Problem with christmas cactus

Discussion in 'Cacti and Succulents' started by jreidsma, Dec 31, 2009.

  1. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    Hi I have a christmas cactus and I got it from my grandma atleast 6+ years ago and it was around 4 inches tall and that much wide. Now it is a foot tall and around. As the measurements show it grows like crazy but it dosnt flower anymore and I was wondering if it could just be too old or something because she had it I think 20+ years before I got it. If it does make a bud they just fall off but this year it didnt even make buds so I got alittle worried about it.
     
  2. togata57

    togata57 Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Do you set your cactus outside in summer, then bring it back inside when the weather turns cold? I find that my C. cacti bloom better if they experience a temperature contrast. I leave mine outside until there is danger of frost, then bring 'em in. Seems to me, too, that exposure to a good amt. of light (not direct sun, just semi-shade) helps them form buds later on. You might consider fertilizer during this time. (Am sure that Forum members will have good advice on this issue.)

    Also, watch the watering, esp. after buds set: too much will make them drop.
     
  3. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    Thanks for the help. I will try to put it outside this summer. For the fertilizer I just repotted it into maricle grow when it was warms out a couple months ago. I water it when I water my aloe plants which most of the time is once every 7-12 days with spring water. My grandma just bought another one and it is smaller than 4 inches so its tiny and it has 20+ flowers on it so atleast hers is flowering.

    Here are some pictures of it. Sorry my camera is having problems so its a little blury.
     

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  4. leaf kotasek

    leaf kotasek Active Member

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    i know someone who has a VERY old christmas cactus; it still flowers every year.

    christmas cacti need a dormancy period in order to flower. mine stop putting out new growth in september; at that time i move them to a darker place and restrict their water. you also shouldn't fertilize during dormancy. about a month later, my christmas cacti start to grow again and i put them back in the light and water them more frequently. then they flower!

    actually, one of my christmas cacti started blooming october 2008 and kept blooming until the following june! isn't that weird?

    good luck with your christmas cactus.
     
  5. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    On January 2, 2010 I edited this post since my point was not adequately clear.

    Although Schlumbergera subgenus Zygocactus appear to respond to shorter daylight durations and are triggered to bloom as the daylight hours shorten that may not be scientific. Unlike North Amercia in the south American rain forest both summer and winter days are relatively of equal length due to their position near the equator.

    It is thought it is possible for a collector to trigger blooming by controlling the amount of light offered the specimen but this may be an invalid observation. The cacti gain their common name as a result of the season of the year in which they typically bloom which is roughly late November through December in the northern hemispheres. In Brazil they bloom during the South American winter which corresponds with North America's summer. This would likely indicate the plant is not responding to the length of the day but has a desire to be drier in order to bloom since the rainy season is typically in the South American summer with somewhat drier conditions during their winters.

    In nature Zygocactus are epiphytic and grow on the branches of trees instead of in soil. Plants that grow upon other plant species are known scientifically as epiphytes (epi-FITS). Since they are rain forest specimens, Zygocactus prefer moderately bright indirect light with warm temperatures. As a result of their native habitat the ambient temperature should not drop below 12.8 C (55 F). A very loose soil that is kept evenly damp is more likely to induce Zygocactus to prosper and bloom. Since Zygocactus normally do not grow in soil use a mixture of fast draining potting media which includes Perlite™, peat moss, moisture control soil mix, and orchid potting media which includes bark, gravel, and charcoal. You can mix your own or begin with a "jungle mix" and add additional orchid potting media. Your goal is to give the roots something to which they can cling as they do in nature while not remaining soggy.

    I have exchanged info with Brazilian botanists at the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden on these species and have never heard anything of a period of dormancy since no such period exists in nature. We have a specimen inherited from my wife's mother and although it does skip seasonal blooming will always bloom the following season. I am aware of a very large specimen that has been blooming for well over 20 years. In the case of this plant as well as our own the grower always reduces the amount of water given the plant during our winter.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2010
  6. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    Hi again I have tried putting my catcus in a darker area and limiting sun light or anylight and it didnt do anything. I tried that last year. If I can find a spot I will try again but as big as its getting thats hard to find. My house is extremely small its a mobile home so it can just go in my closet after I clean it out.
     
  7. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    The better choice would be to limit the water during the North American bloom season (October, November, December). It is very common for rain forest species to produce their inflorescences either at the beginning of the rainy season when it is very wet or near the end of the rainy season when it is drier. Since this subgenus produces inflorescences during the drier part of the year in the wild it appears it naturally produces the inflorescences when it is given less water by Mother Nature.

    Give it a fast draining medium and water sparingly during the natural bloom season.
     
  8. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    I just put it in my closet and I am going to do what all of you are saying. I might try to grow a cutting off of it just to be doing. Would that hurt it though? I have this gel2root stuff to try on it. Its already in a fast draining maricle grow stuff.
     
