Hi Guys 😀
In this Blog I will be sharing my tips and tricks and also sharing lots of links to videos I have made for my You Tube channel called Desert Plants of Avalon on ‘How you can care for and Grow your Schlumbergera cacti also known as ‘Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti’.
Its that time of year again and Christmas is very near upon us, and if you live in the Northern hemisphere like I do then at this moment its the cold short and dark days of Winter.
The good news is though its the short and dark days that encourage our Schlumbergera cacti more commonly known as the Christmas and thanksgiving cacti to bloom in the most beautiful and magnificent of flowers and in many colours, and with the many hybrids that are commonly available now you can guarantee a blooming lovely time with these Epiphytic Rainforest cactus plants.
What are Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti ?
Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti belong to the cactus family Schlumbergera. In their natural habitats these cacti grow in the tropical Rainforests and are epiphytic cacti that grow hanging off trees for support. In the tropical Rainforests these cacti receive a lot more shade and moisture than their desert loving cousins.
There are two different main types of Schlumbergera: Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera buckleyi. The Schlumbergera truncata is the one commonly known as the Thanksgiving Cactus and the Schlumbergera buckleyi is the one commonly known as the true Christmas Cactus.
So how do you know if the one/s you have are the true Christmas Cactus or the Thanksgiving cactus ? especially as most Schlumbergera cacti that are sold in the shops are all just labelled as Christmas Cactus, the difference is in the shape of the leaf segments as well as their flowers and also their flowering times.
The care for both of these Schlumbergera is exactly the same 😀
To find out which Schlumbergera that you have here is a link to my Blog I have made on this website on How to tell the difference between Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving cactus .
HOW TO CARE FOR CHRISTMAS AND THANKSGIVING CACTUS
Schlumbergera like bright but indirect sunshine and prefer to be placed in a semi shade position away from direct sunshine. If placed in full sunshine these plants can suffer from stress and their stem segments will turn pink or go yellow if receiving too much sunshine, remember these plants naturally grow in Rainforests and therefore prefer more shade than the desert types of cacti do, a bright position where they will be able to receive plenty of natural daylight and indirect sunshine suits these cacti best.
If only a South facing position is available then cover the window/s with a shade cloth or net curtain so your Schlumbergera cactus receives indirect sunshine.
Schlumbergera can be placed outdoors during the Spring and Summer months where they can get plenty of fresh air, but make sure they are placed in a shady spot and away from direct sunshine, strong winds and heavy rains.
From late Summer if your Schlumbergera is growing in the house in a room where artificial lighting is on this may discourage buds from forming on your Schlumbergera, its best to provide the natural daylight of the days from late Summer onwards when buds are forming. If you have your Schlumbergera growing in a room with artificial lights on in the evening then its important from early September that you move your Schlumbergera into a spare room that has no artificial light on so the days and night are natural to the Schlumbergera, this is important because its the shorter day length and the drop in nighttime temperatures that encourage buds to form on your Schlumbergera.
Water Schlumbergera only when the soil is dry, its important to allow the soil in the pot to dry out in between waterings to avoid root rot as these plants like to be well drained. Rainwater is always preferable to tap water if it can be provided, otherwise tap water left to stand overnight to allow chlorine and other gasses to dissipate is best.
Schlumbergera like more humidity than their desert loving cousins and although they can take drier conditions, they tend to drop their leaf segments if they are in too dry an atmosphere as well as their buds, its best to keep these plants regularly misted with rainwater and away from radiators and other air conditioning or heating.
SUMMER: In Summer Schlumbergera prefer temperatures no higher than 80 Fahrenheit / 26 Celsius but they can take higher if they are given plenty of fresh air ventilation and away from direct sunshine and kept well watered during the warm Summer months.
WINTER: In Winter they prefer to be kept at a minimum temperature of 50 Fahrenheit / 10 Celsius, as lower than this they can suffer from leaf segment drop and also be prone to cold damage with brown scabs and scarring on their leaf segments. They can take lower temperatures than this if they are kept more on the drier side, and in my Polytunnel I have to keep them cooler at a minimum temperature of around 45 Fahrenheit /7 Celsius due to the high electric bill I would otherwise have haha, and I find that as long as I keep them more on the dry side but still watered lightly once a month they still do really well and flower amazing for me. However it is essential that you do not keep Schlumbergera any lower than 40 Fahrenheit / 5 Celsius for any long period of time as these plants can rot and scar badly and even die from fungal attacks if they are kept lower than these temperatures.
