When you’re going grocery shopping this time of year, it makes sense to want to get in and out as quickly as possible. So if you’ve breezed past the seasonal plants that usually live at the front of the store near the shopping carts and hit the aisles Supermarket Sweep-style, there’s a good chance that you’ve missed the Christmas cacti. (They’re the ones that aren’t poinsettias.)
They may not look very Christmassy—especially since many of them are varying shades of pinks, oranges and yellows—but that’s actually a good thing, because these plants deserve a spot on your windowsill year-round. Actually, there are reports of Christmas cacti living more than 100 years, so there’s a chance that grocery store plant could outlive you. Here are some tips for making that happen (or at least keeping it healthy).
How to care for a Christmas cactus
If you picked up or were given a Christmas cactus this year, don’t throw it out at the beginning of the year, as you might a live Christmas tree. It’s basically part of your family now, so it’s time to learn how to take care of it.
In an interview with Tulsa World, Dr. Tom Ingram, a horticulturalist at Oklahoma State University, shared some tips for keeping that colorful cactus alive. (Which probably takes more effort than you think).
First of all, Ingram explains that Christmas cacti are what those in the plant business call “short day plants”—meaning that for them to produce flower buds, they need reduced sunlight and cooler temperatures. This works outdoors in Brazil, where the cacti are native, but not so much indoors in the winter. But there are ways to make it work. Per Ingram:
Keep the cactus in a cool, bright indoor location where daytime temps are between 65-70 degrees and evening temps are between 55-65 degrees. (That might mean on a drafty windowsill or somewhere that doesn’t get as much heat as the rest of your place.)
If the cactus is kept somewhere that doesn’t get down to around 55 degrees at night, it will need a minimum of 12 hours of darkness each night for about six weeks before they will bloom.
Make sure the pot has good drainage. Don’t overwater, but also keep in mind that this type of cactus doesn’t retain water like its succulent colleagues.
Re-pot your plant approximately every three years, but not more frequently than that. (They like to set down roots.)
Ingram offers more detailed advice in the article, but if nothing else, these tips will keep you from putting your Christmas cactus on top of the radiator because you assume it wants as much heat as possible and pretend like it is at home in a desert.