Christmas Cactus

Florists and other retail outlets may now be offering poinsettia and Christmas cactus plants at greatly reduced prices.  Neighbors and friends may be discarding the plants, if wilted or blooms have naturally dropped from the Christmas cactus. If you are tempted by the availability of these plants, both poinsettias and Christmas cactus can be maintained and brought to bloom next season, with the proper care.

Poinsettias require the most focused attention, with specific requirements for watering, light, temperature and fertilization.  The plant’s native home is Mexico, which contributes to its need for consistent daytime temperatures of 65 – 70 degrees to maintain the blooms.  Poinsettias will benefit from bright light, but take care when putting plants on windowsills. Contact with cold windowpanes can damage the leaves.  Exposure to cold or hot drafts may also cause leaves to drop prematurely.  Keep soil evenly moist through the first part of April.

During April and months thereafter, steps for care include cutting the plant back, replanting, moving the poinsettia outdoors and fertilizing the plant on a routine schedule.  For a period of time between October and Thanksgiving, keeping the plant in darkness for a period of time each day will promote re-flowering.

If you feel ambitious and are not afraid of a challenge, review the specific details for re-flowering found in the Ohio State or Illinois University Extension Fact Sheets:

A Christmas cactus, like its holiday partner, the poinsettia, likes well-lit locations, free of drafts.  This cactus is not drought tolerant and must be watered more frequently than desert type cactus. Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil feels dry to the touch.  Christmas cactus can be kept outdoors in the summer months in a shady or semi-shady location.  Move the plant to a dark location along with the poinsettias in the late fall.  However, Christmas cactus will also bloom if they are placed in a location with night-time temperatures of 50-55 degrees.  Personal experience finds that blooms return in time for the holidays when night-time temperatures are maintained at 60 degrees. 

Buds may drop if the soil gets too dry and the plant itself may wilt.  When blooms return, remember that cool temperatures will assist in maintaining them for the entire holiday season.

For additional information, you may find the Purdue University Extension Frequently Asked Questions website a helpful resource:

Submitted by Ann Marie Ott, Master Gardener