While the poinsettia remains the most popular of the holiday plants, a healthy Christmas cactus in full bloom is a great gift idea for that special gardener. It is easy to care for and can be grown indoors throughout the year. The flowers range in color from yellow, orange, red, salmon, pink, fuchsia and white or combinations of those colors. Its pendulous stems make it a great choice for hanging baskets.
The "Christmas cactus" that is grown commercially is actually several closely related species of forest cacti that grow as epiphytes between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level in the Organ Mountains north of Rio de Janeiro in southeast Brazil, South America.
We typically think of cacti as being heat tolerant, but Christmas cactuses will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures. It is important to keep plants in a well-lit location away from drafts of heater vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air. Drafts and temperature extremes can cause the flower buds to drop from the plant before they have a chance to open.
The Christmas cactus is a tropical type plant, not quite as drought tolerant as its desert relatives and, in fact, may drop flower buds if the soil gets too dry. Water thoroughly when the top inch or so of soil feels dry to the touch. The soil should be kept evenly moist for best growth.
Christmas cactuses will do best in bright indirect light. They don't need to be fertilized while in bloom, but most gardeners enjoy the challenge of keeping the plant after the holidays for re-bloom the following year. While plants are actively growing, use a blooming houseplant-type fertilizer and apply monthly until blooms set the following season. If taken care of properly, a single plant can last for many years, providing many seasons of enjoyment.
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