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Christmas Cactus

Question:

I have several Question:s: 1) I’ve had my Christmas Cactus going on two years. It did not bloom last Christmas, but that was okay with me. The plant was growing and looked very healthy. It still does. But I’m curious about its growth. It is getting thicker in the middle, but also has a lot of tall shoots as well. It keeps producing new leaves. Some are from the middle and some from the outer sides. Is there anyway to shape this plant or should I just let it grow as it wants to? 2) And if it is to be pruned, when do I prune it?

3.) I just read about having to cover the plant in complete darkness in September. I’m late. It’s mid-October. Will it still produce flowers for this Christmas if I do the cover routine — from 8 pm to 8 am each day? 4) And how long do I have to keep the plant covered? The article on covering the plant failed to mention the duration.

I live in California and we’ve had a long, hot summer. My plants seem to have enjoyed my west windows. They have thrived despite the air conditioning.  I also feed them monthly and try not to over-water. With the heat, they dry out more rapidly, but living in an apartment makes water trays with pebbles a luxury. I only have space for one small tray, so I alternate the smaller plants for watering. Some of the larger plants have to be top soil watered. 5) Do you have any suggestions on this watering problem I have?

Thank you for your assistance. I greatly appreciate it. Sorry I don’t have any images to send. I’m 79 years old and could not afford a camera for my computer.

Answer:

From your description, it seems your holiday cactus is healthy and you have been providing good care.

Your plant can be pruned as much or as little as you want to get it to the shape that you want. However, this is the time of year when buds are formed on new growth so this is NOT the time to do any pruning. Wait until after it has finished flowering before pruning.

Buds form in response to two things – completely dark nights and cool temperatures – starting in the fall and lasting for 6-8 weeks. You are not too late to start. The best way to accomplish this is to leave the plant outside in the fall as the days become naturally shorter and cooler. If this is not possible, simply cover the plant for 12-14 hours after sunset each day and don’t worry about the cooler temps. Keep doing this for 6 – 8 weeks or until you see buds start to form.

Once buds form do not relocate or rotate the plant because a change in its position relative to the light source will cause bud drop. Very warm temperatures and failure to water properly will also cause bud drop.

Once the flowers start to open, you can move the plant to any location where it will be most enjoyed.

The purpose of pebble trays is to provide additional humidity in winter when the heat dries out the air. However, most commonly used house plants, including your Cactus, do just fine in low humidity as long as they are watered properly.