Commonly used as Christmas trees in hot southern climates that are too warm to nurture traditional Christmas pines, the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera) makes a beautiful stand-in for the Scotch and White Pines we North Americans decorate during the Christmas season. Around Christmas time, bell-shaped red flowers sprout from the tips of the plant’s flat, branching green leaves, creating a colorful, natural decoration that needs no embellishment.
Native to South American rain forests, the Christmas Cactus were originally forest cacti that grew at higher elevations. It is particularly prolific in Brazil where it grows in abundance in the wild. In its natural habitat, it is pollinated by hummingbirds.
Christmas cacti need a good source of indirect sunlight and thrive in temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. These plants require relatively high humidity and should be kept away from heat sources such as heating vents, wood stoves and fireplaces that can cause excessive drying. If leaves become too dry, they will shrivel and fall off. Excessive watering should also be avoided as it can also cause your Christmas cactus to fail. Never allow your cactus to sit in standing water. Water your plant approximately once a week when the top of the soil feels dry to the touch.
To ensure beautiful and prolific blooming year after year, prune your Christmas cactus after the final bloom withers and dies. In the summer, you can move your Christmas cactus outdoors where these unusual plants make interesting patio plants or garden accents. Locate your cactus in a shady spot where it will not receive direct sunlight. In October, place the plant in a dark closet or cupboard to allow it to go dormant. At Thanksgiving, bring your plant out of the dark and place it where it will receive indirect sunlight to trigger a new bloom cycle. With proper care, your Christmas cactus should bloom during the Christmas holidays for years to come.