Christmas cactus are popular houseplants that brighten up our homes during the holiday season with their vibrant blooms. But have you ever wondered if “Can Christmas Cactus Be Outside?”. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the possibility of growing Christmas cactus outside, the necessary care requirements, and the best practices to help your plant thrive in an outdoor environment.
Understanding Christmas Cactus
Before we explore the possibility of growing Christmas cactus outdoors, let’s take a closer look at these fascinating plants. Christmas cactus, scientifically known as Schlumbergera x buckleyi, are hybrid cactus that belong to the family Cactaceae. They are native to the tropical rainforests of Brazil, where they grow as epiphytes, attaching themselves to trees or rocks.
Unlike typical desert cactus, Christmas cactus have flattened stems with segmented leaves that resemble crab claws. The stems store water, allowing the plants to withstand periods of drought. In their natural environment, these cactus typically bloom in late fall or early winter, coinciding with the holiday season.
Can Christmas Cactus Be Outside?
Temperature and Climate Considerations
One of the most critical factors to consider when growing Christmas cactus outdoors is the temperature and climate of your region. These plants are native to tropical rainforests and thrive in temperatures between 60°F (15°C) to 70°F (21°C). They are not cold-hardy and can suffer damage or even die if exposed to freezing temperatures.
If you live in a region with mild winters and warm summers, such as USDA hardiness zones 9 and above, you have a higher chance of successfully growing Christmas cactus outdoors. In these areas, the cactus can be planted in the ground and left outside year-round. However, it is still important to provide some protection during cold snaps or frosty nights.
In colder climates, it is advisable to keep Christmas cactus as potted plants that can be moved indoors during the winter months. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of outdoor growth during the warmer seasons while protecting the plants from cold temperatures.
When selecting a location for your outdoor Christmas cactus, it is crucial to consider its light requirements. These plants prefer bright, indirect light, making them suitable for areas with partial shade or filtered sunlight. Direct sunlight can be too intense and may lead to leaf burn or discoloration.
In regions with hot summers, it is best to provide the cactus with morning sunlight or dappled afternoon light. Placing them under the shade of a deciduous tree can offer the perfect balance of winter sun and summer shade. This will ensure the plants receive enough light while avoiding excessive heat and sun damage.
During the fall and winter months, Christmas cactus require at least 13 to 16 hours of total darkness to initiate blooming. If your outdoor location experiences high levels of artificial light pollution during these seasons, it may affect the plant’s ability to flower. Consider covering the cactus with a dark cloth or moving them to a darker area at night to promote blooming.
Soil and Watering Needs
Proper soil and watering practices are crucial for the successful growth of Christmas cactus outdoors. These plants prefer well-draining soil that mimics their natural habitat. A mixture of loamy, sandy soil with added perlite and orchid or pine bark can provide the ideal growing medium. This combination ensures adequate drainage while retaining some moisture.
When watering your outdoor Christmas cactus, it is important to strike a balance. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other fungal diseases, while underwatering can cause the plant to wither and die. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings, and avoid letting it become bone dry. During the winter months, reduce watering to prevent frost damage and give the plant a period of dormancy.
Fertilization and Maintenance
Maintaining a healthy Christmas cactus outdoors involves regular fertilization and proper maintenance. During the growing season, from April to October, feed your plant with a balanced liquid fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 NPK ratio. This will provide the necessary nutrients for vigorous growth and abundant blooms.
Pruning is an essential part of maintaining the shape and overall health of your outdoor Christmas cactus. In the spring, remove 2 to 3 segments from the stems to encourage branching and new growth. This will result in a fuller, more compact plant. Additionally, adding an insulating layer of bark mulch around the roots in the fall can protect the plant from temperature fluctuations.
Protection from Pests and Diseases
Outdoor Christmas cactus are more susceptible to pests and diseases compared to their indoor counterparts. Common pests include mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, and scale bugs. These can be controlled by regular inspections and treatment with neem oil or insecticidal soap. Wiping the leaves with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol can also help eliminate pests.
Root rot and fungal infections are the primary diseases that outdoor Christmas cactus may encounter. To prevent these issues, ensure proper soil drainage and avoid overwatering. If symptoms of rot or disease appear, promptly remove the affected parts and apply a suitable fungicide as directed.
Tips for Successfully Growing Christmas Cactus Outdoors
Now that you are familiar with the necessary care requirements for growing Christmas cactus outdoors, here are some additional tips to ensure the success of your plants:
Choosing the Right Location
When selecting a location for your outdoor Christmas cactus, consider factors such as light exposure, temperature fluctuations, and protection from harsh elements. Choose a spot with partial shade or filtered sunlight, away from strong winds or drafty areas. Placing the cactus under the shade of a tree or near a wall can provide additional protection.
Providing Adequate Shelter
During cold snaps or frosty nights, it is crucial to provide shelter for your outdoor Christmas cactus. Frost can damage or kill the plant, so move it indoors or cover it with a frost cloth when temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C). Creating a microclimate by placing the cactus