Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Member of the Family

This weekend I brought home a new member to my houseplant family. A Christmas cactus!! What a perfect time of the year as well. The previous owner, while being a bit heart-sick at having to give up one of her treasured plants, has informed me that the plant should flower sometime soon & then again sometime in February.
 
 This particular variety should flower in a bright fushia-red colour. She also had a smaller one that flowers in white - which was pretty stunning when I saw it a few weeks ago.

I've put it up on the half wall of the loft - she'll get lots of winter light & will hopefully like the dry conditions up there. I have a snake plant on the other side of the loft that prefers it up there.
As you can tell by the quality of the photos, the lighting conditions outside today are pretty gray. I think I need to take a photography course to figure out how to take proper pictures in these winter conditions...

But the plant is super healthy (even if it's in an ugly pot - which will hopefully change in the spring).

Here's what I've learned (so far) about how to care for my new plant:

These plants are members of the Zygo-cactus family. Most of which are native to Central and South America. Although these plants are called cacti, they are truly different in all aspects from the common desert cactus with which we are all familiar. These plants, called epiphytes are found in the same environments as orchids. They are most often found in the forks of tree limbs where they grow in decayed leaves and other natural debris that accumulates there. Since they are tropical cacti, their cultural requirements are totally different from true cacti.

The key to getting Christmas cactus to flower during the holiday season, is the proper light exposure, correct temperatures and limited watering. So during the fall months, the Christmas cactus should be placed in a spot where it receives indoor indirect bright light during the daylight hours but total darkness at night. (Much the same exposure you would give a poinsettia except a Christmas poinsettia requires warm temperatures whereas the Christmas cactus needs a spot where the temperatures are cool during the fall months.) 

A good procedure to follow is to water the plants thoroughly and then allow about the top inch of soil to dry before watering again. However, during the fall and winter months, the plants should be watered less frequently in order to get them to bloom. 
 
Christmas cactus require about 50 to 60 percent humidity. So it's a good practice to place a glass, vase or tray of water near the plant. As the water evaporates it will provide the humidity the cactus needs. A humidity tray is another method of providing the humidity the Christmas cactus requires. This is done by filling a waterproof saucer with gravel, then adding water halfway up the gravel. Place the pot on the gravel surface. 

The Christmas cactus should never be placed near a door that opens and closes to the outside. Likewise, keep it away from heating ducts or near the fireplace or drafty areas. 

One of the most frustrating things that can happen to Christmas cactus is after the flower buds have developed they drop off the plant. Bud drop can be caused by anyone of several different conditions. Usually it's because of over-watering, lack of humidity or insufficient light. 

After The Christmas holiday season, the Christmas cactus should be given about a 30 day rest. Again place it in a cool room and provide limited water. Don't worry if it loses a few leaves or joints and appears weak during this rest period. 

This is not the time to pinch, prune or shape a Christmas cactus. The best time is when the new growth begins in March or early April. 

Likewise, the best time for repotting a cactus is in February, March or April. However, keep in mind the plant will flower best if it's kept in a container where it's pot-bound.

Ok - we shall give this a try & see what kind of success I'll have in getting flowers for the holiday season. She seems to fit in quite well with my very messy spider plants & my hoya. I'm sure the husband will just love yet another plant that drops flowers all over the floor....

No comments: