October is just the right time to prepare your Christmas cactus to bloom in December. This plant isn't hard to grow, and with the right conditions it can last for decades. I've had my plant for three years without a single bloom. But after figuring out what I've been doing wrong (which was almost everything!), I'm hoping to have better luck this year.
Having the right amount of light, water, and darkness at this time of year will make a difference in whether or not your plant will bloom, so follow the tips below to give your plant the best conditions.
Despite the word "cactus" in the title, the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera or Zygocactus) doesn't like dry conditions and actually prefers some moisture and humidity. Water it weekly throughout the year, or when the soil is dry to the touch. Cut back on watering in October.
Never add water to the top of the plant. Instead, keep the plant in a pot with holes in the bottom. Fill a large tray with water and set the pot on the tray, allowing it to soak up the water through the roots for about 12 hours before removing it. There are special pots and pot liners made just for this purpose.
When I found out I'd been underwatering my plant, I started watering it too often and it developed white spots on the leaves. Too much water can be worse than too little and can cause the leaves to rot. So introduce any changes gradually. After forgetting to water it for a whole month this summer, I started watering it every two weeks before working back up to weekly watering.
The cactus likes bright but indirect light - next to a window is fine, as long as the cactus won't get too hot or burn its leaves. Keep it away from extreme hot or cold as well as drafts or vents.
I'd been keeping mine in a dimly-lit corner of my kitchen. While it didn't die, it didn't grow either. I was amazed at all the new growth that popped up once I moved it next to a window.
Did you know that it's actually night length rather than day length that triggers the plant to start blooming? The Christmas cactus will start forming buds when day length and night length are about equal, but it needs to have complete darkness at night.
Place the plant in a closet or unused room, anywhere it will be able to get about 12 hours of complete darkness. Any artificial light will cause it to "reset" its day/night cycle.
The Christmas cactus will need to have this "dark night" cycle for about 6-8 weeks before forming flower buds, so mid-October is a good time to begin if you're hoping for blooms during the holidays.
The plant also requires cooler temperatures (about 50-60 degrees) and less water during this time. I plan to cut back watering to every two weeks.
I'm a little worried to see that my cactus seems to already have some leaf buds forming, but we'll see what happens. Check back in December for an update!
UPDATE: It turns out my plant is a Thanksgiving cactus and not a Christmas cactus after all!