If you have been lucky, you might have received a Christmas cactus as a gift around the winter holidays. There are a couple of varieties of Schlumbergeria blooming cacti that tend to come into flower during certain holidays. These popular plants, which include Easter and Thanksgiving cacti, often come from the nursery bursting with blooms, but getting them to flower the next year can be tricky. This is where the importance of Christmas cactus feeding comes into play. Fertilizing Christmas cactus at just the right time can help ensure your plant is filled with brightly colored tubular blooms.
Christmas Cactus Fertilizer Requirements
Christmas cacti produce trailing jointed stems and wonderful flowers. These plants are epiphytes native to Brazil and make perfect houseplants. For the most part, the cacti are easy to care for and thrive in indirect, bright light, well-draining soil, and average moisture. Christmas cactus feeding takes place monthly during the growing season, generally April through October. This will keep your plants in tip-top condition to form buds and eventually that fully bloomed look in time for Christmas.
If you don’t want to keep your cacti gift, you don’t necessarily need to fertilize it. Eventually the soil will release all it has to offer and the plant will slowly starve to death. New soil and the addition of houseplant food will perk up any lethargic cactus, but timing is essential.
Christmas cactus set buds in fall during cooler days with shorter daylight hours. They need 12 hours of darkness to trick the plant into pushing out buds. Fertilizing Christmas cactus during the spring and summer months allows the plant to produce healthy growth to support the flowers. The plant also stores energy to fuel the production of buds. Once autumn arrives, a punishing routine of darker periods, cooler temperatures, reduced water, and no additional food, drive the plant to form brilliant hot pink to red flowers.
How to Feed a Christmas Cactus
A bloom formula houseplant fertilizer or a half strength water soluble formula, such as 20-20-20 or 20-10-20, makes an ideal fertilizer for Christmas cactus. Feed monthly during regular watering from late winter to late summer. Alternately, you can choose a time release balanced plant food or one just slightly higher in phosphorus once per month in mid to late summer to enhance flowering.
On alternate weeks, fertilize monthly with one teaspoon per gallon (5 ml. per approx. 4 L.) of water of Epsom salts. This routine will fulfill all the Christmas cactus fertilizer requirements, including the high magnesium needs of this epiphyte. Stop fertilizing in late summer or flower production may suffer. There is no need to fertilize in winter, as the plant is not actively growing.
Follow the application rates carefully on any formula to reduce the chance of salt build up in soil. If you are concerned about heavy salts, set the plant in the shower and drench the soil to release any stored salt. Allow the pot to drain freely and the planting medium to dry out before watering anew.
General Care for Christmas Cactus
Using a fertilizer for Christmas cactus is only part of the care ritual. These plants rarely need repotting since they like a crowded environment, but every few years it is necessary to replace the soil. A mixture of half potting soil and half sand or perlite is adequate.
Prevent the bottom of the pot from standing in water or root rot may occur.
Pinch off the ends of stems after blooming to encourage branching. You can actually root the cuttings after allowing the edge to callus in a sand/soil mixture or pure vermiculite.
Move plants outdoors in summer if you wish, but avoid harsh sunlight which can burn the stems.
Other than that, Christmas cacti are one of the easiest houseplants to grow, with year-end rewards to rival those holiday presents.