A Comprehensive Guide to Feeding Your Christmas Cactus

If you were fortunate enough to receive a Christmas cactus as a gift during the winter holidays, you know how beautiful and vibrant these plants can be. The Schlumbergeria blooming cacti, which include Easter and Thanksgiving cacti, are known for their festive blooms. However, ensuring that your Christmas cactus flowers again the following year can be a challenge. That’s where feeding your Christmas cactus comes into play. By fertilizing it at the right time, you can help your plant produce a stunning display of brightly colored tubular blooms.

The Fertilizer Requirements for Christmas Cacti

Christmas cacti, also known as epiphytes, are native to Brazil and make excellent houseplants. These plants feature trailing jointed stems and stunning flowers. For the most part, they are easy to care for and thrive in well-draining soil, indirect bright light, and with average moisture. Feeding your Christmas cactus is crucial and should occur monthly during the growing season, typically from April to October. This regular feeding will keep your plants in optimal condition, encouraging bud formation and ensuring a fully bloomed look just in time for Christmas.

If you don’t plan to keep your Christmas cactus as a gift, you can choose not to fertilize it. Eventually, the soil will exhaust its nutrients, leading the plant to slowly wither away. However, if you want to revive a tired cactus, all you need is new soil and some houseplant food. Timing is essential for optimal results.

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The Importance of Timing

Christmas cacti set their buds in the fall during cooler days with shorter daylight hours. To trigger bud production, they require 12 hours of darkness. By fertilizing these cacti during the spring and summer months, you provide the plant with the necessary nutrients to support healthy growth and bud development. The plant will also store energy to fuel the production of these buds. As autumn arrives, the plant responds to cooler temperatures, reduced water, darker periods, and the absence of additional food by producing brilliant, hot pink to red flowers.

How to Properly Feed Your Christmas Cactus

When it comes to fertilizing your Christmas cactus, a bloom formula houseplant fertilizer or a half-strength water-soluble formula, such as 20-20-20 or 20-10-20, is ideal. You should feed your cactus once a month during regular watering, starting from late winter until late summer. Alternatively, you can opt for a time-release balanced plant food or one slightly higher in phosphorus to enhance flowering. By following these guidelines, you will fulfill all the fertilizer requirements of your Christmas cactus, including its high magnesium needs as an epiphyte.

Additionally, every two weeks, you can supplement the regular feeding routine with one teaspoon per gallon (5 ml. per approx. 4 L.) of water mixed with Epsom salts. This will provide the necessary magnesium for your cactus. Remember to stop fertilizing in late summer, as the plant enters a dormant phase and does not require additional nutrients until the next growing season.

General Care Tips for Christmas Cactus

Feeding your Christmas cactus is just one aspect of its care. These plants rarely need repotting, as they prefer a crowded environment. However, every few years, you should replace the soil with a mixture of half potting soil and half sand or perlite.

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To prevent root rot, ensure that the bottom of the pot doesn’t sit in water. After blooming, you can pinch off the ends of the stems to encourage branching. These cuttings can be rooted in a sand/soil mixture or pure vermiculite. If you wish, you can move your Christmas cactus outdoors during the summer, but be sure to protect it from harsh sunlight, which can damage the stems.

Lastly, keep an eye out for mealybugs or scale insects. If you notice any infestation, combat it with a high-quality horticultural soap spray.

In conclusion, Christmas cacti are incredibly rewarding houseplants. With their stunning blooms and easy care requirements, they make a delightful addition to any home. By following these feeding and care guidelines, you can ensure that your Christmas cactus thrives and rewards you with a magnificent display of flowers year after year.

Christmas Cactus

Embedded YouTube video: How to Care for Your Christmas Cactus

For more information and to purchase Christmas cacti, visit the Ames Farm Center.