A cactus so festive, you might just trade in your tree.

Christmas cacti come by their name honestly. They burst into bloom during the holidays and add garden color indoors or out. These plants are members of the genus Schlumbergera. They have long branches with pointed joints, and they bloom in many colors, including red, white, and pink. These blooms are even more striking because they're one of the few plants that blossom in the depth of winter. According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, "In the wild, these cacti live on trees, as epiphytic orchids do. In the home, they are dependable, easy, long-lived houseplants." Read on to learn how to care for your Christmas cactus to keep it healthy and blooming year after year.

Christmas Cactus
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Christmas Cactus Care

These plants appreciate humidity, so they grow best in moist areas. They require moderate to regular water and soil that is well-drained and evenly, continually moist. In terms of sunlight requirements, while flowering these plants like partial sun or partial shade with some bright, indirect morning light. A rich soil that has been amended with plenty organic matter provides an ideal planting environment. They also appreciate cool temperatures in the 50s and 60s. These cacti can grow both indoors and outdoors. Outside, they can be used as features in rock gardens, pots, and hanging baskets.

A Dose of Darkness

In order to initiate flowering, Christmas cacti need prolonged periods of darkness in the weeks leading up to the blooming season. They share this characteristic with another winter-blooming plant, the poinsettia. These plants require long, dark nights, and short days with moderate light to signal to them that it's time to flower. A good rule of thumb is that the Christmas cactus should receive at least 14 hours of total darkness each day in the weeks leading up to bloom time, i.e. during the month of November.

Types of Christmas Cactus

What we know as Christmas cactus goes by the scientific name Schlumbergera x buckleyi. It grows to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide, with arching branches and scalloped edges. The flowers of this plant are tube-shaped and often pink, purple, or red. To encourage blooming at Christmas, The New Southern Living Garden Book recommends giving "plant cool night temperatures (50-55 degrees) and about 14 hours of darkness per day during November." A related cactus that blooms a bit earlier is Schlumbergera truncata, or Thanksgiving cactus. It has bright green branches and dark red flowers with pointed petals. These bloom in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, white, coral, and orange.

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Do you have a Christmas cactus? We think they're not only great holiday decor but also wonderful gifts for friends and family during the holiday season.