What Is a Christmas Cactus?
The Christmas cactus (scientific name Schlumbergera) is a succulent houseplant native to Brazil that produces bell-shaped blooms in shades of red, pink, or white. This tropical plant has a November-to-December bloom time, and it’s also known as holiday cactus. Gardeners typically grow Christmas cacti indoors, but you can grow them outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11. Unlike a desert cactus, the Christmas cactus grows best in a humid environment and does not respond well to direct sunlight.
There are two main cultivars of Christmas cactus: the Truncata group and the Buckleyi group. The Truncata cultivar contains yellow pollen and usually flowers in November, while the Buckleyi group contains pink pollen and usually flowers in December. Although the two groups don't officially have their own distinct common names, the Truncata cultivar is frequently dubbed a Thanksgiving cactus and the Buckleyi group is dubbed a Christmas cactus.
How to Propagate Christmas Cactus in 7 Steps
Propagating new plants from your existing plants is a simple DIY gardening project, and the Christmas cactus is one of the easiest plants to propagate using stem cuttings.
- Choose the right time of year. To increase your chances of propagation success, propagate your Christmas cactus plant at the beginning of the growing season. Begin the propagation process in late spring when the cactus is out of its winter dormant period and ready for new growth.
- Collect your stem cuttings. When you collect your Christmas cactus cuttings from the parent plant, make sure each cutting contains between two and five stem segments (the flattened leaf sections). You have the option of either cutting off the segment with scissors or using your hand to pinch and twist it off at a joint. Collect multiple stem cuttings to increase the chances of successful propagation.
- Wait for your cuttings to heal. Place your stem cuttings in a cool, dry place for two days so that the cut edge can heal. Make sure to avoid direct sunlight. This healing period will reduce the chance of your cuttings developing stem rot.
- Root the cuttings. You can root Christmas cactus cuttings in either water or a mixture of coarse sand and perlite or peat. To root in water, fill a glass jar with a two-inch layer of pebbles or small stones, pour in enough water to cover the pebbles, and add your cuttings to the jar so that only the bottom tip is in the water. If you prefer using coarse sand mixed with perlite or peat, use a pot with drainage holes, and water your rooting medium before planting the cuttings. Once the excess water has drained from the pot, plant your cuttings a quarter of their length into the rooting medium. Carefully secure the cuttings in place by packing the rooting medium around the stem. Lightly water the cuttings.
- Care for your cuttings for six to eight weeks. Place your cuttings in a bright location that receives indirect sunlight. If you rooted the cuttings in a jar of water, monitor the water level and refill the jar to the original level when necessary. If you rooted the cuttings in a sand mixture, water only when the mixture is completely dry, as overwatering may lead to root rot. After six to eight weeks (or when the roots are about half an inch long) it will be time for repotting.
- Transplant cuttings into a potting soil mix. Repot your cactus in a small container with drainage holes that's filled with succulent potting mix. Plant cuttings approximately one inch deep and water until the soil is moist but not oversaturated.
- Continue to provide care. In order to thrive, a Christmas cactus plant needs an environment with bright, indirect light and high humidity. Water your Christmas cactus whenever the top inch of soil is dry, and if your air isn't humid enough, use a spray bottle to mist the leaves. For healthy flower bud growth, maintain a temperature range between 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a houseplant fertilizer two to three times a year, but wait to fertilize at least three weeks after transplanting and refrain from fertilizing after mid-October (you may resume once the plant is no longer blooming).
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