Q: I love Christmas cactuses for their winter flowers and have a few in my living room. Is it possible to grow them outside, too? I'm wondering about planting some in patio containers.
A: Christmas cactuses are well-loved festive plants for brightening our homes, and are attractive even when they're not in bloom. In some regions, these tropical beauties can also be grown successfully outdoors, but the conditions have to be right.
3 tips for growing Christmas cactuses outdoors
1. Ensure outdoor temperatures are suitable
These frost-tender plants hail from balmy Brazilian rainforests. So, it's no surprise they need a warm climate to survive if they're going to stay outdoors all year.
If you live in USDA plant hardiness zones 10-12, you can plant them directly into the ground, says Paris Lalicata of The Sill. Otherwise, you could move them outdoors in hanging baskets or containers for the spring and summer months, when days are warmer, she adds.
If doing the latter, ensure you bring them inside again before the seasons shift. This should be before night temperatures dip below 50°F, says Kiersten Rankel, a plant expert of Gregarious, Inc.
Top tip: Paris advises choosing a planting area that has filtered sunlight or partial shade. As Rebecca Sears, a gardening expert at Ferry-Morse warns, too much sun can cause yellowing of the plants.
Paris has been with The Sill for almost five years and heads up Plant Education and Community. A self-taught plant expert with over ten years of experience growing houseplants, she currently maintains an indoor garden of more than 200 plants in the northeast. Her passion is making plant care more digestible for budding plant parents and sharing the many benefits of having plants indoors.
Kiersten Rankel is a certified Louisiana Master Naturalist and regularly volunteers with local community gardens and nonprofits to help restore critical ecosystems along the Gulf Coast. She earned her master's degree from Tulane University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology after her undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology, also from Tulane. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and tending to her 150+ houseplants and vegetable garden.
2. Carefully acclimate your Christmas cactus to outdoor conditions
While Kiersten says mature, healthy Christmas cactus plants can thrive outdoors, she also notes how they must be correctly acclimated. To do this, she advises gradually introducing them to increased light and humidity over 2-3 weeks before permanent placement.
Donna Letier, the founder and CEO of Gardenuity, agrees that the transition to outdoor conditions should be gradual, and recommends waiting until spring or early summer to do so.
Donna Letier is the CEO and co-founder of Gardenuity, a company merging gardening with the wellness sector through personalized container gardens and gardening experiences.
3. Avoid waterlogging the soil
These plants prefer well-draining soil, says Donna, who recommends maintaining a moist, but not wet, environment. They tend to tolerate slight underwatering better than excessive moisture, she adds.
Planting in porous pots, such as ones made from terracotta, will help ensure your Christmas cactus drains well and isn’t overwatered, says Rebecca Sears.
This Haws mini watering can from Terrain is ideal for precise hydration.
Top tip: Applying a light fertilizer from March to October will support seasonal blooms, highlights Kiersten.
Should you prune outdoor Christmas cactuses?
Which pests can affect outdoor Christmas cactuses?
Common Christmas cactus pests that can be a nuisance both indoors and out include aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. Check your plants for infestations regularly and treat them as soon as you spot any telltale signs.
If planting a Christmas cactus outdoors isn't suitable for your backyard's conditions, don't despair. You can still keep yours looking its very best as part of your interior scheme, and there are plenty of other beautiful alternatives for admiring outdoors.
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The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.
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