Christmas Cactus – Schlumbergera hybrids

Originally from the tropical rain forests of Brazil, the Christmas Cactus that is available today is likely to be a specially-bred hybrid. Give the Christmas Cactus conditions that imitate its natural habitat and it will thrive. It needs moisture, a light, open peat-based potting compost and partial shade.

Its stems are made of arching links of flat, green, leaf-like segments. The segments are about 5cm (2in) long and have thick mid-ribs. Older plants produce side branches from the main stems.

Flowers and flowering At the ends of the segments are modified side shoots or areoles. From these the flower buds develop. Sometimes two flowers are produced at each areole. Many growers ‘force’ their plants so that they bloom at Christmas, when they are especially popular. Plants grown at home may not flower at Christmas, but they usually flower in winter. The flowering period is long lasting, although individual flowers may only last a few days.

Christmas Cactus grows to about 30cm (12in) high when mature. New growth occurs at the ends of segments, and older plants are wide spreading.Christmas Cactus - Schlumbergera hybrids

Colours and varieties Schlumbergera hybrids are available with white, pink, purple or red flowers. Some are two toned, with a contrasting central colour. Christmas Cactus looks lovely in a hanging basket, which allows the stems to arch gracefully.

Through The Year

February—March

When flowering finishes the plant needs a rest period. Water it sparingly, giving just enough to moisten the compost. If the stems start to shrivel, it means that your plant needs more water. Water well, then wait until the compost is dry before watering again. Place the plant in a cool, bright position.

April—June

During this period the stems grow and the plant needs more water but it should never stand in water, and the compost should never be waterlogged. If necessary, repot in April before new growth starts. Choose a pot in which the roots just fit comfortably, because Christmas Cactus is an epiphytic plant and its roots need little space. Use a light, open potting mixture made up of 3 parts peat-based potting compost and 1 part Perlite or coarse sand for drainage. Keep at a moderate temperature.

July—August

At this stage give the plant a further rest period. Reduce watering and, if possible, place the plant in a warm, sheltered, lightly-shaded position outdoors, in the garden or on a balcony or terrace.

September-February Bring the plant indoors before the first frost and keep it cool and dry until there are signs of flower buds. Gradually increase watering and raise the temperature. Avoid moving the plant.

Pests And Diseases

Crown rot occurs if the plant is overwatered or is in a compost that is not free draining.

Treatment: The plant will not survive crown rot, so discard it but first take cuttings. Use healthy stem sections of 2 or 3 segments. Let them dry out for a few days, then insert in a peat-based compost.

Flower buds drop from the stems if the plant is too dry or is moved around too much.

Treatment: Keep the plant in one spot once the buds appear. Water regularly.

Stems shrivel if the compost is too dry. Treatment: Water well, then allow to dry out before watering again.

PLANT CARE

This plant is sensitive, so will need a little more attention. Follow these instructions carefully to ensure success.

  • Potting: Repot in spring, if necessary, a few weeks after flowering finishes. Use a light, open potting mixture made up of 3 parts peat-based potting mixture to 1 part Perlite or coarse sand.
  • In summer, water moderately to sparingly, depending on whether the plant is actively growing or resting indoors. In winter when flowering is over, water sparingly.
  • Feeding: Use a diluted liquid fertilizer from April—June for young plants. Feed mature plants only during the period of bud formation in autumn.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: During winter this plant needs good light. In summer place it in a sheltered position in partial shade.
  • Temperature: During the year average room temperature is adequate. Your plant will benefit from a period outdoors in a warm summer. During the flowering period keep the temperature around 13°C (55°F).

Buying Tips

  • This plant is sold from November onwards in most florists, nurseries, and garden centres. Buy plants early on, so they can get used to conditions in your home. Try to buy plants that have just been delivered to the store.
  • Choose healthy looking plants with well-developed stem segments and plenty of buds.
  • This plant can live for many years, provided it receives proper care.

Cascading blooms in glowing colours will be your reward in winter if you give a little extra care to your Christmas Cactus plant throughout the year.

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