Holiday Cactus, An Heirloom Treasure

If ever an indoor plant is likely to become an heirloom, it may be a “Christmas Cactus”. Many of them have been known to live for generations, with little attention except to enjoy the colorful blooms in winter.

These cactus are properly known as zygocactus or schlumbergera. Some varieties, with a slightly different flower shape, bloom later in the spring, and are commonly called “Easter Cactus”.

Both are characterized by segmented stems that bear colorful tubular blooms consisting of several layers of petals at the end of the stems. Colors range from white to deepest red, with various pink and salmon shades between.

In nature, they live on trees, so a porous soil medium is required, with good drainage and minimal watering. The root systems are tough but not overly large, so the plant can stay in the same pot until it seems much too small. If you are inclined to repot an old cactus, choose a pot not more than 2 or 3 inches larger and water sparingly after repotting.

Cactus roots of all kinds are very fussy about standing in water, and fresh soil may remain waterlogged if overwatered before roots extend into it. Never leave the pot in a saucer of water or a foil wrap.

Bright light during the growing season, and occasional application of a mild liquid fertilizer, will stimulate good growth. A cool dry period in late fall encourages bud set.

Once the buds begin to show, move the plant into the location you prefer to enjoy the blooms. When buds are nearing bloom stage, they are likely to drop if the plant is moved into a very different light or temperature situation, so move it early.

It is easy to start a fresh plant with one or more of the segments. Let it dry a day or two and put the bottom end slightly into fresh moist potting soil or coarse sand. Roots should show within a few weeks, and you can place the pot into bright light once it roots firmly in its medium.

Whether your cactus came from Grandma, a friend, or just this season from a nursery, you are sure to enjoy the cheerful blooms for years to come.

Happy Gardening!

Karen Brown

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