Confessions of a Cactus Killer

In my article, Caring for Holiday Cactus, I mention my first Christmas cactus, which came from my mother, who got it from HER mother, who grew and tended it as far back as anyone can remember. What I don’t mention (for the sake of my reputation, of course), is that I killed it. Yes, that’s right, I killed the heirloom cactus, and I hang my head in shame.

The thing is, this plant had lived in my mother’s laundry room for years, receiving only the light that came through the blinds and only the water that someone remembered while ironing, and it even bloomed on occasion. Then it lived quite contently with me for a while, and then what do I do? I decide to remodel my house and stow all my houseplants in the basement to keep them safe, then I forget about them for, oh, about eight months, through a 100-degree summer and an icy winter.

By the time I remembered my plants and had a livable house to put them in, there were no plants – only a collection of pots filled with lonely, moldy dirt. Well, there was one shriveled Jade plant and one limp pothos that were able to be revived, but the rest were completely composted.

It’s been years now, and whenever family comes to visit, they are so complimentary about the house and the (now) many green plants. But I wasn’t born yesterday – I know what they’re really thinking. They’re thinking, “What this place needs is a nice, heirloom Christmas cactus.”

They don’t say anything, of course, but in my own mind I wonder: Will I ever live it down? Does one act of colossal neglect permanently blacken an otherwise green thumb? How many healthy Christmas cactuses do I need to have in order to make up for that one dead one?

Is my grandmother looking down on me and shaking her head, or is she up there happily watering her cactus and waiting for me to send more plants her way?

Everybody makes mistakes, and in fact that’s the best way to learn. I learned that whenever I get too distracted, after a year or so things sort of start to slide. It’s good info.


  1. Hi
    What I do to keep my Christmas cactus blooming for months on end(yes they have even given me flowers on the 4th of July) is too dead head the older dying flowers. I have found out that with many different plants, you will prolong their flowering if you pick off the dead flowers. On the cactus don’t wait until they have dropped their blossoms, but pull them off when they start to look like they are wilting. You may not have as many flowers as when they will keep on flowering for many months. This works for me. Enjoy

  2. I have 2 different cactus plants. They both have flat leaved branches but one has rounded shaped sections and the other has a spiky edge on each section. The spiky one blooms several times a year and the round edge one was in bloom 2 years ago when I bought i but hasn’t bloomed since. I have them side by side in direct sun light window on the south side of my home. I would like to know their names if I could and find out when are their bloom times.


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