False Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is a popular houseplant, especially one to gift to a friend or family member this time of the year. I have three, and although I’m a self-described bad houseplant keeper, they are thriving despite, or perhaps because of, my neglect. Truth be told, a bit of attention is all these plants need to thrive. If you want to get them to bloom at Christmas, there is a bit more work, but it is far from impossible and the reward is well worth the effort.
Water: While the common name is cactus, they are not a cactus like our drought-tolerant, heat-loving cacti and succulents. The False Christmas cactus is a tropical plant and therefore has higher water and humidity requirements.
If the soil is kept too dry the plant will droop and drop leaves, flowers or buds.
Water deeply until water runs out the bottom of the container, whenever the top inch or so of soil is dry.
If the soil has become hard and compact, you should repot or water very slowly to allow the water to penetrate the tight soil, rather then run down the inside of the container and out the drainage holes without wetting the soil.
Food: You only need to fertilize when the plant is actively growing or blooming.
Soil: Use a loose, well-draining soil, preferably a succulent mix. If your plant’s soil is tight and compacted, repot it in a slightly larger pot with fresh potting mix.
Indoor Growing Conditions: Place in bright, indirect light for the best blooms. The plant will do quite well in low light, at the expense of fewer blooms. Avoid cold, drafty locations or one close to a heat source. If the home is on the dry side, give this tropical a bit of extra humidity by filling a saucer with stones and water, one with a diameter greater than the base of the container, and placing the container on the bed of stones and water.
Outside Growing Conditions: Move plants outside once the nights turn warm. Avoid direct sun. A sign that your plant is receiving to much sun is leaves turning red. TIP: when moving plants from inside to outside and vice versa, take a week or two to acclimate the plant. A drastic change in temperature, light or wind can shock the plant.
How to Achieve Christmas Blooms at Christmas
Starting in mid-October, place the cactus in the dark for 12 hours a day, such as in a closet from 8pm to 8 am, for 6 to 8 weeks. An alternative approach is to chill the plant in temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees beginning in early November.
After Bloom Care
Pinch back stems after the blooms fade to create a thicker, bushier plant.
Photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden