It is the time of year when store shelves are stocked with Christmas cactus plants so people can decorate their homes with them during the holidays. About the same time that they start appearing on store shelves questions on how to make your Christmas cactus bloom start appearing on gardening forums and in the Home & Garden section of newspapers. I've already seen a few Christmas cactus owners posing questions on gardening forums I frequent. What amazes me is the lengths people go through to get a Christmas cactus to bloom.
Good horticulture or hortitorture?*
The most common advice I come across regarding getting a Christmas cactus to bloom involves placing them in a closet from 6pm-6am for a period of 6-8 weeks. I'm not making this up. I did a search using Google For Gardeners- to see what the .edu websites would recommend. The advice to place it in a closet from 6pm-6am came from the "Christmas Cactus FAQ" on the Purdue Extension website. On a gardening forum I participate at a member posted that she kept empty boxes around so she could cover the plants for the same period to simulate putting them in a closet. These practices make sense because what people are doing is faking longer nights to trigger a Christmas cactus to bloom in time for the holidays. While these methods work they seem more like torture than good plant husbandry-these are plants not enemy combatants or a red-headed stepchild.
The picture of the Christmas cactus above was taken by me today on my back porch. Notice the flower buds forming on the Christmas cacti? Guess which method I used to get my plants to start forming flower buds.
A) Place it in a closet next to Sen. Larry Craig?
B) Cover it with a box like a Guantanamo detainee?
C) None of the above.
If you choose "C) None of the above" then you answered correctly. Two weeks ago my white Christmas cactus started forming buds and the others have started to follow. I didn't need to bring them into a closet or cover them with a box because I let nature do the work. As the nights have gotten longer and the local temperatures have dipped into the 50s the plants have reacted by forming flower buds. My Christmas cacti will stay outdoors until we get our first frost in Chicago or all the buds have formed, whichever comes first.
The box and closet trick work but there's nothing easier than just leaving your plant alone and letting nature do the work for you. After you've gotten your plant to form buds or you've brought it home from the store consider where you place it very carefully. If the location your Christmas cactus is placed in is too warm or too dark the flower buds will shrivel and die. Keep your Christmas cactus moist in a bright and cool location away from heating vents, fireplaces and drafts. If you are a Cacti & Succulent enthusiasts or have a keen eye you may already know that my Christmas cacti are frauds if not stay tuned...
* Yes, I know hortitorture is not a real word. I'm just being funny.