Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) Indoor Care, Propagation & Common Problems


Christmas Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi

Botanical name: Schlumbergera x buckleyi
Family: Cactaceae
Common names: Christmas Cactus, Crab Cactus, Holiday Cactus

Description

Christmas Cactus bears fleshy segmented stems, slightly serrated on each side and flowers at the ends of the stems which hang downwards beautifully in hanging baskets.

The stems in Christmas Cactus are actually flattened leaves. To encourage the plant to grow more stems, grow the plant as a hanging plant in a hanging basket, on a pedestal or on a table-top.

Christmas Cactus are long-lived plants which will bloom year after year when provide with the right growing conditions. Some plants have been reported to be more than 100 years old.

Schlumbergera x buckleyi is also commonly referred to as a Holiday Cactus together with Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri or Schlumbergera gaertneri ) and Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata).

Origin

Christmas Cactus is native to South America where it grows as an epiphyte (on trees) or as a lithophyte (in or on rocks) where it grows under filtered light in warm and humid conditions.

Size

Crab Cactus can grow to a height of 1-2 ft and 1-2 ft wide.

Flowers

The original flower color is red but hybrids may come in pink, purple, white and other colors. The tubular flowers are borne on the ends of each stem in late fall or early winter.

Toxicity

Christmas Cactus is non-toxic to pets if consumed but consumption of large amounts of the plant can result in diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite as indicated by petMD.

Where to Buy

If you would like to add these plants to your collection, they are readily available online at Etsy. Buy Christmas Cactus online at Etsy.

Christmas Cactus, Crab Cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi

Christmas Cactus Care Indoors

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) flourishes bright filtered light of 4-6 hours, warm and humid conditions, and moderately moist, fertile, loose, free-draining soil coupled with monthly feeding during the growing season.

Crab Cactus requires trimming after blooming to encourage a compact growth and flowering. Repotting is only needed when the plant becomes potbound. Keep reading for more on these growing conditions and how to achieve them.

Light Requirements

Christmas Cactus grows best in bright, indirect light with 4-6 hours of monring direct sunlight. A spot infront of a brightly-lit window is ideal for this plant.

Regularly turn the pot to ensure the plant receives adequate light on all sides to promote even growth and prevent the plant from turning yellow.

Crab Cactus can also be grown under a grow light where the natural light is not adequate.

You can move the plant outdoors in spring and summer for some sun but acclimate it gradually to prevent scorching. Place under a shade away from hot direct sunlight as too much sunlight in the spring and summer can cause the plant to turn pale and yellow.

Ensure to bring it back inside in fall when temperatures begin to drop, it can tolerate a temperature of 150C.

Watering

Water Christmas Cactus thoroughly during the growing season when the top 2-3 in. of soil dry out and keep the soil moderately moist through out.

Reduce watering during the cold season as growth is reduced at this time and maintain the soil slightly moist but do not allow the soil to dry out completely.

Confirm that the pot has a drainage hole and drain excess water from the saucer to prevent the soil from getting soggy as it can result in root-rot and eventual death of the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

Christmas Cactus prefers temperatures within the range of 18-260C with maximum night temperatures of 210C to enhance bud formation.

Keep it away from cold and hot drafts like windy doors, drafty windows, air conditioning units, hot air vents and others to prevent sudden changes in temperature which may lead to reduced growth.

Christmas Cactus requires above average humidity of about 50-65% to thrive. Set the pot on a wet pebble tray or use a cool mist humidifier to increase humidity for the plant where the air is too dry.

Regularly clean the leaves with a damp soft cloth to get rid of dust as well as discourage pest infestations. Ensure that there is good air circulation to prevent fungal infestations.

Fertilizer

Feed Christmas Cactus every 4 weeks in early spring and summer with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer for the healthy growth of the plant.

In late summer to early fall when the flower buds begin forming, feed the Crab Cactus monthly with a phosphorus-rich, water-soluble fertilizer to promote blooming by holiday time.

Potting Mix

The best soil for Christmas Cactus should be rich in organic matter to provide the required nutrients and at a PH of 5.5-6.2 for the optimum growth of the plant.

A well-drained potting mix like this Organic Cactus Potting Mix available on Amazon is perfect for Crab Cactus to avoid getting soggy soil which can lead to root-rot.

Repotting

Repot Christmas Cactus when it stops blooming and the flowers have wilted in late winter or early spring. Repot only when it becomes extremely pot-bound as it blooms best when slightly pot-bound. Do not repot a plant that is in flower as it can shorten the flowering period.

Repot the Crab Cactus into a pot 1 size larger than the current one that has a drainage hole to prevent the soil from getting soggy to prevent root-rot and eventual death of the plant.

Slip the plant out of its pot, shake off the old potting mix and trim any dead roots with clean and sterilized scissors. Place the plant in the center of the new pot and refill with fresh, free-draining potting mix.

Wet the soil thoroughly until water comes out through the drainage hole, empty the saucer and place the plant infront of a brightly-lit window.

