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DEAR IRIS: How to Keep Christmas cactus alive for 20 years

DENA DeVORE/Submitted photos

Jefferson County Master Gardener Dena DeVore has kept her Christmas cactus alive for more than 20 years. Her main tip is to not overwater the plant , which will cause it to rot and die.
DENA DeVORE/Submitted photos Jefferson County Master Gardener Dena DeVore has kept her Christmas cactus alive for more than 20 years. Her main tip is to not overwater the plant , which will cause it to rot and die.
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In the wild, a Christmas cactus grows in trees surviving off rain, organic matter and filtered sunlight. Unlike most cactus plants, they are actually native to Brazil rather than native to the desert. They are leafless with stems that are flattened segments. At the end of the stem is where the flower bud appears. Multiple cactus are called cacti.

I know how cool it is to buy a Christmas cactus at Christmas when it is in full bloom and gorgeous. Then the blooms fade. What do you do next? How do you get the plant to bloom again? How do you keep your plant alive?

After the blooms fade, your plant will need time to rest. I water my plants; keep them warm and away from drafts. It is important not to overwater, but keep moist. These plants enjoy being root bound, so there is no need to repot for a few years.

Around June, I move my plants into an area where there is filtered sunlight. A Christmas cactus can burn in bright sunlight. Some people do put it outside, but it has to be in filtered light. I continue to water and keep moist.

I re-arranged my furniture resulting in my moving the largest plant into brighter sun at the end of August/beginning of September; two buds have formed by early October. It will probably bloom at the end of October. I usually move it into brighter sunlight around the end of September, beginning of October, which will result in blooms in the middle of November. Moving the plant into brighter sunlight later can result in timed blooming at Christmas. I like to have the blooms sooner so they are the focus (and not overpowered by the holiday season). The largest plant will have approximately 40 blooms on it.

The stems in the jar are stems that broke off a larger plant. They have been on my desk at work since last December. The stems actually bloomed in December while it was still forming roots. All of the stems formed roots in the water and are now ready to be planted in well-draining potting medium at any time. The jar is receiving filtered sunlight and I am waiting to see if it blooms again this year.

The main thing I would stress regarding care of your Christmas cactus is to not overwater. Your plant will rot and die. The stems will separate and fall off. I enjoy my Christmas cacti, as I feel that they are one of the easiest plants to care for. They are OK if they dry out a little. They do not need direct sun. They do not need frequent replanting. They reward me with beautiful blooms when it is bitter and cold and the landscape is bleak in the winter.

I hope that you are comfortable with keeping your Christmas cactus year-round and that it will continue to give you blooms for many years.

NOTE: The Jefferson County Master Gardeners are providing a monthly column, named “Dear Iris,” for The Fairfield Ledger readers. “Dear Iris” is scheduled to be in the paper the first Wednesday of each month. The Master Gardeners will be providing information about horticulture and answering questions from readers. Questions can be sent to The Ledger at PO Box 110, Fairfield 52556, emailed to lifestyles@ffledger.com or dropped off at the office, 114 E. Broadway Ave. Include your name and contact information in case the Master Gardeners need more information.

For information about the Jefferson County Master Gardeners and how to become a Master Gardener, call the Jefferson County ISU Extension office at 472-4166.