By Lynn Barber
Florida-Friendly Landscaping Agent, UF/IFAS Extension
This is one of my favorite holiday plants: No sap, no sharp spines and simple to propagate. Holiday cacti are so named because they bloom around Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. Christmas cactus is a true cactus, but without the spines. It thrives in bright indirect light. This plant can live for many years and produces a significant amount of blooms in pink, violet, orange, red and white. Best flowering occurs when evening temperatures are 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s a short day plant, like the Poinsettia, meaning it forms flower buds during cooler and shorter fall days after the plant receives 12-14 hours of uninterrupted darkness daily. If exposed to artificial light, like street lights or outdoor driveway lights, the plant will not produce flower buds. You can force this plant to bloom by moving it into a dark area from 5 p.m.-8 a.m. every day starting around October 1. By November 1, buds should be developed and will open between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This plant does need frost protection, so you may want to move it into your garage or home if frost conditions are forecast. Well drained soil is required or the roots will rot. The soil should be moist but not wet. Fertilize every month or two using a water soluble or slow-release fertilizer from April to September. Christmas cactus prefers being root-bound, so don’t plant it in a significantly larger pot. Be sure there is a hole in the bottom for drainage. Repot approximately every three years. While pruning encourages flowering and branching, don’t prune after mid-summer. This is an easy plant to propagate from cuttings. Be sure to keep it away from drafts and heat sources, like heating vents, fireplaces and televisions.
For more information on this holiday beauty, see the following University of Florida publications from which this article was adapted: Christmas Cactus, by Dan Culbert, at http://gardeningsolutions.ifas. ufl.edu/giam/potpourri/holiday/xmas_cactus.html, Christmas Cactus – The Other Holiday Plant, by Judith Le Vault, at http://pasco.ifas.ufl.edu/Christmas_Cactus.shtml and Holiday cactus creates a colorful display and Holiday cactus creates a colorful display, by Theresa Friday, at http://santarosa.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn_garden/friday/holidaycactuscreatescolorfuldisplay.pdf. For more information, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County at 744-5519, visit us at 5339 C.R. 579 in Seffner or http://hillsborough./ifas.ufl.edu.