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Christmas Cactus Care Tips from the Plant Doctors

St. Paul, Minn. (November 18, 2004)—A healthy, blooming Christmas cactus adds beauty to homes during the holidays. With proper care, a Christmas cactus can bloom for several weeks and can re-bloom year after year. The Plant Doctors at the American Phytopathological Society (APS) offer the following care tips to help keep your Christmas cactus healthy throughout—and beyond—this holiday season:

  • When selecting your plant, make sure it has an even green color. According to Gary Moorman, professor of plant pathology at Penn State University, it is important to look for yellow spotting and branches that appear purple as these may be indicators of disease. Look at stems near the soil line to make sure there is no damage or rotting. A diseased stem will appear tan and will be soft to the touch.

  • Place the plant in an area that receives bright, natural light, but not in direct sun. To get the plant to bloom, place it in a room where natural day lengths are not disrupted. Do not place it in a room that will be lit during the evening or at night. A Christmas cactus will flower during the shortest days of the year and especially in places where it receives uninterrupted nights.

  • If you find a location in your home where the plant flowers nicely, don’t move the plant from this area for extended periods of time. The plant will begin to lose its blooms if it is moved to rooms that have different amounts of light, temperature, or humidity.
  • Moderately water your plant. Although it is a cactus, be sure to avoid drought conditions. If the potting mix feels a moist to the touch, then it probably has enough water.

  • Keep your plant healthy by periodically repotting it. When repotting, use a potting mix that does not contain field soil, which can harbor disease-causing pathogens. According to Moorman, two of the most common diseases that affect Christmas cacti are Fusarium stem rot and Phytophthora stem rot. Fusarium stem rot causes brown spots to form at the soil line and Phytophthora stem rot causes the stem to appear wet or water-soaked at the soil line.

  • Christmas cacti make great gifts and new plants can be produced from cuttings. When making cuttings, cut a short branch just below a knuckle. Insert the cutting into moist peat moss and cover the pot with plastic wrap to keep the humidity high. Do not place cuttings in direct sun. The cuttings should begin to form roots in two to three weeks.

    Happy Holidays from the plant doctors at The American Phytopathological Society. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization. The research of the organization’s 5,000 worldwide members advances the understanding of the science of plant pathology and its application to plant health.