At a magical time of year this plant has a knack of creating a magical moment. As if on cue, right around Christmas, this plant will be covered by brightly colored flowers. This is unusual, cause not many plants will bloom for us in winter especially a plant we are not used to see blooming - a cactus, the Christmas Cactus - Schlumbergia bridgessii
How does this happen? Well this tropical cactus is thermo-photoperiodic. Let's break that down... It responds to temperature - thermo and to the length of day or light - photoperiodic (in this case it is actually the absence of light). It will set its flower buds when the temperatures drops into the 50's and 60's, not lower or higher, and when it experiences 12 or more hours of darkness. So when both of those conditions happen the plants set buds and the timing just happens to occur right around Christmas every year. Well at least in the places that they are grown the most - California and Florida.
OK, I just took the magic out of the Christmas Cactus, but with knowing this, growers have been able to produce Easter Cactus and Holiday Cactus. Some of these plants actually respond to different photoperiods and temperatures, while some are just tricked into blooming when we want them to bloom.
The trick or magic that we do at home usually starts 6 to 8 weeks before we want them to bloom. You need to cut them back and put them in an area that will get 12-14 hours of darkness at 50-55 degrees. Once you see the buds form at the end of the branches you can slowly bring them back into the light and into warmer temperatures. During this process this tropical cactus is very sensitive to water, so be sparingly with the water.
Tropical Cactus Care
This is a tropical cactus so the care this plant needs does not match what we are used to when we say cactus... They like a bright location, but avoid direct afternoon sun. They need about 50-60% humidity. Which here outdoors they are fine, but be careful when choosing a spot indoors, as heaters can dry out the air inside. Filling a saucer with gravel and water to place under the plant will increase the humidity while not allowing the plant to sit in water and rot. Watering needs change seasonally with this plant. In general they don't like to dry out like a traditional cactus, but will suffer from rot easily if kept wet. So the best practice is to water thoroughly when you do water, but not to water again till the top inch of soil is dry. Tend to let the plant stay drier for blooms during the fall and winter and water slightly more for growth during the spring and summer. Also remember to keep them away from freezing temperatures!
Enjoy the Magic
With an unusual summer and fall in Florida this year, some of the Christmas Cactus have come in blooming more than ever! So stop by and see the magic for yourself! After a few seasons with your Christmas cactus, you can start performing your own magic with these extraordinary plants!