Growing Up: The Christmas Cactus

Michael Nolan
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The Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera) has long been appreciated as a favorite houseplant for year-round beauty. It is easy to grow and requires relatively little care while still managing to add bright, vibrant blooms to the holiday season. As its name suggests, this beauty really shows its true colors during the Christmas season when it blooms in shades of white, pink, red, yellow, orange and purple.

Christmas Cactus

My Granny had a Christmas Cactus that was so big and beautiful it was the first thing that visitors noticed in her kitchen.

Anytime someone would mention it, she would quickly snap off a piece and place it in the kitchen window. When her guest left, they would do so with a brand-new cutting and instructions on how to care for it. My Granny’s charitable nature is in the forefront of my mind during the holidays, and this simple act epitomized how giving was second nature for her.

Beyond the Christmas Cactus’ well-timed blooms, this native of Brazil has no real ties to the season. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start your own holiday tradition by giving the gift of Christmas Cactus to your friends and loved ones.  They are among the easiest plants to root from cuttings. Unlike so many other plants in the cactus family they don’t have spikes that present a potential danger, so this is a project that you can safely do with the kids.

Christmas CactusTo start, select a healthy stem from your existing Christmas Cactus. The stem should have no fewer than 5 segments. Look for deep green color with no signs of shriveling or distress.

Grasp a piece of the stem with two segments in one hand, while gently pinching the segments loose using a fingernail.

Allow the piece to rest for a few hours to give the open wound some time to dry out. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it does help to avoid the potential for stem rot, so it is worth the extra time.

In the meantime, have your kids decorate a 3″ or 4″ terra cotta pot using paint, ribbons, pipe cleaners, or anything else that strikes their fancy. This will be the home for their Christmas Cactus plant as it begins its new life, so encourage them to put all the love they can muster into their masterpiece!

Write a reminder on your calendar!The Christmas Cactus requires a well-drained soil, so make sure that you use a light, good quality potting soil when you pot the cutting. Water it lightly – about once per week – for the first two to three weeks and then water only when the top half of the soil is dry. With your kids’ help, prominently mark the family calendar with a weekly reminder to water the Christmas Cactus.

This simple project is a good opportunity to teach an appreciation for plants and growing things while teaching responsibility at the same time. Both are important life skills that we all benefit from while growing up. Even more important is the chance to teach your kids how easy it is to give.

I think my Granny would have liked that.

 

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