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Christmas cactus bursts with color during the holiday season

Christmas cactus is easy to grow and can produce hundreds of colorful blooms during the holiday season.
Christmas cactus is easy to grow and can produce hundreds of colorful blooms during the holiday season.

Christmas cactus

Schlumbergera

Planting zone: Hardy in zones 10 and below. Can grow outdoors as potted plant in zones 16, 17, 21, 22, 23 and 24.

Size: Up to 3 feet wide

Bloom season: November through March

Exposure: Light shade. Does not tolerate frost; must be brought indoors when temperatures dip below freezing.

Pruning needs: None

Water needs: Needs regular water but avoid soggy soil. Allow to dry out between watering.

Snapshot: These easy-to-grow members of the cactus family are originally from the jungles of Brazil, where they live in trees.

Christmas cactus has long, graceful, segmented branches. Flowers bloom at the end of each of the branches.

There are two slightly different cultivars. Schlumbergera truncata has 1- to 2-inch sharply toothed segments and blooms around Thanksgiving.

Schlumbergera bridgesii has 1 1/2 -inch joints that are flattened, smooth, bright green and scalloped. If properly cared for, it faithfully produces hundreds of many-petaled tubular flowers at Christmas time.

Both cultivars come in beautiful colors, including red, rose, purple, peach, cream and white.

Christmas cactus blooms in the fall, when evening hours are longer and temperatures drop to 55 degrees for at least six weeks. If conditions aren’t optimal, plants can still be encouraged to flower by being placed in a dark room or covered for 12 hours each night.

All Christmas cacti benefit from heavy feeding and may be fertilized as often as every seven to 10 days. They prefer a rich, porous soil with good drainage and 20- to 40 percent perlite.

Christmas cactus is easy to propagate using stem cuttings. Segments naturally separate at the joints.

Select healthy strands, allow them to dry for two to seven days, then plant them or lay them on top of the potting mixture. For best results, take multiple cuttings from the same plant and plant them together to create a fuller look. Rooting has started when new growth appears at the tips of the old stems.

Got a gardening question?

In San Luis Obispo, call 805-781-5939; Arroyo Grande, 805-473-7190, and Templeton, 805-434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.org/sites/mgslo/ or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu. Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way in San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 805-781-5939.

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