Holiday Cactus at any Time of Year

May 13, 2010 0 Comments

Sue (from the Asiatic Lilies post) also asked about her Christmas cactus.  She says “it is hot pink in color, had never bloomed since I gave it to my Mom 3 years ago (was forced at x-mas time). Well it bloomed in Sept and then again it started blooming the end of March and just finishing now.  So I am confused on when to feed etc – didn’t realize it would bloom twice in one year.  Can I set that outside this summer or should I just keep it indoors?”

There are several varieties of holiday cactus.  There are Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  And I found this one at a local box store that was labeled “Spring Cactus”.

The "leaves" look different than the others in this post, so I don't know if it is the same as one of the others or a new development.

It appears that there are three main types.  The Thanksgiving cactus is the most familiar and widely grown.   The scientific name is Schlumbergera truncata and can also be called crab or yoke cactus.  This variety is found from various stores in early fall through Christmas.  Flower colors range from white through red, lavender and can also be salmon-orange and many shades of each.  The flowering time is generally from about Thanksgiving through Christmas.  This is what we usually call the Christmas cactus because it is the one available leading up to Christmas.

The real Christmas cactus, Schumbergera bridgesii, has arching branches that produce 3-inch-long, rosy-red flowers from late December through March.

The Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii, sets its buds from January to March and blooms from March through May with pink or red flowers.  It may bloom again in early fall.  This is probably the one you have, Sue.

Each of these cacti have different “leaf” margins, although they don’t really have leaves.  The Thanksgiving cactus has two to four sawtoothed, upward pointing projections on the sides of the stem.

This photo is from someone in NW Arkansas

The Christmas cactus has leaf margins that are rounded with scallops (usually four) along the edges of the stems.

Also from NW Arkansas

The Easter cactus has leaf margins that are smoother than the other seasonal cacti.  There are 4 to 6 slight ripples along their edges and brownish hair-like bristles at the tips.

And yet another one from NW Arkansas

All three require similar growing conditions, however the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti depend on short daylengths and cool temperatures to set their flower buds, while the Easter cacti will bloom with cool temperatures at the normal seasonal daylength.

Short-day plants mean that in order to get them to bloom, you need to place them in a spare bedroom or basement where no artificial lights are used at night.  The plants should receive bright light during the day and the temperatures should be kept under 65 degrees.   Some will even bloom if kept at 55 degrees during the fall no matter what the daylength.  You want to keep the plants a bit on the dry side until you see pinpoint buds forming and then you can resume normal watering.  Once the buds have formed, you do not need to continue the short-day treatment, but you do need to keep the soil moderately moist, give them bright light and maintain a cool temperature (that’s 60 to 70 degrees) to avoid bud drop.

Holiday cacti have their origins in South American forests.  They are called “epiphytic” plants, which mean they live on another plant but are not parasitis.  They grow in the crotches of trees and derive their nutrition from the heavy junble rains, decaying organic matter and filtered sunlight.  In the northern latitude home (where we live), they require a well-drained potting soil.  If the soil is compacted and drains poorly, the branches of the cacti may become limp and shriveled.  Do not keep it dry like other cactus.  Keep the soil moderately moist and fertilize them monthly during the summer months with a soluble fertilizer.  You can move them outdoors in summer to a partially shady location. 

Holiday cacti grow and flower best when the roots are a little cramped.  They don’t need to be repotted annually.  You will only need to repot when the soil become compacted or the plants have completely outgrown their containers.  If you do need to repot them, spring or early summer is the best time… when the plants finish blooming. 

Whatever type of Holiday Cactus you have, enjoy the blooms!

Dig it!

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