Christmas cactuses not that temperamental

Christmas cactuses are traditional holiday plants. Photo by Kathie Rowel

Christmas cactus

For years, I wanted a Christmas cactus but wouldn’t get one because I thought the procedure to bring them into bloom was too long and tedious.

You know what I’m talking about — give the plant at least 12 hours of total darkness every day for a month or so to coax it to set buds. Some guides make it sound like varying from this schedule even a minute will spell total doom. I have enough trouble just trying to get myself places on time without being a slave to some plant’s internal clock.

But a few years ago, a lovely pink one kept whispering my name at the garden center and I took it home in spite of its fussy reputation.

After danger of frost was over, I put it outside on the deck for the summer. Which became the fall. I’m sure I had intentions of bringing it in and shoving it in a closet for half a day every day. You know what they say about intentions.

Instead, it stayed put on the deck as September became October and October became November.

And a miraculous thing happened.

It set buds all by its lonesome.


Turns out, there’s another way to get them to bloom and Mother Nature does all the work.

Christmas (and Thanksgiving) cactuses will form buds when temperatures reach about 55 degrees. By leaving it on the deck, I had provided those conditions. When temperatures were predicted to fall below freezing in mid-November, I brought it inside. Blooms were opening in just a few weeks.

I’ve never been so proud of doing nothing.

Now, I have two Christmas cactuses and they’re finishing up their bloom cycle right now. You see, that’s the only problem with letting Mother Nature do the work. She does it on her own time, which means you can’t be sure they’ll be pretty for your Christmas party. You could probably slow down the process if you had a cool room to keep it in until just before you want flowers. I don’t have such a place so once it comes inside, it’s going to bloom pretty soon.

That’s a hazard I’m willing to risk, given the absolute certainty that I would fail at the alternative method.

So if you’ve been denying yourself one of these traditional holiday plants, stop it. Bring one home to enjoy this Christmas and then let Mother Nature take care of it next year.

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