Ask a Question forum: Christmas Cactus

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Name: Darby
West Virginia (Zone 6b)
sdarby
Sep 14, 2016 2:17 PM CST
I was given this beautiful cactus two years ago. It has been sitting in the same spot since. It sits in a bright, for the most part non direct sunlight. I water weekly, however; haven't fertilized until recently. The stems have turned a reddish purple color. I fertilized the first time in a long while (my bad) last week. I watered today from bottom like always and plant doesn't seem to be soaking it up. I also notice little hair looking things (roots) coming up out of watering hole in pot, which I believe means the cactus is root, or pot bound. With this being mid September would it be wise to repot? Will the reddish purple stems turn back green since I fertilized? Any help would be much appreciated! This was given to me by a dear friend and I'm sure it has been around a long time. Thank you!!
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[Last edited by sdarby - Sep 15, 2016 3:36 PM (+)]
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Name: Celia
West Valley City, Utah (Zone 7a)
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Zencat
Sep 14, 2016 3:33 PM CST
Oh my goodness! What a luscious plant! I'm not sure if disturbing it now is a good idea right before flowering time but I'm going to wait to hear from the experts. Smiling
Name: Darby
West Virginia (Zone 6b)
sdarby
Sep 14, 2016 4:50 PM CST
Thank you Celia!
Name: Celia
West Valley City, Utah (Zone 7a)
Pour vivre parmi les fleurs
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Zencat
Sep 14, 2016 5:11 PM CST
You're very welcome!

Also, I have no manners...I forgot to say Welcome! !!!
[Last edited by Zencat - Sep 14, 2016 5:11 PM (+)]
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Sep 14, 2016 5:11 PM CST
Hi sdarby! Welcome to NGA!

If you fear that the potted cactus may die, you could cut off a few branches and root them in new pots. Then you'll have daughters coming along if the mother should die.

Here are some other threads about Christmas Cactus.

The thread "Christmas cactus" in Ask a Question forum
The thread "white spots on Christmas cactus" in Ask a Question forum
The thread "Schlumbergera cactus forum season 2016- 2017" in Cactus and Tender Succulents forum
The thread "Christmas cactus" in Ask a Question forum
The thread "christmas cactus" in Ask a Question forum

@JB or @sooby, can you suggest whether re-potting or waiting is a better strategy?
Name: Donna King
Selmer, TN (Southern West TN) (Zone 7b)
Hummingbirder Garden Ideas: Master Level
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donnabking
Sep 14, 2016 6:28 PM CST
I think they bloom well when pot bound, but someone else might know more than I do. Mine are several years old and I have never repotted. I keep them under a covered patio in summer where they get some direct sunlight, but mostly indirect.
The Hooterville Hillbilly @ Hummingbird Hill
Name: Alisa
Gresham, Oregon (Zone 8a)
Region: Oregon
Purplebloomcactus
Sep 15, 2016 1:33 AM CST
Hi your cactus need some new cactus mix soil and One inch large pot at last once a year. Cactus do like to be root bound. Not over my tight root so water drains. I you a getting buds now wait until blooming ends. I would get fresh cut segment just in case the plant is sick. If you need pictures of how to re pot. Send me a message tree. Good luck!
Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
Sep 15, 2016 11:14 AM CST
Welcome!
Re pot.. Re pot !


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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Sep 15, 2016 12:05 PM CST
RickCorey said:

@ JB or @ sooby, can you suggest whether re-potting or waiting is a better strategy?


It does look "hungry". What kind of fertilizer did it get? What happens if you water it from the top? I'm wondering what size the pot is. I have a "holiday cactus" that hasn't been repotted in years but it does respond well to some all purpose soluble fertilizer with micronutrients.
[Last edited by sooby - Sep 15, 2016 12:05 PM (+)]
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Name: Ken
East S.F. Bay Area (Zone 9a)
Region: California
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CaliFlowers
Sep 15, 2016 12:21 PM CST

It's always tough to diagnose from pictures, so this will be fairly general, but I'll try to touch all the points.

