Treat it right & Christmas cactus lives to bloom another year

With proper care, Christmas cactus is a gift that gives for many years, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

Trinklein has recommendations for success with Christmas cactus.

Christmas cacti tolerate low light but perform best in bright, indirect light in the home. They benefit from brighter light during winter, but full summer sun can result in pale plants. 

If placed outside for the summer, keep plants in a semi-shady location. Christmas cacti prefer temperatures of 70-80 F for the April to September growing season.

Like most cacti, Christmas cacti tolerate underwatering better than overwatering, Trinklein said. 

Water only when the growing medium is dry to the touch. If you put a saucer under the pot to collect excess water, empty it to keep the water from wicking back into the pot. 

Failure to do so results in a soggy root environment, which is an open invitation to root rot.

Reduce watering from fall through spring. Only fertilize plants during their growth period of early spring through late summer. 

Use a regular fertilizer at one-quarter strength or a houseplant fertilizer, according to label directions.

Keep Christmas cacti slightly pot-bound to induce prolific flowering. Repotting may be necessary every three years. Use a porous, well-drained potting mix.

Commercial mixes made for epiphytes are good choices. Make regular peat-lite mixes into epiphytic mixes by adding perlite or sterile sharp sand to increase porosity.
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Reblooming Christmas cacti can be challenging, Trinklein said. The cacti are short-day plants, but temperature affects their response to day length. 

In fact, flowering will occur regardless of day length under cool night conditions (50-55 F). Prolific flowering happens when plants experience cool nights with at least 13 hours of darkness.

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