It is absolutely essential that these cacti are also never exposed to freezing temperatures at any time.
If growing these cacti on a windowsill its important to keep them away from a radiator directly below the windowsill as the central heating will dry out the stem segments, these Cacti like more humidity that the desert cacti do.
If the only position you can give them is on a window with a radiator below then its important you place your Schlumbergera on a large tray that is filled with gravel that is kept moist at all times.
From late Summer it is important that you allow the night time temperatures to drop in comparison to the daytime temperatures as the drop in temperature as well as the shorter day length encourages these cacti to form buds.
Feed Schlumbergera with a good quality liquid houseplant fertiliser from Spring until mid Summer with every 4th watering you give them. Stop fertilising from late Summer when the buds are starting to form.
Its important that a well draining soil mix is used with Schlumbergera as they like grow naturally hanging from trees where they would have lots of aeration. Schlumbergera prefer a compost that is well draining, but not as sandy as desert cacti as Schlumbergera like to be kept much more moist, so ideally a normal good quality houseplant soil with added peat and perlite or a good quality cactus soil with added peat and perlite would be ideal, or you could also use an Orchid soil too. Personally with my Schlumbergera’s I like to use a soil mix of 50% John innes number 2 which is a loam based compost ( but any good quality loam based compost would work the same) with 30% perlite and 20% peat and I find that my Schlumbergera grow happy in this soil mix.
Repotting is best done every two years, but always go for a pot just a big larger than the last one as these plants flower better if slightly under rather than over potted, this is because planting these Cacti into a much larger pot will encourage them to form lots of new vegetative growth but may not flower for a couple of years as their energy will be going towards forming lots of new roots and top growth.
The best time to re pot Schlumbergera is when they are starting to come back into new growth after their flowering Winter rest and is best done in Spring or early Summer.
Avoid re potting Schlumbegera from September as this is the time of year they will be starting to form buds, re potting at this time of year can discourage blooming as after repotting their energy will be going to the root system instead of the buds.
SOWING FROM SEED :
Propagating Schlumbergra from seed is a time consuming process but if they are seeds from your own plants this can be fun to do, Schlumbergera can be easily pollinated by cross pollinating two blooms on either the same plant or on two different plants, personally I have much more success when I cross pollinate flowers from two different Schlumbergera’s often with different flower colours. If you want to know how you can pollinate the flowers on your Schlumbergera please check out the video below I have made for my You Tube Channel called Desert Plants of Avalon.
STEM SEGMENT CUTTINGS:
Propagating Schlumbergera from stem segment cuttings is so fun and easy to do and is always best from spring until mid Summer when the plants are not resting or flowering. Simply gently cut a cutting off a leaf segment join with at 2-3 leaf segments attached and allow the cut segment/s to dry at the end for at least 2-3 days to allow the cut end to form a white skin at the end called a ‘callus’and then pot up the stem segment cuttings into soil and treat as a cutting by lightly misting the top surface of the soil to encourage rooting, ( see my video below) You can also place the leaf segment cuttings in water to root, ( see my video below) Check out these two videos I have made for my You Tube Channel called Desert Plants of Avalon on How to propagate Schlumbergera, both with the soil method and also the water method 😀
To encourage blooming with Schlumbergera its important from early September to keep the night time temperatures cooler than the day time temperatures to encourage the buds to form.
Schlumbergera also prefer to be slightly root bound rather than over potted as this also encourages buds to form.
If growing indoors its important to keep these Cacti away from artificial light sources as this can prevent your cactus from forming buds as it is the shorter length in days as well as the drop in night time temperatures that encourages these cacti to form buds, its best to place in an cool unheated room close to a window that has natural daylight but away from direct sun.
This is a very common problem especially with Schlumbergera Cacti. Its so common for people to buy a Schlumbergera full of buds from a garden shop only to find the buds all drop off a few days later.
