Under the right conditions, Christmas cacti are the holiday plants that keep blooming, and not just for years. 

These tropical plants can survive for generations.

Some houseplant gardeners have Christmas cacti more than a century old.

These succulents are long-lasting, and they bloom just as outdoor gardens fade. Gardeners like the flowers in shades ranging from white to yellow, peach, fuchsia and red. They also like their low-maintenance care.

Shirley Orfanella nurtures several Christmas cacti in her Drumore Township home. One, the “mama,” is almost as wide as her yardstick.

“They’re so easy to grow,” she says.

The plants spend the cold months indoors and, once the weather warms in the spring, spend the rest of the year on the porch.

She’s on to something.

These plants are native to Brazilian rainforests so they don’t like bitter cold temperatures. While other cacti may like arid deserts, these prefer humid conditions. As epiphytic plants, they don’t grow in soil but in pockets of leaf debris collected on tree branches, says Paris Lalicata, plant education coordinator with The Sill.

Encouraging blooms

While Christmas cacti don’t like cold temperatures, they need cooler temperatures and less sunlight to trigger blooming.

To have blooms by the holidays, begin prepping in mid-October, says Jen Hollenbaugh, greenhouse manager for the Lititz location of Esbenshade’s Garden Centers.

Plants Shirley Orfanella 5.jpg

Shirley Orfanella keeps Christmas cactus plants in her home over winter.

If you’re trying to encourage blooms at home, place the plant in a room that doesn’t have artificial light; an unused spare bedroom will give the right amount of light: 16 hours of dark and 8 hours of natural light. Another option is to put the cactus in a dark closet on the same light schedule. In six to eight weeks, it’s time to take the Christmas cactus out of training.

Gardeners who followed this schedule should have cacti that bloom just in time for the holidays.

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