Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

Did you know?

The  Zygo-cactus family are native to Brazil and some other South American countries. T hey have a wide flat green foliage stem that produces colorful flowers. The flowers bloom in a wide variety of colors, red being the most popular color for Christmas, but there are many other shades such as pink, peach, orange cream and purpleZygo are also known as Thanksgiving & Easter Cactus.  Breeders many years ago crossed Schlumbergera truncata with Schlumbergera russelliana to begin creating the hybrid plants you see today.

Although these plants are called cacti, they are truly different from the common desert cactus with which most of us are familiar.  They are epiphytes and are found in similar environments as Orchids and Bromeliads for the most part. In the wild they are found in decayed leaves and other natural debris that accumulate in the forks of tree limbs where they thrive and grow.  Because they are tropical cacti, their cultural requirements are different from true cacti.

The vegetative growing season is between April and September; the best temperature is between 70 and 80 F.  Buds will begin to set in September or the beginning of October once the short day cycle arrives.

Given the above, here are a few simple Step-by-Step hints that will help your Zygo stay healthy and bloom on time.

Christmas Cactus

Seven Simple Steps to Zygo-cactus Success


  1. Make sure your plant is getting enough darkness. These cacti require at least 12 to 13 hours of continual darkness to trigger blooming.  As the days get shorter in mid-September, place your plant in a room where there will be no lights turned on during the night.   A simple 60-watt to a 100-watt light bulb turned on for an hour or two during the night will interrupt the budding process and cause many days delay to blooming.  A room with a window for daytime light that has no artificial light on at night or a garage is a good option.
  2. Choose an area with a regularly cool temperature – a basement is another option. Zygo-Cacti will respond well to prolonged periods of cooler temperatures during the blooming season.  It’s difficult to get flowers to bloom if the temperature at night is above 70 degrees F. Between 50 and 60 degrees F is ideal.
  3. Apply less water, once every 2 weeks or so will help until the plant has flower buds. Then start watering once a week or when the soil dries out to the touch of your finger.
  4. Repot into a one-pot-size larger container with additional drainage (rocks in the bottom or the pot that has holes in it) if necessary after the blooming season has ended. Repotting will not make a Christmas cactus plant flower, but it can make it healthier and fuller when the season is right to begin the blooming process.
  5. Give the Christmas cactus plenty of filter or morning light during the growing season then reduce the light to incandescent or low light once it begins to bloom.
  6. Again, once flowering begins the plants have different water requirements – weekly or by weekly. Failing proper watering can cause the flower buds to drop off.
  7. During the rest of the year you can keep your plant in a place that works for you. Some houseplant enthusiasts just put their plant or plants outside in a moderate shaded area under trees or canopy coverings until it cools off and the blooming season is about to begin anew. Keep an eye on your Zygo to make sure the change in lighting is gradual because even a cactus can get sunburn.

Let’s not forget the Poinsettias!


Christmas Cactus

Poinsettia – (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a native of Mexico that was discovered by Joel R. Poinsett in the early 1800s.

Euphorbia pulcherrima

After the upper leaves turn its true color it will require moderate Light and occasional watering. Taking care not to allow the soil to dry completely out and never let it sit in water overnight, as the roots will rot and the plant will die.

Poinsettias seem to signal the beginning of the Christmas Season with its array of striking colors.  The Paul Ecke family in Encinitas California has hybridized the straggly roadside native plant since 1923 into what it is today.

The range of colors and varieties is staggering — ranging from the traditional bright red, to a faded red, all the way to the beautiful “Freedom White”.  How long you decide to keep your plant determines how much care is needed.

Poinsettias prefer moderate light levels. Do not place them in direct sunlight. It could burn the foliage. Poinsettias actually tend to do best when placed in a window with a shade allowing diffused light through.

Keep the temperature above 50 degrees and below 80 degrees. If the plant is exposed to temperatures out of this range, leaves will begin to drop.  Also keep your Poinsettia away from direct heat sources or drafts.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
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