The Christmas cactus is a plant in the Cactaceae family that blooms in the winter months. Since its flowering coincides with Christmas in the northern hemisphere, it has been called that. Its red, white or pink flowers, between 3 and 5 cm in size and shaped like a feather, are undoubtedly the most characteristic detail of this cactus. Although it has its origin in South America, today it can be found decorating interiors anywhere in the world. In this article we will dedicate ourselves to see in depth everything about fertilizer for Christmas Cactus, how and when to apply it, the type of fertilizers to use and some basic care.
Depending on factors such as species (there are 7 recognized), age or climate, the same care cannot be applied in the same way for all Christmas cacti. Since covering each particular situation may be impossible for a single article, the tips we’ll look at here are general. Given this, it is important that you apply everything you see here responsibly and that you understand what you are doing, we do not want your plant to be damaged by fertilizing it. 🙂
1. What do the three numbers mean on the label of a fertilizer?
If you’re just starting out in this gardening world and have never used fertilizers intensively, you’re probably wondering what those three numbers mean on any fertilizer package. Don’t worry, it’s something we’ve all asked ourselves at some point.
If you’ve ever stopped to compare between two or more different fertilizer bags, you may have noticed that each one features a different combination of these three numbers. Some are 10-10-10 others 20-10-15, and therefore an infinity of combinations. Let’s start by saying that these three numbers are known as the NPK values.
Don’t panic, understanding what NPK values are is very simple. They represent the value of the three nutrients that plants use. These are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and end in potassium (K).
Specifically, what the number represents is the percentage of each nutrient in the fertilizer bag. Let’s take an example so that you understand better. If the mix is 10-5-10 and the bag weighs 10 pounds, that’s 1 pound of the total is nitrogen, 0.50 pounds of phosphorous and 1 pound of potassium.
Simple right? Well now if we can start to get fully involved with the fertilization of your Christmas cactus.
2. Feeding a Christmas cactus
It is very common that when Christmas approaches people go out to buy plants to give color to their house, among the most sought after is undoubtedly the Christmas cactus. The truth is that on his first Christmas he gives away many beautiful and large flowers. But the following year has arrived, and perhaps without having received the proper care throughout the year, his second Christmas does not flourish as we expected.
To help you achieve the best flowers, without having to go year after year to buy a new plant, I will give you some types so that you can feed it properly.
2.1 How to grow this cactus
We will start by analyzing some of the basic care that you must carry out with this plant if you want to keep it healthy and strong. It is useless to fertilize if the other cares is not carried out correctly.
As with all cactus, their propagation is very simple. You should take a cutting that has at least three or five segments, and in case it has flowers, remove them. Removing the flowers is because they will take energy that will be necessary to shoot roots and sprout.
Place this cut in a pot with cactus and succulent substrate. Don’t overdo it with watering, because although it resists moisture better than many cacti, any excess water can cause it to rot.
Place this pot in a well-lit and warm place, watering only when you see that the soil is dry. In good condition, this cut should start sprouting after 2 to 5 weeks.
As we said before, this cactus needs more water than the common cactus. For this reason, it should be watered once or twice a week during the development seasons.
Once flowering is complete, you can leave a period of about two months with almost no watering. Every time you water your Christmas cactus, do it carefully, without causing a puddle of dirt. On the other hand, try using lime-free water.
You may think that because it is a cactus, it can withstand many hours of intense sun, but this is not the case, too much sun can cause serious damage. These damages will be seen especially in the new growths and flowers.
With this in mind, you should expose it to a few hours a day of sun. A semi shady spot can be a good option.
2.1.4 Ideal temperature
As we have said, this plant has its origin in South America, more especially in the tropics. Therefore, a range of between 15 and 22 degrees Celsius is a very good temperature for its proper development.
On the other hand, it is characterized by resisting low temperatures quite well, but it is damaged near zero. Always be careful not to leave it outside if you live in a place where winters are moderately strong.
Pruning this cactus is a very simple task to perform. You don’t even need a pair of scissors, only with your hands you can do it.
You should cut one or two segments from each stem with your hands, just twist and pull the joints. Try to leave all the stems the same length.
The right time to prune it is during June, this will encourage better and more abundant growths.
2.1.6 Common problems
A very common problem that any Christmas cactus can suffer is the fall of its buds before flowering. The reason this usually happens is a sudden change in temperature or lighting. Always try to keep this factor under control so that it doesn’t happen.
Another fairly common problem are those that come from over-watering. These are root rot and fungal growth. It is sufficient to control it with a well drained substrate and without excessive watering.
Finally, it should be mentioned that it is quite prone to attacks by aphids and mealybugs. You can treat these pests by applying a mixture of soap and water.
As a very general advice it can be said that you need a soil with enough organic matter to achieve a good flowering. We will analyze in depth the needs of soil and fertilization of Christmas cactus in the next sections.
If you are reading this post, you will probably be interested in learning about fertilizing these other plants.
2.2 The best fertilizer to use
Commercially you will not find a bag of special fertilizer for this cactus, so do not look for a bag with a photo of it. Still, you need to know that the ideal fertilizers to use on a Christmas cactus are those in which the essential nutrients (notogen, phosphorous, and potassium) are mixed in equal amounts.
We already studied in the first section everything about the NPK value, so you must have realized that what you should look for is a bag with three equal numbers. If I have to recommend one, it is the one that has a 20-20-20 mixture, and if possible the one that can be dissolved in water.
Although it is always emphasized that the great needs of each plant go through nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous, not everything stops there. For Christmas cacti, adding a little extra magnesium is more than good for them. You can apply it with Epsom salts diluted in water. We will see in future sections how and when to apply it.
3. How and when to fertilize Christmas cactus?
To talk about how we should carry out fertilization, we must first know a little more about this plant. Some keys are:
- The Christmas cactus has its flowering period between the months of November to March. More specifically on those shorter fall days, which need around 12 hours of darkness.
- Between the months of April to October, the plant changes from stopping to beginning to develop before flowering.
- If it receives the necessary attention, this plant can live 15 or 20 years.
Although it is during the cold months of the year when this cactus develops and blooms, this is not the period when it should be fertilized. The Christmas cactus does not need to receive any fertilizer while it blooms.
Dilute your ferlilizer 20-20-20 in water and apply it along with watering from April to October. Remember that it will be from November that we can expect the first flowers, therefore, stop fertilizing at that time. Once the entire flowering cycle ends (April), you can start over with the fertilizer.
We have already said that it is good to apply a little extra magnesium to the plant, we will do it during the same months that we fertilize, but alternatively. Do not apply the fertilizer together with magnesium. You can mix a tablespoon of Epsom salts for every gallon of water, and apply it in irrigation.
4. Fertilizer for Christmas cactus video
To end the publication, we have selected a video from the Garden Rudiments channel, in it you will see in a very complete way many tips for the maintenance of this cactus. Among them, how to carry out irrigation, how much lighting you need and how to fertilize it. I have no doubt that it will be very useful to see it. 😉
And so far we come, I hope that all the information we have seen has been useful, and have no doubt about fertilizer for Christmas cactus.