How/When to water blooming Christmas Cactus

sweetcicely(S7 USDA9 No.CA)February 3, 2010

Over time I have been given five Christmas (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter--pick one) Cacti with the standard butterfly-like blossoms in pale pink, fuchsia, fuchsia/white, scarlet, and flame. For most of the year I have no trouble watering, feeding, or bringing them to bloom.

My problems start when I water after one of these plants begins to bloom. It seems that if I water too soon, it drops buds; if too late, it drops buds. When watering, I use cold water and drain immediately, allowing any water trapped in the bottom of the pot to siphon out on folded paper towel. Then, the pot goes back to its place on the plant stand. I do not resume fertilizing until after blooming is finished.

What can I do--or not do--to keep my Christmas Cacti from dropping most of their buds? Is it a matter of timing? How wet or dry should the soil surface be before I water?

After the anticipation of a wonderful bounty of blooms, it is so disappointing to see all those buds drop. Any help will be much appreciated.


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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Sorry to hear these problems, but I'm going to be direct & to the point, since you did ask. Your post indicates you're being careful w/ the wrong things (like draining the water immediately) & not being careful w/ the things that matter most, NO COLD WATER, that's a big problem, likely shock to the plants. Water must be room temp -- fill a bottle leave it out for 2 or 3 days & THEN water w/ it. Most important, PLS. STOP MOVING THE PLANT 'til after it's finished blooming.

On first read I thought it was the cold water causing the bud drop, it's more likely moving the plant while in bud(or both).

Pls. search here for Christas cacti & read on their care. Moving these plants before their buds develop to a certain size is known to cause bud drop; am guessing the cold water is shocking the heck out of these plants, compromising them further.

Pls. don't move the plant to water it, water it where it is, water can be drained sometime later (I don't bother, as mine drips into a dish of pebbles below to help maintain some ambient humidity).

I'm confident if you stop those two behaviors, you'll have less bud drop next year; that must have been sooo frustrating.

Don't know where got your idea abt maybe water being trapped in the bottom of the pot & the paper towel business, don't think this is true or a problem. Pls. forget that completely & stop blotting the plant like that.

If some are gifts & come wrapped in decorative foil, pls. take it off & discard. Make sure all the pots have drainage holes.

Pls. DO read the suggested search materials, you'll learn a lot & have a much better chance of enjoying your blooms -- good luck!

    Bookmark   February 3, 2010 at 10:40PM
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Do what Karen says, they are probably dormant at this time of year. In nature they grow high in trees have fast drainage, no moss, lots of leaf mold and what ever falls in their place in the tree, don't put near a heater. Norma

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 5:51PM
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sweetcicely(S7 USDA9 No.CA)

Thank you, Pirate Girl and Norma, for your very helpful responses! You are surely right about one thing, I have learned a Lot by reading over the past week--first, this forum's FAQ and archived Christmas cactus threads; then some other excellent information sites on the web. These other sites originated from botany and horticulture departments of various universities. It's hard to know where to start, so I'll just hit points as they fit.

Plant wrappings are no problem; I generally remove them soon after getting a plant. Also in the process of elimination is the notion that normal movement, without significant temp change, is detrimental. After all, every one of my Christmas cacti was Moved in the process of its being presented to me--some for quite some distance on trucks or through the mail! All came in bud or in bloom, and none lost any significant number of buds.

Having tried to ferret out the reason for bud drop for some time, I am aware from experience that these plants do not want to be household warm when they move into the blooming mode. Mine live, all year, where it is coolest in winter (diurnal range of 55 to 68 F.) in good bright light, but shielded from direct sun.

This plant's need for uniform cool winter temps is what originally prompted me to use only cold water, but you surely have a point, Pirate Girl. Cold water in a temperate climate is a far cry from Cool water in the subtropics. It is entirely possible that this watering temp has been shocking these budded plants--even though the same temp water was used for weeks leading up to the actual bud drop.

When Norma 2006 wrote: 'In nature they grow high in trees have fast drainage,...' she gave me an 'AHA! moment'. For some reason I had never read and never realized that Christmas cacti were EPIPHYTES! No wonder my poor CCs struggle to bloom!

Heavy watering (saturation of pot) can smother roots in close or compacted media; and pot saturation in cool temps can promote root rot. Either way, bud blast will result. This was born out in at least two information sources I read, Clemson University and the U. of North Dakota (live link below).

