because winter, with its snow and frost and sub-zero wind chill is not exactly prime gardening weather, i thought i'd start off our weekly garden series with a tiny houseplanting victory: my christmas cactus is in bloom! while not hard to care for, christmas cacti are notoriously difficult to make bloom (the internet abounds with gardening threads full of different advice), so when it finally happens, it's honestly a bit exciting...especially because they bloom mid-winter, when nothing else colorful is happening.
anyway, enough of the bragging, here's a little bit about how to care for your own christmas cactus.
christmas cacti are actually a tropical plants, growing at elevations between 1000 and 1700 meters above sea level in the organ mountains in southeast brazil. for this reason, i suppose, they require a bit more water than most cacti, but are still tolerant of dry, slightly under-watered conditions, and prefer light shade to full sunlight.
they can be propagated quite easily by removing a single segment and planting it a quarter of its length deep in a pot filled with slightly sandy soil. place the pot in a well lit area (but not direct sunlight) and keep the soil moist...the cutting should begin showing signs of growth after two or three weeks. this really works - my christmas cactus came from an old, old plant my mom was given when she was young.
the secret of good flower bud production (here comes the nerdy part) involves temperature and dark (photoperiod) control. to flower plants need:
• bright light
• night temperatures between 55 and 65 °F
• long nights - 13 or more of continuous darkness each day is required before flowering will occur. long nights should be started in mid-september and continued for eight weeks.
of course, you can do none of the above and sometimes your cactus still erupts in blooms as mine did, so go figure.
here are a few more resources for all your christmas cactus needs:
-lots of pretty pictures over on flickr
-wikipedia knows a little bit
-tons of question and answers here