  9. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    You've already missed the bloom season for this year so darkness now is highly unlikely to help the plant at all. In fact, it could harm it due to lack of chlorophyll production.

    You'd be better off now to keep it in moderate light and try to duplicate the rain forest water cycle next season. I have been told by a scientist the light difference is not as important as the amount of water the plant receives when attempting to induce blooming. It appears that conclusion may have been drawn from casual observations by non-trained growers which "assumed" the length of daylight played a factor. Whether it does or does not has yet to be proved or disproved. However, the correlation between whether or not a plant species blooms or does not bloom at the beginning or end of the rainy season is very well researched.

    Taking cuttings won't hurt the plant at all.

    Miracle Grow (even the moistur control type) does not drain fast enough to satisfy this species. Add about 20% peat moss, a bag of aquarium charcoal, two big handfuls of finely diced sphagnum moss and a large helping of orchid bark to the mix. That should make the soil drain adequately. Your goal is to make the plant feel as though it is still growing on the branch of a tree. The chances are high there is too much moisture down around the roots which is why it skipped the bloom season.

    Glad the info was helpful. Julius is a very close friend.
     
  10. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    O I will take it out right now. The type of maricle grow it is in is cactus and palm soil I forgot to say that. When it gets alittle warmer out I will plant it in what you said I dont want to kill it in the cold though so it might have to wait a month or two. Thanks for the info I was watching a national geographic special on redwoods and they were talking about plants that grew on decomposing matter on the branches of trees. It sounds cool and I was thinking of having a bonsai tree with a bonsai fern on it. Im going to grow a cutting off of it to so I can have little baby cactuses lol.
     
  11. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    I just did a bit more research and learned these plants are often sold as Holiday Cactus, Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus. Commercial growers produce their plants largely from tissue culture which are grown from a DNA "soup" and then induce blooming at the season they wish to sell the plant by the use of chemical gases. From what I've been reading it may be we've all been mislead regarding the bloom cycle of these plants.

    Still, Mother Nature naturally uses the water cycle to cause rain forest species to know when to produce an inflorescence since the daylight period in a rain forest varies very little. The best I can learn is to keep the plants only moderately damp in fairly bright light since they are epiphytic. From experience we have observed our specimens tend to bloom once we reduce the amount of daily water.
     
  12. leaf kotasek

    leaf kotasek Active Member

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    next year i'll definitely try reducing water without reducing light. that makes sense, actually. thanks for the info!
     
  13. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    Actually day-length flowering control is fully proven science, and is practiced by most of the major growers of these plants to some extent. Here is one scientific breakdown of the exact details, especially in the sections Controlled Flowering and Flowering Requirements. Day length is the major factor for gettting Christmas cactus to bloom, and temperature reduction is a close second. Here in Washington State, I've toured a wholesale grower that has tens of thousands of these under automatically-retractable, black, light-exclusion tents. Everything is computer controlled and motorized. The tents slowly creep across the growing beds automatically every afternoon at the same time. They can pick the exact day they want every one of them in perfect budded condition and ready for massive shipments to the home centers.
    For home growers, a close approximation of all the figures in that link above is to just put them in an area that gets 14 hours of night darkness in later fall for about 6 weeks, and try to keep them in an area that is also not warm during that time period. I have about a dozen of them, and most get moved to the garage under lights for awhile in the fall, where it is cooler and I can control the day length. For some people, keeping them outdoors in the summer, and waiting until the last minute to bring them in works great. Also moving them up closer to a window in the fall (cooler) works often too or a cooler back bedroom, if there is no porchlight/streetlight outside.
    Steve, maybe your scientist friend was thinking more of Easter cactus types. They are more similar to the epi's that need a cool & dry period to bloom well instead of the day-length differences.
    Jreidsma, since you've missed the peak season for naturally blooming these, I would also agree with Steve's advice to wait until next year, especially if they are not in optimum soil.
     
  14. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    thanks I am going to wait for next year. O ya my cutting from it might be making roots already.
     
  15. Bluewing

    Bluewing Well-Known Member

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    I never restricted water or light. Natural light only, watered when dry, usually every other week, less water in winter because the soil stays moist longer when cool. Fed lightly until I could see the tiny little buds forming, around Sept-Oct.
    When buds appear, it's best not to move, or turn the plant until the buds are around a half inch or more in length, or you might find many of them on the floor. Turning their little heads in the opposite direction when small can cause bud drop because the little bud necks might not be attached strong enough yet.
     
  16. mandarin

    mandarin Active Member 10 Years

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    I agree fully with Tom Hulse, the effect of light on Schlumbergera budding has long been known. These plants does not grow close to the equator, but at about 20-25° latitude, where the difference between the longest and shortest days should be around 3 hours, which is roughly 25% of the average daylength. Why should a plant not be able to respond to that?

