We associate two particular plants with the Christmas season: poinsettias and Christmas cactus. Now that you’ve “undecked” the halls and put the ornaments away, it may be tempting to ignore these plants you may have thought of as temporary decorations.
But with the proper care, you can not only extend the life and blooms of these plants, you can even get to enjoy them again next winter.* Here’s how:
While some think growing a Christmas cactus is tricky, if you treat it right during the rest of the year this beauty will reward you with a profusion of blooms during the holidays.
After the blooms are gone, in March every other year, re-pot plants into the next size container in a mixture of potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite (vermiculite). From April through June, keep the plants indoors in indirect sunlight and water often (you can fertilize with half strength African violet food every other watering).
During July and August, move the plants outside to a bright sunny spot and allow the soil to remain fairly dry to promote bud development. From September to December, keep the plants in a cool spot and water only minimally. Mist twice a week. For 8-10 weeks before Christmas, plants should be kept in complete darkness from 5 pm to 8 am. When buds form, move to a sunny location and resume regular watering. DO NOT MOVE or even rotate the pot after this time, as blossoms will use any excuse to drop off.
Continue to provide water and sunlight until they stop ‘flowering.’ (The colored bracts are not technically flowers). Then allow the plants to dry out. You can then place them in a cool, dark place like a basement until April. You can spritz them with water occasionally, but do not water.
Bring them back inside in April, trim 2″ from each stem, place in a sunny window and begin regular watering. Around Memorial Day start fertilizing once a month (you can move outside at this point or not). Around Labor Day bring back inside by a sunny window and continue to water and fertilize. On October 1 and for the next 40 days, keep your plants in a sunny spot from 8 to 5, then move into complete darkness from 5 pm to 8 am. A closet is fine. No peeking!
By Nov. 10, you should notice bracts taking on a reddish hue. At this point keep plants in the main part of the house and continue water and fertilizer. You should see great color in time for the holidays.
* With thanks to Jessica Damiano of Newsday for the above information.