Pruning

Pruning Christmas Cactus involves removal of dead sections and flowers to keep the plant neat and discourage pests and diseases. To encourage branching and a more compact growth, remove 2-3 segments from the end of the stems.

To control growth, cutback the stems at the segment joints by about 1/3 after flowering. This will also boost blooming in the next season.

Christmas Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi

Christmas Cactus Winter Care

Christmas Cactus are tropical plants which require warm and humid conditions to thrive. They are not cold hardy, therefore, they are best grown as houseplants in the temperate climates.

However, in climates with harsh winters, Crab Cactus can be grown outdoors as container plants during spring and summer which are brought inside when the temperatures drop to about 150C in fall and care for it as a houseplant.

Place it in a cool place where it can receive bright light and reduce watering to keep the soil slightly moist but do not let it dry out completely. Ensure that there is good air circulation to prevent fungal infestations.

Once the temperatures warm up to 150C in spring, move the plant outdoors under bright light but shield it from hot direct sunlight to prevent scorching.

Ensure that the soil remains moderately moist but not soggy by watering when the top 2-3 in. of soil feels dry and feed it every 4 weeks in early spring and summer with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer for the healthy growth of the plant.

How to coax Christmas Cactus to bloom for the holidays

Blooming in Christmas Cactus occurs in late fall or early winter and is triggered by cold temperatures, dry conditions and reduced light amounts which signal dormancy and mimick its natural habitat.

Six to eight weeks before the holidays, reduce watering to keep the soil slightly moist and stop feeding the plant.

Give it 12-14 hours of total darkness by placing it in a dark cupboard or cover it with an opaque material and maintain the temperatures at about 10-120C.

Once the buds begin to form, move the plant to a spot with bright, indirect light, feed it monthly with a phosphorus-rich, water-soluble fertilizer and it should bloom in a few weeks.

Propagation

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) can be propagated at the beginning of the growing season (spring) from stem cuttings.

How to propagate Christmas Cactus from stem cuttings

Take 2-3 sections of stem cuttings from the tips of the stems. Allow the cutting to callus (dry) for 5-7 days to prevent rotting.

Dip the lower cut end in rooting powder to hasten rooting.

Insert 1/3 of the lower cut end in moist, sandy, rooting mix while taking care not to brush off the rooting powder and lightly firm the soil around the base of the cutting.

Cover the set up with a plastic sheet to create a greenhouse effect and place the set up in a warm, brightly-lit spot away from direct sunlight to avoid cooking the cuttings.

Maintain the soil moist through out until the new plants are well established. Allow the new plants to be well established before transplanting into individual pots after which you can begin routine care.

Christmas Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi

Christmas Cactus Common Problems

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) common growing problems include yellowing and wilting leaves, leaf spots, reddish leaves, pests among others. Keep reading for more on these problems and how to solve them.

Yellowing and wilting

Yellowing and wilting in Christmas Cactus is due to three possible causes. One possible of yellowing and wilting is underwatering.

Maintain the soil moderately moist during the growing season. Decrease watering in the cold season as growth is reduced at this time but never allow the soil ball to dry out completely.

The second possible cause of yellowing and wilting in Crab Cactus is root-rot due to soggy soil brought about by poor soil drainage.

Ensure that the pot has a drainage hole and that the soil is free-draining. Always empty the saucer after watering and never allow the plant to sit in soggy soil.

The third possible cause of yellowing and wilting in Christmas Cactus is too little light. The plant requires bright light with some direct sunlight but away from hot direct sunlight.

Position the plant in a spot where it will receive bright light with some 6-8 hours of morning or late afternoon direct sunlight. Alternatively, grow the plant under a grow light if the natural lighting is not sufficient.

Pests

The common pests in Christmas Cactus are mealybugs, aphids, scales, fungus gnats and spidermites. Isolate the affected plant to prevent spread to the rest of the houseplants and treat it with appropriate products like Neem oil or Insecticidal soap.

Brown spots on the stem at the soil level

Brown spots on the stem at the soil level in Christmas Cactus are an indication of Fusarium stem rot which is brought about by soggy soil. The disease is difficult to treat.

However, if caught in the early stages, you can try to save the plant; allow the soil to dry out completely and treat it with a fungicidal solution as per the manufacturer's instructions.

To prevent the soil from getting soggy in future, ensure that pot has a drainage hole and that the soil is loose enough to allow free drainage.

Leaves turning reddish

Reddish leaves in Christmas Cactus are caused by three possible reasons. One possible reason for leaves turning reddish is underwatering as too little moisture in the soil stresses the plant.

Maintain the soil moderately moist during the growing season. Reduce watering in the cold season but do not let the soil dry out completely.

The second possible reason for reddish leaves in Crab Cactus is pest infestation. These sap-sucking insects will cause dehydration of the plant and thereby stressing the plant.

The third possible reason for reddish leaves in Christmas Cactus is too much light (hot direct sunlight). Move the plant to a more shaded place where it will receive bright, indirect light.

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