    Another strange statement by photopro is that these cacti are commercially grown using tissue culture. I can't see why anyone would use a slow, expensive technique like that to grow these plants when vegetative propagation is faster, cheaper and easier. The few reports from nurseries I have seen say that they are grown from cuttings. All plants I have seen have been grown from cuttings, usually three in the same pot. Further, many plants in the same batch have identical flowers, which means that they most likely are the same clone.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2010
  17. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Virtually all plants sold in large quantities for commercial sale are now grown from tissue culture since it is actually faster and far more efficient than maintaining a large number of parent plants from which starts are taken.

    Whether the info I discussed with the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden is correct or incorrect I don't know at this time. I just know I've discussed blooming triggers for quite a few species with a number of botanists and in the rain forest water is a primary trigger.

    However, I sent an email to Marcus Nadruz who is the the director general yesterday asking for more information. Marcus and I have corresponded for several years regarding a range of rain forest species and provided his staff answers the query I'll gladly post it in its entirety regardless or the outcome. Marcus' primary area of study is Araceae.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2010
  18. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    I just sent emails to botanists at the Missouri Botanical Garden, another in northern South America as well as the Marie Selby Botanical Garden in Florida trying to learn more about what induces these plants to bloom. If anyone provides answers I'll post them.
     
  19. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    Steve I think the key there, as you said, is that "virtually" all of those plants are tissue cultured. There are exceptions. Holiday cactus are different than most plants in that every tiny piece of every portion of the leaves & stems will easily & quickly make a new plant with a nearly 100% strike rate in commercial applications.
    The retail market provides for a nice range of different plant sizes desired, so growers not only have the 1-2" liners on hand, but also bigger 4" & larger pot size (that make an overall plant size of just bigger than a soccer ball). So there are no special stock of separate parent plants that have to be maintained for cutting material. All of these plants in production, from the smallest to the biggest, each need heavy pruning to reach the healthy, multi-branched look that they all have in retail... so you always have a really giant pile of left over cutting material (much more than double what is necessary to duplicate the same size crop). These cuttings will also keep for up to 3 months before they need to be planted, so they would never just throw these away and use tissue culture to produce the exact same thing with more time & expense. :)
     
  20. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Botanist Dr. Tom Croat just reminded me that according to Willis’s Dictionary of Flowering Plants all Zygocactus now are now correctly in the genus Schlumbergera Lem. There there are 2 to 5 species only in Brazil. There are apparently no true species being sold as Christmas Cactus but only hybrids which have been bred to produce blooms during the Christmas season.

    He also wrote "I am sure that many plants in Brazil are triggered to flower by the onset of the dry season (trees and lianas and plants in open areas where they are exposed to the effects of the wind and lack of rain) or by the onset of the rainy season (understory shrubs and forest herbs) but day length could have an affect too. Perhaps in the tropics where day length is not so variable the parameters are much narrower."

    We are looking for more info from the University of Massachusetts where these hybrids have been studied.
     
  21. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    Steve I think perhaps we're not asking the right people. That list of fine & respected plant experts you queried are likely not experts at all on this question. Notice that Dr. Croat did not directly answer your question, he just said that "many plants" there, including trees, use water as a bloom trigger. But he did not answer if he knows what the major bloom triggers are for specifically these holiday cactus we're talking about.
    A real expert on this question is someone who is not just sticking their thumb in the air and basing their opinion on similar plants, but someone who has done real science on this exact question. We're fortunate that we actually don't have to email any experts on this because the science has been done many times over and is well published for all to see. That very detailed link I gave you, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, had the short-day treatment narrowed down to half-hour increments per day, and duration down to the day, and temperatures specifically down to narrow 2-3 deg. ranges. It even included detailed specifics of how the two major bloom triggers are interrelated and affect each other when altered up or down. Here is another one by Dr. J. Raymond Kessler of Auburn University, Holiday Cactus, Commercial Greenhouse Production. This one is even more specific. Here are some relevant quotes, but there is much more at the link:
    There are many more of these by true experts if you would like me to find them. :)
     
  22. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    I believe the difference here is I'm interested in the way species in the wild respond to bloom triggers while this thread is interested in hybridized plants sold as Christmas cactus. Info in the same link would appear to indicate these plants were bred to produce blooms at this season.

    For that reason I will drop out of this thread and continue my own research with folks at the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden that deal excursively with species. It appears the majority of the true species in Brazil are found near Rio so I'm sure I can learn what I want to learn without troubling collectors who have no interest in the same things I am interested to learn.
     
  23. Daniel Mosquin

    Daniel Mosquin Paragon of Plants UBC Botanical Garden Forums Administrator Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    A little more respectful disagreement when facts are put forth, a little less dismissal and being patronizing, please.
     
  24. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    Today I noticed something different about my plant..... it had a flower BUD!! I just put it back in the kitchen where it always is and boom theres a bud. It also has grown a couple inches on a couple branches.
     
  25. jreidsma

    jreidsma Active Member

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    ..... >:( the bud fell off today. Sad about it I guess it wont flower this year. The bud just fell off for no reason. Could there be something wrong with it?
     

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