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How do I care for my Christmas cactus?

Native to South American tropical rain forests, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cacti have different needs from desert cacti. In it's native habitat, Christmas cacti grow in rock crevices and on tree trunks and branches. Leaves and other organic materials which accumulate in these spaces provide the growing medium. Christmas cacti thrive in the rain forest with filtered light and high humidity.

Easy to grow, Christmas cactus often thrive more on neglect than tender loving care. They can live long lives and even become family heirlooms.

Grow your Christmas cactus in a well drained soil mix rich in organic matter. For a good mix, combine one part potting soil, two parts peat moss or compost, and one part sharp sand, perlite or vermiculite. This mix holds moisture well yet drains excessive moisture; two things the Christmas cactus needs. Keep the soil evenly moist from spring through summer, but allow it to go quite dry between waterings from fall to spring. When new growth starts from the branch tips in late winter or early spring, fertilize monthly through summer. Use a 1/4 strength solution of soluble plant fertilizer or an organic fertilizer. A strong fertilizer solution can damage your Christmas cactus' fine, scant root system. Give your Christmas cactus high light during winter but indirect or filtered light during summer. Too much direct light can damage the plant. To encourage flower bud formation, let the soil dry out thoroughly between waterings in late summer and move your plant to a brighter, cool location. Christmas cactus need cooler conditions in fall in order to set flower buds.

Flowers drop off Christmas cactus readily and for many reasons. To reduce the chances, make sure you water properly, especially during blooming. Letting the soil dry too much or over watering can both cause buds to drop. Warm or cold drafts can also cause bud drop, and even slight environment changes can prompt the buds to fall. If possible, do not move your Christmas cactus to another site when you have buds or open flowers.

Do you want to grow more Christmas cacti? Try rooting some from cuttings. Make the cutting at least two stem segments long and let them dry on the counter top for several days before planting them. Place the cuttings in sharp sand, vermiculite, or a mix of 70% perlite and 30% peat moss. Once rooted, plant in the recommended soil mix.