on your laurels and wait for it to grow! In terms of watering, keep the soil moist. You can check this by sticking your finger into the dirt. Your plant will start to shrivel up and, well, you guessed it, die, when it is too dry. I recommend watering it once every two days, more or less, depending on the condition the soil is when you touch it. Remember, over-watering causes fungal problems, so don’t soak the soil to the bottom. As long as the upper layer of soil (about ¼ inch) is moist (NOT soaked), your plant should stay healthy. Cut off the dead leaves to encourage new growth.
It can take up to eight months for flowers to bloom, but colors come in purple, red, orange, white, pink, and yellow—red or pink is the most common.
The best part of this plant is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving (perfect for the Christmas season, eh?). A mere clipping will expand significantly.
As much work as it sounds like to keep this plant alive, it is well worth it in the end. While you can’t garden outside in such cold and dreary conditions, you can take the party inside and liven up your life!
Merry Christmas (Cactus)!
*Credit to Better Homes and Gardens, Encyclopedia Britannica, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Spruce, and Martha Stewart.