OH CHRISTMAS CACTUS ó Christmas cacti, part of the Schlumbergera genus of cactus, get beautiful flowers. Donít worry if your plant doesnít rebloom right at Christmas time. The plants are called Christmas cacti simply because they are generally sold at that time of year. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.
[photo2]They call them Christmas cacti, but yours may have started blooming before Halloween; or it might bloom at Easter. This indoor plant gets its name from when it is generally sold, not necessarily when it blooms in your house. In areas when it is sold at Thanksgiving, these plants are called Thanksgiving cacti.
I got some great Christmas cactus-growing tips from Jeff Wilson, who has a Christmas cactus that is probably more than 85 years old. He calls his plant ďGrandma,Ē because it came from his maternal grandmother. It was originally owned by her mother, Wilsonís great-grandmother.
To get your Christmas cactus to bloom, seek out a cool space with indirect light, Wilson said, adding that a three-season room would be perfect.
He keeps his Christmas cactus and other plants in a space off his living room in Buffalo. Light comes in through a tall window and balcony door, but itís not direct light; he has north-facing windows. There are no lamps or lights in that area, either.
The area is cool. He lives in an old house, built in 1915 and, while he winterizes the windows, they might not be as energy efficient as modern windows. A radiator is nearby, but the area remains between 62 and 69 degrees Fahrenheit, during the winter.
Wilson said that his cacti seem to bud with the first cold snap, before he turns on the heat. If your living areas are too warm and sunny, find a cool, dark place in which to set your Christmas cactus, to trigger its blooming.
Drainage is important; a Christmas cactus will rot, if it gets too wet. Utilize a light potting soil. If the soil gets compacted, it will not drain well.
Wilson said that keeping a cactus rootbound will also help it bloom. He kept his ďGrandmaĒ plant in the same pot his grandmother used, but needed to repot it into a heavier stoneware pot, so it would not tip over.
The new pot was slightly larger than the original one and Wilson said the plant didnít bloom again, until it had filled the pot.
To help your plant keep its shape, turn the pot. Once the cactus is blooming, however, donít touch it. If you disturb the plant, the flowers may fall off.
Wilson uses a liquid fertilizer once a month. He wonít fertilize when the plants are in bloom, for fear that he will mess them up.
His grandmother used to tap a nail into the soil, because of the iron, Wilson said.
He keeps some decorations on metal spikes in his pots; maybe that helps. If not, he said that it certainly does not seem to hurt.
Try these tips to keep your Christmas cacti healthy. Theyíre delightful plants when they bloom, no matter what holiday they may coincide with.
Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email