That Christmas cactus you bought for the holidays might be looking ragged these days. Here are some ways to extend your plant and force blooming next Christmas:

That Christmas cactus you bought for the holidays might be looking ragged these days. Here are some ways to extend your plant and force blooming next Christmas:

THE PROBLEM It’s a cactus, but it’s one that grows on coastal mountains. You think cactus, and you think of desert and bright sunshine. Forget everything you’ve learned about cacti, as this one needs just the opposite.

SUNLIGHT Your plant will thrive in filtered sunlight. Its habitat is rock beds in shady forests. Direct sunlight can burn it. A good place is a dining-room table with a southeast window. Too much sunlight will scorch the leaves.

WATER Your plant likes to dry out on top between waterings. Be sure to use a pot with a hole and good potting soil for best drainage. In all but the most active growing season, watering every other week is sufficient. Add a cup of sand to your potting soil for best drainage. Remove foil wrapping from plant. It blocks draining water.

HUMIDITY The plants thrive in high-humidity forests. You’ll need to add some during winter indoors. Place a saucer of water near your plant. On really cold, dry days, spray it with water.

FERTILIZER Christmas Cactus need 10-10-10 fertilizer, often labeled for bromeliads. Only fertilize when new sprouts are visible.

TRANSPLANTING Remember that the plants do best pot-bound. They hate having their roots disturbed. Many successful plants spend their entire lives in the same pot.

PROPAGATION Trim stems at their segmented joints, leaving two or three leaves. Allow them to dry for 3 to 6 hours. Plant the clippings in a pot of sand and peat moss (50-50). Keep it moist. You may also root them in water. You should see roots in six to eight weeks. Then pot them.

CHRISTMAS BLOOMING At the end of September, the plant needs 13 consecutive hours of total darkness. Then return to normal conditions and watch for buds in six weeks. To extend blooming, keep the plant in a cool area away from drafts and heating vents.

FROM MY EMAIL

Q: I got an email from a reader whose bulbs are sprouting and is wondering if it is too early for that to happen?

A: Given our warm winter, it’s just about right. Bulbs are very cold resistant. The only problem comes when they bud and are then hit by sub-freezing cold. That cancels the flowering season, but they will bloom again next year. Pull some of the mulch away from the leaves to let the sunshine do its magic.