Gardener's Notebook - Celebrate Christmas with a cactus

Christmas is less than a month away! So is the shortest day of the year, on Saturday, December 21. It seems like we’re plunked in the middle of seasons, so it’s no wonder that blooming plants are so appealing and give us such a lift at this time of year!

The Christmas cactus has always been a favorite plant of the season, and it’s a winner for several reasons. With proper care, it has a long blooming time; it has a beautiful range of colors, from pink to white to purple; and you can get a lot of beauty “pop” even from a small Christmas cactus.  Many enjoy the showy poinsettia, but they can be too large for some spaces. Likewise with the gangly amaryllis. But like the three bears, the Christmas cactus can be just right!

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The plant is very pretty, with flat, glossy succulent-type leaves, edged like a saw, and blooms that look like tiny floral chandeliers. This plant originally came from Brazil, and has the official name “schlumbergera”. I did a bit of homework and if we took a trip to Brazil and went on a hike to find these plants, we would find them growing in rocks or in trees. (Pop quiz, gardeners: what are plants that grow in trees called?  They are epiphytes, like orchids. But when plants grow on or in rocks, they are called epilithic, and get whatever nutrients they need from rainwater). And one more factoid: we’ve all heard of Thanksgiving or Easter cactus: they are the same family but have different blooming times.

How do we care for our Christmas cactus? They are not fond of very high room temperatures, preferring an average house temperature. We should keep the soil moist, not wet, and the plant would enjoy occasional misting, too. If we wanted to give the plant’s buds an extra boost, we could give it a little fertilizer every couple week. And where to put our cactus?  Keep it away from drafts and furnace heat, but we should place it where it gets bright but indirect light, an east window would be great.  

And if our plant’s buds begin to drop then the two trouble-shooting areas we should check first are if the plant is thirsty, and if the plant has been exposed to cold and heat fluctuations.

As time goes on, if we decide we need to transplant our Christmas cactus, we should remember that they like well-drained soil, and they like to be cozy in their container. They don’t need or want a large planter. When the blooming season is over, we can give our plant a weak fertilizer every two or three weeks until fall, and then it will start getting ready for another blooming season, just in time for the holidays! But wait!  It needs our help in one more area. I also read that in the fall, we should cover our plant with a box or keep it in a dark room for several weeks until the tiny buds start to appear. Then we’re set for another bright and beautiful display!

Curl up on a chilly winter’s evening with a wonderful collection of “The Prairie Garden” books, from 1977 to 2018 (only missing 1984). This collection is available if you are interested. And are you interested in growing and exchanging heirloom beans? Visit the Yorkton Horticultural Society website at www.yorktonhort.ca and please leave your name and number if you would like to find out more about either of these items.

The Yorkton and District Horticultural Society will not be having a meeting in December, so visit us at our website, www.yorktonhort.ca for interesting information from the group.
Have a great week!

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