Christmas Cactus Care
Care for Christmas Cactus
Zygocactus or Christmas cactus are not the average desert dwelling, drought tolerant succulents that we all think of when we see the word 'cactus'. Native to the mountainous rainforests of southeast Brazil, zygocactus are far different from your average 'prickly pear'. Similar to many orchids zygocactus are actually epiphytes, tree dwelling plants that thrive in the nooks and crannies of trees where natural debris such as decaying leaves accumulates. Since zygos are tropical cacti they require different care than desert cacti but are just as easy to grow.
Care: Zygocactus are tropical plants and cannot tolerate cold therefore they are most commonly viewed as houseplants. They do not like direct sunlight and should be placed in an area that receives only part sun. Although, houseplants for most of the year, zygos can be brought out on the patio during the summer months as long as the night time temperatures are above 45o Fahrenheit.
Like all epiphytes, zygocactus need to be potted in a soil with excellent drainage such as an orchid mix. Mixing four parts of a high peat moss soil mix with two parts pumice can also make a fantastic soil for zygos. Zygocactus like to stay evenly moist but not soggy. Watering should occur when just the top of soil is dry, never allowing the soil to dry out completely.
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Zygocactus have been known to have unusually long lives (up to twenty years if properly cared for!) and will occasionally need to be repotted. When repotting, disturb the roots as little as possible and maintain the same soil line that the plant presently has. To encourage new growth, pinch back after flowering and occasionally in the spring. A twice monthly feeding of a well-balanced houseplant fertilizer such as African Violet food is recommended.
Blooming Periods: Bud production in Zygocactus is affected by temperature and day length. Nighttime temperatures between 40o - 65o Fahrenheit accompanied by days lasting less than twelve hours. Budding should occur after ten to twenty days of these conditions, flowering occurs after seven to eight weeks. The days shorten and the nights cool off naturally in most areas during the fall months of September and October but to ensure holiday blooming these conditions need to be initiated by October 31st at the latest.
Just for Fun: The botanical name for zygocactus is schlumbergera, named after the French cactus collector Frederic Schlumberger. The name zygocactus refers to the way the leaf joints are connected. Share your zygocactus with a friend! Simply pinch off a single segment and place it a quarter of its length deep in one of the soil mixes recommended above. Care for as you would an established zygocactus and new growth should start to appear in about three weeks.