"Christmas Cactus" Blooms, Care and Identification

November is the time of year we start to complain about how early Christmas music and decorations show up all around us. In the indoor garden it is the time when gardener’s thoughts turn to Christmas & “Thanksgiving Cactus” blooms, or why your Holiday Cactus is not blooming. If your “Christmas Cactus” is setting buds or blooms right now, you may not have a true “Christmas Cactus” at all. So, how do you know which of the Schlumbergera you’re growing? How do you make your “Christmas Cactus” bloom? And Can you grow more plants from cuttings of your “Christmas Cactus?”

Blooming Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus” or “Thanksgiving Cactus?”
Before trying to under why your “Christmas Cactus” isn’t blooming or figuring out how to force your plant to bloom you have to identify which of the Schlumbergera you’re growing. Do the leaves of your “Christmas Cactus” have pointed edges? Do the flowers of the cactus droop down from the ovary like in the picture above? Is it setting buds or flowering in early to mid November? If you answered to all of these questions then you can say with 99% certainty that you are growing Schlumbergera truncata, also known as  “Thanksgiving Cactus.” As explained in the post, Not Your Grandmother’s Christmas Cactus, the true “Christmas Cactus” is Schlumbergera x buckleyi and usually isn’t found in big box garden centers and greenhouses for sale around the holidays. It’s easier for commercial plant growers to propagate, grow and prepare Schlumbergera truncata to bloom in time for holiday sales. They may even come with a generic “Holiday Cactus” label. A “Christmas Cactus” is easily identified by the segments of the leaves because it doesn’t have pointed edges and the blooms don’t curve down from the ovary like the “Thanksgiving Cactus.”

How to Make Your “Christmas Cactus” Bloom. 
The post, How to Make Your Christmas Cactus Bloom, covered the methods indoor gardeners can use to make their Christmas Cactus bloom in time for the holidays. In short: blooms are triggered by the cooler temperatures and longer nights. If you grow your “Thanksgiving Cactus” outdoors during the spring and summer it should naturally start to develop flower buds as summer ends and autumn arrives. If you brought your plant indoors too soon or kept it indoors all year you may still be able to trigger a flowering period in time for the Christmas and New Years. Place the plant in a cool location where the temperatures are around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This could be in a separate room, an enclosed porch, a garage, a cool windowsill or a basement. The plant will need darkness for about 12 hours to set blooms, you may have to put your lights on a timer or avoid turning on the lights in the room from the hours of 8pm-8am if it is in a room you use. If the only light your plant receives is natural sunlight from a window the longer night period will happen naturally. Once the flower buds have set on your plant keep it in the same location until they begin to open up. If you move the plant to warm location to enjoy it before the buds have opened the plant may drop all the flower buds and all your work will have been for nothing.

“Christmas Cactus” Cuttings and Pollination. 
Propagating succulents is easy-anyone can do it. You can propagate succulents from leaf cuttings and from stem cuttings like I did with the Jades. Schlumbergera being succulents are just as easy to propagate from a cutting you take or from the stems and branches that may naturally break and fall off the plant. Once you have a leaf segment or a stem set it somewhere for a couple of days and allow the cut end to dry and insert it into a pot with a well-draining potting soil mix like in either of the examples linked above. While cuttings are the easiest way too make more plants from your “Christmas Cactus” you can also pollinate the blooms of your “Christmas Cactus” and save and sow the seeds from the fruit that develops.

Even though Schlumbergera truncata is passed off as “Christmas Cactus” by big box retailers and a lot of the times just given the “Holiday Cactus” moniker it is still a nice plant to have around. In my experience these plants take a lot of neglect and still manage to produce beautiful blooms just as we need them most during the early, dark days of winter. You can extend the life of the blooms of your Schlumbergera by keeping the potting soil evenly moist and the temperatures of the room it is residing in on the cooler side. Let the plant dry out too much while it is setting buds or flowering and the buds and flowers may fall off. Don’t worry about a few leafs or stems that may fall off of your plant. Take advantage of these pieces of the plant to propagate more plants. If you need an indoor gardening project to take your mind off of winter try your luck at hand-pollinating the blooms.

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