Finally, Pirate Girl wrote: 'Don't know where got your idea abt maybe water being trapped in the bottom of the pot & the paper towel business, don't think this is true or a problem. Pls. forget that completely & stop blotting the plant like that.'

This principle (for which I cannot take credit, by the way) was first explained to me in a post by Al a.k.a. 'tapla,' a soil and Bonsai specialist who frequently posts on GW forums. (The principle is explained, again, in one of tapla's recent posts noted, below, after my signature.)

This principle concerns the percentage of water which never drains from a pot and how it becomes detrimental to potted plants. It made immediate good sense to me. Wicking away this water ("the paper towel business") is my short term solution to water retention problems.

As said at the beginning of this post, I've learned a lot over the past week. Norma's revelation (to me) that these plants were epiphytes in the wild pointed me to the primary cause of my plants' bud blast. I was suffocating them. While it is possible that cold water was also a contributing factor, that will remain to be seen next blooming season.

My plan of contrition is to repot my Christmas cacti into loose media more befitting housebound epiphytes, and to avoid media saturation for the duration of their bloom period and, except for flushing, thereafter. As a test, I plan to separate out two of the five CCs and treat them exactly the same as the other three, except for watering them with cold water, instead of room temp.

Norma and Pirate Girl (and Al!), thank you very much for your time and help in thinking this through. Here's hoping for persistent CC buds next blooming season!

~ tapla Post: 'Be a plant P.I. (very long post)' paragraph 15 which begins, 'Let us take a moment to consider the cultural effects of growing in a poor soil as opposed to a good soil.' This is located at the following URL:

Here is a link that might be useful: Christmas Cactus saturation and Bud Drop

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 8:47PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I think you're making this unduly complicated. It's the combination of cold water & moving the plants while too early in bud development.

Sorry I couldn't know to tell you these are epiphytic. Not so sure why that matters at this point except maybe to vary your mix. I'd recommend AV mix lightened w/ maybe 30-40% perlite.

I happen to know of Al Tapla & am a particular fan of his discussion on the perched water table.

I don't think that has any bearing on this at all, but when I've put it to use it's been w/ a synthetic wick to draw water out & away from a plant. Seems to me your 'paper blotting' technique only holds the water in trapped at the very base of the pot, ensuring even less oxygen gets to the roots.

These plants don't need cold, but cool, rather different things. These plants are tropicals, coming from Rio as do I. I can assure you it doesn't get cold there, rarely if ever near freezing.

Did I understand you to say you'd keep w/ the cold water on some of them? Not a good idea.

Pls. re-read the materials abt bud drop; it's not just any or all movement of the plants. It's movement before the buds attain a certain size. It's not the temperature change you've mentioned, rather it's the change of orientation to the light, which is some cases causes the young buds to turn their necks & they'll drop/blast from there.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 11:50PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Karen's last line says it all, in my opinion.
It's not so much the movement of the plant, but the movement of the buds.
I've moved my budding/blooming CC, but I always return it to the same location.
I water while the plant is blooming, then I taper off the watering as the blooms
decrease. I prefer luke-warm or root temp water (and I think my plants do, too!),
especially if I'm flushing a container or delivering nutrients.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 9:30AM
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"It's movement before the buds attain a certain size.", "the change of orientation to the light, which is some cases causes the young buds to turn their necks & they'll drop/blast from there."

So true and this I will tell you, PG is RIGHT!

I lost all my Christmass cactus buds in the past until she told me about this. I never gave then a chance to develope enough to handle moving them.

I always use to wonder how the buds could last/survive and bloom so beautifully after being moved from one location to another, to lets's say Home Depot, and then from Home Depot to my home..The flowers would last and fully mature. Pg explanation has answered this for me..

I HAVE seen some delivered to nurseries or other stores where the buds are no larger than a 1/4 inch or so, and fall off any where I see them being sold. It is as if the shrivel up, dry off, or rot off. The local nursery lost ALL their budding ones before they could even flower, because they were to pre mature to be moving around..they were stuck with a bunch of green ones with aborted flowers that they had to sell for 3 dollars which would of fetched then 15, if they had flowered.

Live an learn I guess. This year I waited until my buds were at least 1/2 long, then I moved my plant to a great location, and boy, did it put on a wonderful display for all to see.

Both Josh and Norma have givin me some great pointers too! I ahve never seen Norma's, but I trust her knowledge. As for Josh's, have you ever seen his Christmass cactus? WoW, and it is a true one too.

Thank you again for past help and all this info here!


    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 1:43PM
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