Any plant is going to follow the water, so a root coming out of the drainage holes doesn't necessarily indicate that the plant is root-bound. Bottom-watering encourages saucer-roots, and also is not that effective once a container is over 2-3" high. It's OK every once in a while, like if you're going on vacation, but not as a general habit.

If you're in a warm enough climate, these things thrive outdoors in bright shade, otherwise a cool sun porch is good. Even in a cold-winter climate, it might benefit from a summer outside under a tree.

I've heard many tales of plants which prefer to be pot-bound, but in 30 years of being a mad horticulturalist, I've yet to meet one.

Being impervious, plastic and glazed pottery perform about the same with regard to soil and watering, but if it's unglazed terracotta, a heavier, richer mix might be OK.

The thing about watering and pots and soil is not so much that we're watering a particular type of plant, it's that we're shuffling all of the components in order to allow us to maintain an aerated, evenly moist environment for the roots of a plant that fits in with our watering habits.

Top watering helps to freshen the soil, and a thorough soaking every once in a while ensures that dry patches aren't developing in the pot.

Never put any type of drainage-enhancing stones, pottery shards, gravel in the bottom of your pots. They all impede percolation and drainage, and reduce the amount of potting mix in the pot.

Taller pots are usually better than shorter pots, particularly for plants with sensitivity to excess moisture.

I can't really see the pot in your pictures, but I think it's safe to say it wouldn't hurt to give the plant a little more room.

I agree that some cuttings would be a good idea, and you could use the opportunity to shape the plant a little.

This is the time of year when these cactus need cooler temps and shorter days in order to set flower buds, so make sure that it's not getting any artificial light.

My idea of ideal conditions for any jungle cactus would be a mix that's mostly pumice (4 parts), with some peat-based potting mix (1part)(I like Sunshine #4), and maybe some Turface (1part). You want it to be fast-draining, with medium moisture and nutrient retention.
Christmas Cactus have aggressive root systems. They're really the kind of plant which would love to be sprayed with the hose every morning, and the water which fell on the soil would probably keep it moist. Of course, this is impractical indoors, so we build more moisture retention into the mix.

I've found that the best way to maintain indoor plants is to water them lightly and often, and once a month take them outside or to a sink and spray them off really well and run water through the soil. After that big drink they can go a while until the next watering. The actual frequency depends on the mix and the environment. You don't want the bottom of the pot to be constantly waterlogged, but you also don't want the top of the mix to totally dry out, since most mixes are difficult to re-wet.
Instead of trying to maintain the plant, try to think of this as maintaining the soil in a condition that would foster good growth. Christmas Cactus will show you they're drying out when the leaf segments get thin, but by the time they do that, some root tips will have dried out and died, and the soil may be very difficult to re-wet. Then, when you re-wet it, the dead roots will decompose, and could possibly cause problems. The thing is, overwatering and waterlogged soil can cause root die-off too, and when that happens, the segments will get thin, encouraging you to water more.

A lot of this is done by feel and intuition. Watch the plant, and when you see it starting to grow, feed it a little. Feeding should be balanced with the amount of light the plant receives. Indoor plants usually do pretty well with something like 1/4-1/2 strength Miracle Gro. If you feed and then see soft, weak growth, that's too much.

Don't buy "bloom" fertilizers. A plant is a complete growing system, and everything a plant needs to bloom is in a general-purpose fertilizer. Overdosing them with phosphorus is of dubious value, plus, certain soil types can develop phosphorus toxicity.

Having said all that, my grandmother grew a Christmas Cactus for many years next to a window inside her shed. It was in an 8" terracotta pot filled with garden loam, something no one would ever advise. It flowered every year, and had a large, sturdy canopy of leaves.

Sorry if this jumped around a bit, it's very difficult to edit these things on a phone. I just hope that some of this can be useful.

Also, it would enhance our ability to give advice if you edited your profile to include your USDA zone and some general geographical information.








Name: Tori
Dallas, GA (Zone 7b)
Region: Georgia Bee Lover Beekeeper Organic Gardener
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GardenGoober
Sep 15, 2016 3:06 PM CST
CaliFlowers said:
This is the time of year when these cactus need cooler temps and shorter days in order to set flower buds, so make sure that it's not getting any artificial light.

