Botanical Name: Schlumbergera bridgesii
Type: Flowering cactus
Origin: The parent plants, Schlumbergera russelliana and Schlumbergera truncata, are native to Brazil's tropical rainforests.
Height: A Christmas Cactus will normally grow to a maximum height of around 60 cm (2 ft).
Soil: This cactus grows best in a 1:1 mix of fir bark (fine grade) and potting soil.
Light: Schlumbergera bridgesii likes bright, but indirect light.
Humidity: The Christmas Cactus prefers moderate levels (around 50 to 60 per cent) of humidity. A wet pebble dish or tray will help to raise humidity.
Temperatures: To get the plant to bud, room temperatures should be kept fairly low - 16 to 18 degrees C (60 to 65 degrees F) during the day, and 7 to 13 degrees C (45 to 55 degrees F) during the night. Once budding, day-time temperatures ranging from 21 to 24 degrees C (70 to 75 degrees F), with nighttime temperatures of between 16 and 21 degrees C (60 to 70 degrees F) are ideal.
Water: While the plant is growing, the soil should be kept moist, without allowing it to become soggy. Once flowering has finished, watering should be reduced until spring, when a new growth period begins.
Fertiliser: A diluted (1:1) liquid fertiliser (balanced) should be given to the Christmas Cactus every two weeks. After the last of the flowers have dropped off, fertilising should be stopped for a month, to give the plant a rest.
Propagation: Stem segments taken in spring can be placed into moist perlite to propagate the Christmas Cactus.
Description and Care Tips
A hybrid of two epiphytes native to South American rainforests (Schlumbergera russelliana and Schlumbergera truncata), the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) does not exist as a native species.
The flattened, dark green stems of this plant consist of segments that are joined in a scallop-like pattern. As the festive season draws near, lovely flowers in shades of white, yellow, pink, red and purple begin to appear at the stems' tips.
To produce buds, the Christmas Cactus needs around 8 to 10 weeks of cooler temperatures (see above). Moving the plant outside during the autumn months is perfect to get these temperatures. It is, however, vital to return the plant to its indoor position before the first frost sets in. Once budding, the plant should not be moved, as this may result in the buds or flowers dropping off. Drafts should also be avoided.
Once flowering has ended, the plant needs to be given a month of rest, during which watering should be reduced and fertilising should be stopped. When the first new growth appears in spring, the usual watering and fertilising routine can be resumed. The soil should be kept just moist, without allowing it to dry out. If the stems appear limp and shrivelled, the plant is not receiving enough water.
Spring is also the best time to repot the plant - which blooms best when slightly pot-bound (making repotting only necessary once every two to three years) and should never be repotted while flowering - and do some pruning. Regular pruning encourages the plant to become fuller by branching out where stems were cut. Stems should be cut using clean, sharp pruners (to prevent tearing). Cuts need to be made at the midrib where segments join together.