Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera  -  by Heidi Linnemann, Cameron County Master Gardener

Native to the mountain rain forests of Brazil, the Christmas Cactus is part of the Zygo-Cactus family and is classified as an epiphyte as they are found in the forks of tree limbs where they grow in decayed leaves and other natural debris. Although part of the cactus family, they are truly different in all aspects from the desert cactus we know so well.  They don’t like direct sun, sandy soil or arid conditions.

Probably the best known of the epiphytic cactus, this plant is easily grown and has a long life. Hybridizing has resulted in varieties that come in a myriad of colors, and with attention to light, water and temperature, you can create blooms throughout the year.  The soil for this plant should be a combination of rich humus or compost and sand or perlite. As a succulent, the plant can store water, but unlike other cacti, it does not want to be dry. This plant loves humidity, so you might want to place the pot on a saucer containing an inch or so of gravel which you then keep moist. Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil is dry. 

Once the holiday (blooming) season is over, the plant needs to have a month of rest. It should be placed in a cool, dark place and limited water should be given. Do not panic if during this time it looses some leaves or appears to be weak. Do not prune, shape or pinch the Christmas cactus during this time. Once new growth starts, fertilize with a weak solution of liquid plant fertilizer every 2 or 3 weeks. (We recommend a 0-10-10).  Cool temperatures (55 -65 degrees) and long nights are required for 6 weeks. If the temperature is above 65 degrees, the plant needs 12 -13 hours of total darkness to start bud production. (Try placing the plant in a dark closet, or covering with a dark cloth.) When the plant starts developing flower buds, stop fertilizing and only water enough to keep the leaves from becoming shriveled.  But this IS the time to move the plant to a spot with normal indirect light. Try to keep the plant evenly moist, and do not resume your fertilization until the flowers have started to bloom.  

Bud or flower drop can usually be attributed to over-watering, lack of humidity or insufficient light. Bud drop will also occur if the plant is exposed to drafts. It’s smart to not repot too often, as this plant likes to be pot bound. You  can increase your collection by root cuttings.  The cuttings should be at least two stem segments (paddles) long. Allow the cuttings to dry for several days to allow the cut end to form a callus which helps prevent root rot.     Enjoy!

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Why don’t my crape myrtles bloom?

My question is about crepe myrtles.   Mine look awful, they do not always flower,  the buds seem to just turn brown each and every year, some flower, but some do not.   And yet I pass by some homes and business and theirs seem to flourish !   Could it be I should replant them and maybe feed them something special ?  – Yvonne

Master Gardener Angela responds: 

Excerpt from:
“Crape Myrtles for Central Texas Landscapes
by Skip Richter, Travis County Extension Horticulturist / Texas Cooperative Extension

Crapes love sunlight, preferably at least 6 hours of direct sun. Although tolerant of a range of soil types, they perform best when provided good drainage. Work some compost into the soil throughout the planting area, rather than just in the planting hole. They will grow and bloom better with some extra nutrition. Select a fertilizer low in phosphorus (the middle number) for best results. A 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio product works fine. Apply a light application of fertilizer in late February or early March. If they lack vigor, they may benefit from another application in May. Keep them mulched to discourage weed competition and protect the soil surface.

Also, several articles suggest that many people over-prune their crape myrtles.  Very little pruning is needed on a crape myrtle.  Prune only to remove dead wood, broken branches, or suckers that appear at the base of the plant or along the trunk in the spring. When pruning a young crape myrtle, select 3-7 permanent trunks.  Seed pods do not need to be removed, but can promote faster re-blooming in summer. 

Information taken from the article “Stop the Crape Murder” by Greg Grant, Research Associate, Piney Woods Native Plant Center, Stephen F. Austin State University Nacogdoches, Texas

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