OH NO!!!! So, based on this, I should probably bring my three Christmas Cactus plants in from my porch since it was 99° today!!! They are in the shade but it is still hot as he.... in NW Georgia!! Right now, it's 97°F!

CaliFlowers said:Sorry if this jumped around a bit, it's very difficult to edit these things on a phone.

Wow!!! You replied to this thread on a phone! I'm impressed! I wouldn't even attempt to try and type a reply that long without my laptop keyboard! I reckon I'm just old school.

Thank you for all this excellent info. Even though I wasn't the thread originator, it has been very helpful to me as well.
Thumbs up Thumbs up

"Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food." - Hippocrates
Name: Ken
East S.F. Bay Area (Zone 9a)
Region: California
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CaliFlowers
Sep 15, 2016 3:58 PM CST
GardenGoober said:
OH NO!!!! So, based on this, I should probably bring my three Christmas Cactus plants in from my porch since it was 99° today!!! They are in the shade but it is still hot as he.... in NW Georgia!! Right now, it's 97°F!


They'll be fine. The day lengths are probably more important as a bud-setting trigger. They come from the tropical cloud forests of Brazil, but in cultivation, they've seen a lot of 100° temperatures. Georgia will eventually cool off, I hope. Crossing Fingers!

According to what I've read, night temperatures in Schlumbergera habitat can occasionally get down to 25° F. How long have you had them? Do they bloom well?


Wow!!! You replied to this thread on a phone! I'm impressed! I wouldn't even attempt to try and type a reply that long without my laptop keyboard! I reckon I'm just old school.


Heh, heh, yeah, it wasn't intentional. I'd much rather use a keyboard too, but I was enjoying a little breakfast, thinking that I was going to dash off a quick reply and be done. Before I figured out what was happening, I was in too deep to quit, and it was past time to get moving.
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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purpleinopp
Sep 15, 2016 4:48 PM CST
Excellent posts, Ken! I am also trying to slay the awful "likes to be root/potbound" myth, old wives' tale, downright unhelpful info, whatever one wants to call it.

For some reason, orchids get treated like the epiphytes they are and put into a chunky bark or loose moss, but the holiday cacti and so many other jungle epiphytes are put in potting soil and that seems to require some level of clairvoyance to determine that perfect time when one can add a little water without rotting the roots before they get too dry that they have shriveled away.

No plant likes to be rootbound. What is necessary for plants to stay alive is for their roots to not rot, which can happen so easily in a pot with dense soils, like ground dirt, or bagged mixes of predominantly tiny particles of peat, (or to simply shrivel from simply never getting any water.) Having very little soil around the roots would make the soil dry more quickly, and for even the most dedicated plant-overwaterers to not rot the roots of their plants. This is not ideal, since most non-cactus plants are stressed by dry conditions, it's just a way of coping with soil that has little air in it when moist.

Negative experiences in regard to potting-up, where an undisturbed root ball is placed into a bigger pot with more soil around it, vs. doing a repotting as described above, can give rise to old wives' tales about plants not liking to be repotted/disturbed. Potting-up a root-bound plant that has roots surrounding the outside root ball often lead to this negative experience because those roots had adapted to accessing oxygen around the outside of the root ball and surrounding them with more dense, soggy-but-airless potting soil will likely lead to suffocation.

Roots need oxygen & moisture at the same time to function. Just air = shriveling. Just moisture = suffocation & rotting. Either will cause root death and dessicated foliage because the roots have been unable to deliver moisture. Having to let soil dry, as if ones' tropical jungle plant was a cactus, is an unnecessarily stressful coping mechanism for non-desert dwelling plants in soil without enough oxygen for the roots to stay healthy when it is moist and can lead to premature loss of older leaves and in extreme cases, dry shriveled roots/dead plant.

