In the course of growing my Christmas Cactus, I get a lot of questions. Mostly, people whose cacti aren’t budding or blooming want to know why mine are budding and blooming.
There are a couple of things you need to know about Christmas Cacti.
First, they don’t do well in artificially lit rooms. They need to be near a window in a room that is not frequently used. In this case, it’s our dining room. We don’t do a lot of dinners anymore and it feels a little weird, just Garry and I at the big table. So we eat while we watch TV. It doesn’t limit the amount of cooking I do, but it’s a little more cozy, a little less formal.
This means that the dining room is mostly used for … tada … growing plants. I’ve got a set of French doors where most of the plants grow, and the aloe is doing very well on top of the organ which no one plays — probably because it’s old, wheezy, and many of the keys don’t work.
I also have a big Philodendron in the kitchen. It’s the only plant that gets watered regularly. It virtually never flowers, though it is rather interesting when it does.
That’s the second part of forcing your Christmas Cacti to bloom.
Flowers are what plants create when they think they are going to die. It’s how they create new seeds for the next season. A plant that is well cared for and frequently watered doesn’t produce flowers. This is not only true of a Christmas cactus. It’s true of all flowering plants. Think about it. When a plant flowers, unless it’s a shrub, it dies back. Our daylilies bloom like mad and then, they die. They come back the following year, but blooming is the finale of their season.
But the cactus blooms and then continues to grow and will bloom again, rather more like a shrub than a flower.
So to make your Christmas Cactus bloom, you need to keep it in a bright window. Not sunny, but bright. Water it ONLY when it is dry as a bone. Really dry. No dampness in the soil. If you water it when it’s got buds on it, they may very well fall off, so you have to control your normal human gardener’s instinct to nurture them.
Christmas Cactus are cactus. They need dry, sandy earth and very little water. This is true for all cactus and other succulent plants, as well as many plants that have succulent roots, like the dracaena, for example.
As for when they will bloom? Mine usually bloom together, but this year, one is full of buds and the other has none at all. It will bloom, but probably a few weeks after the larger one blooms. Why?
I don’t know. Despite all the discussion, they can bloom pretty much any time of the year and sometimes, several times a year. One of the really important things to know is that they don’t like being moved from a window where they bloomed to a different window. If they are happy where they are, try to leave them there.
Mostly, leave them alone. Very few houseplants die of underwatering, but many plants die of over-watering, too much re-potting, too much fertilizer, too much handling.
The truth about growing plants is so much simpler than people think. Find a window they like — bright but not full sun. Water them when they get dry. Don’t water them when they are not dry. Mud does not provide oxygen to roots. Mud will make the roots of your plants rot.
Then, enjoy them. It isn’t hard to grow plants — even the recalcitrant cactus — but it can be really hard to leave them alone!
And if we ever get a sunny day, I may get some better pictures. We haven’t had a bright day in more than a week.