The main cause of bud drop in a newly purchased Schlumbergera is a shock to the plant after being grown in a commercial nursery often in another country and almost certainly grown under artificial lights and heat for fast selling to the public and then the plant is moved to a shop for selling and then moved again to your house, the shock of the move/s can cause your Schlumbergera to abort the buds.
Be careful when bringing your newly purchased Schlumbergera home from the garden shop as the dramatic difference in temperatures from a warm centrally heated garden shop to the fresh cold air outside can shock the plant in the middle of Winter. When buying any tropical plant in Winter its best to wrap some fleece loosely around the plant/s before leaving the garden shop to walk to your car, or public transport.
Bud drop in Schlumbergra can also be caused from over or underwatering, too hot or too cold a room, or moving the plant suddenly from a bright position to a dark position or vice verse. Keeping your Schlumbergera behind a cold curtain over a window of a night as well as cold draughts can also cause bud drop. Pests like Mealy bugs, and Aphids also like to hide in between flower buds and eat the buds juices causing the buds to fall off prematurely.
After flowering its normal for your Schlumbergera to look a bit sad and the leaf segments to go limp and lifeless and even a bit shrivelled, please do not panic, this is normal as your Shlumbergera has been sending all of its energy towards making buds and now it want to rest. Allow your Schlumbergera to rest and withhold watering for a month after the flowers have finished to allow the plant to rest and relax ready for its forthcoming new Spring growth. If you can place the plant in a cool room to rest ( below 18 Celsius / 65 Fahrenheit but above 50 Fahrenheit /10 Celsius ) this would be ideal If your plant shows signs of shrivelling or it is in a centrally heated room then still continue to mist the stem segments regularly but only water the soil the month after flowering if your Schlumbergera is shrivelling, otherwise leave the soil dry, and then continue as normal the following month after flowering.
There is no need to prune a Schlumbergera unless the Stem segments get damaged or start to look unsightly or if you want to keep your plant looking more compact in shape or you do not want to have the stem segments hanging too long.
To prune all you need to do is use clean sharp pruning shears and cut away at the parts where the stem segments join. If the stem segments are healthy then you can give them away to your friends, family and neighbours as gifts for them to propagate.
Pests and Diseases :
Thankfully Schlumbergera are hardy cacti and don’t tend to get the common pests that other houseplants seem to get such as greenfly and thrips, however Schlumbergera can be prone to Mealybug and also scale insect, both of these pests tend to hide on the underside and in between the leaf segments on these plants making them hard to spot until damage has been done.
The best and most natural and safe way for dealing with both Mealy bug and also Scale insect is to use Isopropyl alcohol ( rubbing alcohol) and dab the pests with this using a small soft brush. I have made a few videos about this on my You Tube channel called Desert Plants of Avalon and below is a video where I show you How to remove Mealy bug from cacti using Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol ) In the video I use a Hylocereus ( Dragonfruit Cactus ) as an example but exactly the same method can be used for Schlumbergera.
As a very good preventative as well as a long term treatment I like to use Horticultural Neem Oil mixed with Horticultural soap to use as soil drench and as a foliage drench to prevent pests on all my Cacti and Succulents. Here is a video I have made for my You Tube channel called Desert Plants of Avalon on How to use Neem oil as a preventative and treatment for pests on cacti and succulents, it is also a very good natural fungicide too.
Schlumbergera are not prone to many diseases if grown correctly, but the most likely problem with disease is fungus or stem rot and this is nearly always caused from overwatering, or too cold and damp conditions or quite often a combination of all three.
Remember: Grow these Cacti above the minimum Winter temperature of 45 Fahrenheit 7 Celsius. Give plenty of fresh air and regular watering in Spring and Summer but allow the soil to dry out in the pot before watering again. Give them a dry rest period after flowering for a month. Keep them in a bright well lit position or window but away from direct sunshine. Avoid keeping on a windowsill directly above a radiator with central heating as Schlumbergera like more humidity than the desert cacti do. Fertilise regularly from Spring to mid Summer. Tell your Schlumbergera you LOVE them and you should have a blooming lovely Christmas every year 😀