Q&A: Christmas Cactus Bud Drop

Here's a tip on preserving the colorful blooms of Christmas cacti.

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Q: I purchased a Christmas cactus with many buds. A day or two later it started dropping buds: three to four a day. At this rate all will be gone by Christmas! What can I do?

A: It sounds as though your new Christmas cactus is reacting to a change in the environment. Dropping buds can be a result of overwatering, temperature extremes or lack of light. Your plant was given special treatment to make it bloom at Christmas, and it was provided with perfect growing conditions during this time. Somewhere in transit, or perhaps in your home, it encountered less than ideal conditions. The resulting bud drop is the plant's way of dealing with the stressful condtions.

You can help it recover by providing the essentials. Christmas cactus is a tropical plant that requires a highly organic soil mixture, lots of moisture, bright light and average household temperatures.

Next year, take your Christmas cactus outdoors during the summer and fertilize it monthly with a diluted houseplant food. Then bring it back indoors at the end of September and provide total darkness for 16 hours each day so the plant can set flower buds. The easiest way to accomplish this is to place it in a bright room for eight hours and then either put a box over it or put it in a closet for 16 hours. It needs absolute darkness; even a short burst of daylight will retard the formation of buds. During this forcing period, keep the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees F, and don't fertilize the plant. In early December your Christmas cactus can be brought into ordinary light and will bloom in a few weeks.

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