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Schlumbergera

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  • Indoor Plants
Schlumbergera x buckleyi
Photo: iStock Photo

Onglets

Botany

Origin and description

Epiphytic cacti, which belong to several genera including Schlumbergera (syn. Zygocactus), Epiphyllum, Rhipsalis and Hatiora (syn. Rhipsalidopsis), are native to the tropical forests of South and Central America. They grow in branch crotches where organic litter has accumulated and decomposed. Unlike most cacti that live in arid desert conditions, epiphytic cacti in tropical regions can tolerate up to 400 cm of rain per year. The arching branches of Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi), a hybrid, consist of a series of segments at the tips of which grow superb, brightly coloured flowers. Christmas cactus is a short-day bloomer and, as its name suggests, flowers in December. The other epiphytic cacti that normally bloom in November or at Easter generally belong to different species or genera. There are also many hybrids.

Species, cultivars and related plants

Schlumbergera truncata blooms in late November, a bit earlier than Schlumbergera x buckleyi.

Common name

Schlumbergera (Christmas cactus)

Latin name (genus)

Schlumbergera x buckleyi

French common name

Botanical family

  • Cactaceae
Horticulture

Growing conditions

Christmas cactus requires bright light, but unlike other cacti, it should not be exposed to direct sunlight in summer. In fall and winter, it enjoys bright light and a few hours of full sun. It does best near a west- or south-facing window in winter. Ideal temperatures are 18 to 21°C. Make sure temperatures never drop below 10ºC. In summer, if possible, move Christmas cactus outdoors to a shady and protected spot. Move it back indoors before the cold sets in. Keep the humidity high year round, especially in dry, hot weather. Avoid setting the plant near a heat source in winter. To encourage blooming, provide the plant with total, uninterrupted darkness for 14 to 16 hours per day for four to six weeks, or reduce the temperature to 15°C at night, until the flower buds form. Remember to place it in bright light during the day.

Easy to grow?

Christmas cactus is easy to grow. It will bloom regularly provided it is given the nighttime temperature or photoperiod required to initiate flowering. Christmas cactus will sometimes flower a second time under appropriate conditions.

Watering and fertilizer

Christmas cactus is more sensitive to too much than to too little water. During the growing and flowering period from March to December, water regularly to moisten the soil but never leave any water standing in the saucer. Allow the soil surface to dry out between waterings. After flowering, allow the soil to dry out more deeply between waterings, but never completely. From March to September, fertilize twice a month with a balanced plant food like 20-20-20 at half strength. As of September, use a fertilizer higher in potassium. After flowering, stop fertilizing and start again only around March at the start of the active growing period.

Pruning and maintenance

The flowers are very fragile. Never move the plant once the flower buds have appeared. To keep the plant compact and encourage ramification, pinch back the plant after flowering by removing a few segments of each stem.

Repotting

These plants flower better when potbound. Repot every two to three years. Use a porous well-aerated, well-drained potting soil that is slightly acidic. A good mix is three parts peat moss and two parts perlite.

Propagation

Pests and diseases
  • Root rot
Physiological disorders

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