It’s the day before Christmas, and hopefully your list is shrinking. It is time to look for those small gifts that are around us, those gifts that aren’t purchased but given with love.
As I plop down on my couch taking in the evening sunset and the twinkling lights of my tiny Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I see a small gift dangling on the end of a branch, just for me. It is a little bright pink bud just starting to form on my Christmas cactus!
It was something I didn’t have to struggle to find, force into my cart, or wedge into my car. I didn’t have to find a special box or even touch the tape and wrapping paper. It just appeared at my side — a little reminder of Christmas love!
Christmas cactus care
I am kind of proud of my Christmas cactus. I have had it for a long time; it was a gift from people featured in my column many years ago who had a huge, decades-old cactus in their Bedford Barber Shop, and they gave me a few clippings.
Since then, I have given clippings to my mom and other special friends. I guess you could say it is my favorite kind of Christmas card.
This flowering beauty is so easy to take care of asa it slowly becomes a giant houseplant that takes over a corner of the room.
There are a few ways to keep these cacti growing strong. Like most cacti, they like to have their roots tight, almost like a newborn baby tightly swaddled in a blanket. A cactus can stay in the same pot for years.
Keep it in the bright sun during the hot summer months. The unfiltered, partly sunny day gives the plant an extra boost. Give it regular plant food during the active growing months
Give it a rest
To get this winter bloom, your Christmas cactus needs some time to rest in the dark. Once the evening temperatures cool off into the 40-degree range, it is time to bring it inside. That is usually around Halloween. Let the cactus dry out and stay in a room that gets dark after the sun goes down. It will need 12-14 hours of darkness a day to keep it on its blooming clock. This should also be a cooler spot, somewhere between 50 and 55 degrees.
Keep it dark and quiet for six to eight weeks. That should be enough time to take it out in early December to wake up and start growing again.
If you look closely, you will see the stems start to swell. Those are the buds starting to form. Once the buds start swelling, it takes about 12 weeks for the flowers to appear. Put the Christmas cactus in a sunny window, and let the show begin.
A gift that keeps on giving
When it starts to wilt, dry out quickly, or get too big to move, it might be time to do some surgery. So the key is being able to move it. I have seen a Christmas cactus so large that the gardener had to put the pot on a small dolly to wheel it outside.
To divide the plant, wait until it is done blooming in February, or just after it comes out of dormancy in the early fall. Slide it out of the pot and gently pull the roots apart. Repot it in clean containers with a light potting soil. Tuck it in tightly, then water it. Make sure it is able to completely dry out before watering again, because cacti don’t like to have their feet wet.
You can also take a cutting. These tropical beauties have flat legs that are the stems. By clipping these legs and sticking them in a light potting soil or sand, you will coax roots to grow. Once they begin to thrive, you can give the cuttings away.
Share that love with someone, just like my sweet living Christmas card does with me every year. Merry Christmas!
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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