COLUMN: The ‘true’ Christmas cactus

Have you ever wondered why your Christmas cactus always blooms too early or too late for the Christmas season?

  • Dec. 12, 2015 3:00 p.m.

Gardening by Brian Minter

Have you ever wondered why your Christmas cactus always blooms too early or too late for the Christmas season? The simple answer is that you probably don’t have a true Christmas cactus.

The most popular cactus in our part of the world is a ‘Schlumbergera truncata’ (or Zygocactus truncatus). This variety is often called a ‘crab cactus’ because of its flat sharp-toothed leaves. Large, long-tubed petals can appear anytime from November to March and, in many cases, it will bloom twice during this period. The colour range used to include only pink, white, orange and salmon, but extensive hybridization has led to the development of fluorescent pink, scarlet, bright lavender and even yellow.

Zygocactus are easy to grow and require minimal care. The most important fact to remember is that this cactus comes from the rain forest, so for its ultimate performance in your home, you must treat it like a rain forest plant. Unlike traditional cacti, ‘Zygos’ love humidity. They also need very well-drained soil, otherwise their roots will quickly rot. To produce a November blooming crop, commercial growers take their cuttings in March or April when the daylight hours begin to lengthen. Usually three cuttings are rooted in a small cell pack using either sand or a perlite and sand mix. They root rather easily. All cuttings are then planted in four- to six-inch pots with very well-drained soil and placed in a warm humid greenhouse to encourage fast growth.

By the end of September, the plants are usually developed enough to sell, but they must first be brought into bud and bloom. The trick here is to give them short hours of daylight (very much like poinsettias) and cooler temperatures. Growers can space out the blooming periods simply by controlling both the amount of daylight and the temperature. By making sure the plants have natural hours of darkness starting in mid-September and by maintaining night temperatures of 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.5 C), one crop can be brought into flower in late October. The blooming of the second crop can be delayed until November or early December by keeping the temperatures higher and by adding night-time lighting. To get this second crop to flower, it too must be cooled and given less daylight hours prior to the desired blooming time.

It’s important to know these details because many folks who have ‘Zygos’ can’t get them to bloom. This is usually because their plants are kept year-round in a very warm room and their house lights are left on late at night. To have success, these conditions need to be adjusted.

The other common problem with these plants is blossom drop. It is important to remember that these cacti need not only well-drained soil, but also a humid environment for the blossoms to fully develop. Don’t be afraid to mist them daily with warm water, and it really helps to place them on a saucer with gravel and water underneath.

As for watering, give them a good drink of warm water, then let them dry out between waterings. Never keep the soil too wet or too dry.

If it is the real Christmas cactus you are after, they can be hard to find. The correct name for this variety is Schlumbergera bridgesii.

They come only in a rosy red colour, and their leaves are smooth and spineless, unlike the Zygocactus. They need the same care as Zygocactus, but they usually bloom bang on for Christmas!

 

 

Just Posted

Abbotsford International Airport headed toward major passenger milestone

Mayor predicts YXX will see one millionth passenger at end of December

Mouat grad Irons heading to Grey Cup

Former Hawks star and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats challenging Winnipeg on Sunday

VIDEO: West Coast Christmas Show in Abbotsford

Highlights from the annual event at Tradex

Langley crash slowing westbound Highway 1 traffic

Crash occurred just past 200th Street around 5:45 a.m.

Check out Abbotsford’s top 15 attractions, according to Trip Advisor

Mill Lake tops the list of things to seen and do, according to travellers’ rankings

Three people deported after Surrey brawl caught on camera: RCMP

Police say they have been ‘actively engaged’ in the issue of youth fights in Newton since March

B.C. to advocate for frustrated, confused, unhappy cellphone users, says premier

Maple Ridge New Democrat Bob D’Eith to advocate for more affordable and transparent cellphone options

B.C. man who killed Belgian tourist near Boston Bar gets life in prison, no parole until 2042

Sean McKenzie pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 28-year-old Amelie Christelle Sakkalis

Workers union calls strike vote in SkyTrain labour dispute

Mediated talks are scheduled to begin Nov. 28

‘Very disrespectful’: B.C. first responder irked by motorists recording collisions on cellphones

Central Cariboo Search and Rescue deputy chief challenges motorists to break the habit

Daily cannabis linked to reduction in opioid use: B.C. researchers

Researchers looked at a group of 1,152 people in Vancouver who reported substance use and chronic pain

Bids down, costs up on Highway 1, B.C. independent contractors say

Rally protests NDP government’s union-only public construction

Members of little people community applaud change to drop ‘midget’ term

‘It’s not about sensitivity,’ says Allan Redford, the president of the Little People of Canada

Most Read