I am just mad for cacti. Unfortunately, our home doesn’t have much sun in winter, a condition most species need. But my husband is smart and gifted me a Christmas cactus. It has been a reliable friend for around 7 years now, needing little attention from me to produce copious blooms in winter. The flowers are a cheery reminder that spring is around the corner.
Tropical Cactus vs. Desert Varieties
Traditionally, my cacti have been desert dwelling varieties. That all changed one year when my mate purchased a fully blooming Christmas cactus plant. My other plants are relatively uncomplaining and actually thrive on some neglect. However, the holiday cactus plants are another breed entirely. While most of my cacti prefer arid conditions, the holiday cacti are tropical species. They are epiphytic plants that live in the branches of tropical rainforests. Their water needs are much more urgent than the desert variety, but they are still very tolerant of dry conditions. The plants also need more ambient humidity and richer soil, although still well draining.
Another difference about tropical cactus vs. desert varieties is their light needs. Desert cacti like quite a bit of sun, although I have noticed they can burn in a southern to western window. That is why mine are set back a bit so they don’t have to bear the full brunt of the sun. The tropical holiday cacti seem to prefer very diffuse light. Mine lives in the guest bedroom where it gets morning sun and indirect later light. Seems to be working, as the cactus is in great shape and sends out new leaves regularly.
This tropical cactus has very flat leaves with round serrated edges. The other holiday cacti vary a bit in leaf form. Easter cactus leaves are similar but the flowers are more rayed, while Thanksgiving cacti have more pointed serration. Desert cacti often have flattened pads and sport spines. The holiday cacti are almost spineless.
Christmas Cactus Plant Shines Like a Star
My Christmas cactus will usually start budding in late November. I put the pot in a holiday container decorated with a bow and bring it out to star with my Norfolk pine as part of the holiday decor. It doesn’t get the same intensive treatment the Norfolk gets, with baubles and a tree topper, but it still brightens the room with its hot pink blooms.
Speaking of blooms, getting Christmas cactus to bloom requires a couple of easy steps.
- First, the plant needs a period of cool temperatures, around 50-55 Fahrenheit (10-13 C.). The plant also sends out buds when the nights are longer, around 14 hours. To achieve this, I put the plant upstairs in the attic in October. There is only one window and the attic is unheated. It doesn’t get too chilly yet, but the plant will receive its cool treatment. Around early November, it can rejoin the rest of the plants downstairs.
- Another trick to getting Christmas cactus to bloom is pruning. Taking off terminal sections in early summer forces it to create more. These are where the buds will be concentrated. I also feed it once in spring.
This plant has proven to be a reliable bloomer. It is always ready to grace the living room once its blooms begin showing. After blooming, I retire it back to the guest bedroom where it receives fairly regular watering, although not as much as it gets in the spring and summer. It will continue getting scheduled care and pruning and the whole process will start anew. By the following November to December, out it comes again to perform its beautiful flower display for the holidays.