Carol Siddall, Master Gardener
It is Christmas Time! The most wonderful time of the year. For a gardener, December does not mean we don't have any new plants in the home. Two of my favorites that I have are many Christmas Cacti and an Amaryllis or two. Both are easy to grow and they help add to the Christmas spirit.
The Christmas Cactus is a long-lived plant with flat, segmented stems. Most of the year its appearance is fairly unassuming. Around Christmas, however, something magical happens. With care, this plain looking plant will blossom with blooms of red, white, pink, purple, orange, or a mix of two colors.
Christmas cactus thrives in bright, but indirect sunlight. I have them in my sunroom and they love it! If you move them outside in the warmer months, they do best if they are shaded by trees. Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant. If has its origin in the tropical rain forests of South America. These plants do not tolerate a dry soil very well, and they require regular watering. I water mine once a week, and they do well. Too much water will cause leaves to spot and fall off. The top layer of soil should dry completely between watering. They do like humidity. You can place your plant on a tray of pebbles and put some water in the tray. I have too many to do that, so I mist them periodically.
If you received or purchased a plant last year, to help ensure you have blooms for the next Christmas, there are a few tips to follow. Six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees if possible. I cannot do this, so I just leave them in my sunroom and make sure the light is off for at least twelve hours each day. If you do put your plant in a closet or warm garage, be sure you pull your plant out to a sunny spot for the other twelve hours. Water only when the top inch or so of the soil feels dry. I also fertilize mine starting in October. I put soluble fertilizer in a gallon jug with rain water for my weekly watering. (I was told this by a gardener that specialized in Christmas Cactus many years ago.)
Once plants are in flower, they should be kept in bright, indirect light with day temperatures of 70 degrees F and evening temperatures of 60-65 degrees F. It is important to not let the soil dry out too much during flowering.
The Christmas cactus is easy to propagate. You can do this by transplanting a cutting of at least three stem segments into a small pot of soil. Bury at least one segment. Care for the cutting like a mature plant and it should take root in four to six weeks. I have rooted them in water also. After you see roots, remove it from the water and plant in good potting soil. I have increased my number of plants like this and have given many cuttings to friends and family.
The Amaryllis is a must every year. I buy several and give to family and friends. I love this big, beautiful and showy bulb. Red use to be the only color, but they now come in multitudes of color. I have even given a green one. It was unusual, but really pretty I thought. There are also double bloom ones now. You may purchase the Amaryllis as a bulb or a plant. If you chose to grow from a bulb, it is best to select the largest bulbs available as they will produce more stalks and blooms the first year. Check them to make sure they are firm and dry with no signs of mold, decay or injury. If you buy a bulb around Christmas, the bulb will come with its own container and soil. When planting, make sure you position the bulb 1/3 to 1/2 above the surface of the potting medium. Firm the medium around the bulb, water it thoroughly, and place the container in a warm, sunny spot. When the flower buds have begun to show color, move the plant out of direct sunlight.
Remove the spent blossoms to prevent seed formation by cutting the stem off just above the bulb. You can then place the plant in a sunny window and water regularly. They may be planted outside after all danger of frost is gone and the soil has warmed. They may not bloom that first spring, but don't give up on them. I have bulbs that have come back every year and bloom. It is such a nice surprise to be out in the garden and see that green leaf coming up out of the ground! I hope you will have a chance to enjoy this bulb that produces such gorgeous large blooms!
I hope this will encourage you to have a Christmas Cactus or an Amaryllis in your home this Christmas. They will definitely add color and beauty to your home. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
For more information on these plants, you may call the AgriLife offices at Ector, 432-498-4071 or Midland, 432-686-4700. 12-2-2016