The ability of roots to be able to function properly depends greatly on the soil structure/texture, which can change over time. Potting soil tends to be very dense, mostly peat, with very little air in it. Any kind of organic ingredients decompose into smaller bits over time, and roots fill air spaces over time as they grow through soil. Replacing soil periodically is usually necessary to keep plants healthy because of these reasons. A more porous, chunky, airy soil (like cactus/palm, if one is buying bagged,) can have more air in it even when it is moist because there is space between the particles. When there are tiny particles of any kind in a pot, such as peat, sand, silt, clay, they filter into all of the tiny spaces in a pot, eliminating the air. "Overwatering" is the label and manifestation when roots have suffocated and/or rotted, combo of both. Over time, organic bits decompose into smaller bits, so even the "best" soil, if it has organic components, will need to be replaced when this happens. The speed at which this happens depends on many variables, but on average, about 1-3 years.
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Name: Darby
West Virginia (Zone 6b)
sdarby
Sep 15, 2016 5:11 PM CST
Thank you all for your replys and recommendations! I appreciate EVERY comment. I have never been on any kind of forum before and I am on a cell phone also. Not sure how to put my reply above your posts.

I live in zone 6b. My cactus stays indoors all year though. It's current home is in a hot tub showroom that has big windows all along the front. It gets a lot of artificial light also. I just moved it from up front five feet from windows to further back. I noticed yesterday that the back of the plant has nothing but green leaves. As far as the fertilizer used, I believe it is miracle grow. It was given to me with the plant two years ago. I was good about fertilizing it when I first got it. I have noticed the discoloration in the leaves in the last ten months, when I wasn't using fertilizer. The pot is plastic, and small compared to the plant. This plant is huge. The pictures don't do it justice. It seemed to love the showroom for the first year or so. It grew like crazy then I started noticing the stems turning color. The soil seems very dry on top but just underneath moist. I will definitely change watering habits. It did bloom beautifully this past December/January. I thank you ALL for your advice. It is greatly appreciated!!
Name: Tori
Dallas, GA (Zone 7b)
Region: Georgia Bee Lover Beekeeper Organic Gardener
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GardenGoober
Sep 20, 2016 6:32 PM CST
CaliFlowers said:Georgia will eventually cool off, I hope. Crossing Fingers!

Me too!!! Crossing Fingers!

CaliFlowers said:How long have you had them? Do they bloom well?

I've had two of them since 2010... I think. They bloomed great at our last house where they had a lot of diffused light with southern exposure. They are circled in pink ... right side shelf. You can see how much awesome light they enjoyed here.
Thumb of 2016-09-16/GardenGoober/10bfac
They bloomed every year around Christmas and again in February.
Thumb of 2016-09-16/GardenGoober/75e2edThis was taken in 2012.
Thumb of 2016-09-21/GardenGoober/0a35f2This was February 2014.

Then I found a leaf segment on the floor that had fallen off one of the plants, so I tossed it into a planter with an existing Pathos and Spider Plant. One day, I noticed this and was blown away!!! The Christmas Cactus was taking over ... hence, plant number 3!
Thumb of 2016-09-16/GardenGoober/8310c0

We moved a couple years ago to our current home which does not have nearly as much light. In the winter, I keep them on a shelf up against a French door (photo below) but it has northern exposure so not a lot of light. I took this shot this evening, so there are no cactus plants on it; however, the empty planter on the left side of the top shelf is where I have been trying to start another cactus ... quite unsuccessfully, I might add. The first one must have been a total fluke, because I've yet to be able to root another plant from a dropped leaf segment ... not matter how many times I've tried. Glare
Thumb of 2016-09-20/GardenGoober/05c429

The front porch of the house faces South. So, during the spring, summer and fall, I keep them on the front porch. They haven't been blooming nearly as much as they used to. They don't have the ideal conditions that they used to have.
Thumb of 2016-09-20/GardenGoober/575865
Thumb of 2016-09-21/GardenGoober/9a9ef5 This one was knocked off the shelf last Christmas and has been struggling a bit.
Thumb of 2016-09-21/GardenGoober/7effcc You can see how much of the spider plant is left! LOL!

CaliFlowers said:Heh, heh, yeah, it wasn't intentional. I'd much rather use a keyboard too, but ... and it was past time to get moving.

I understand. Smiling






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