Many families have a specimen Christmas cactus plant that is many years old. If you have such a family heirloom, it is easy to pass starts along to other members of your family. Just break off a segment, let it dry for a few days, and then place it in barely moist vermiculite; pot up several so everyone can have one. In fact, all the true Christmas cactus plants are a clone of a single hybrid of two native species produced in the 1840’s. The original plants came from a small area near the coast in the tropical rainforest of Brazil.
Most “Christmas Cactus” plants in bloom this time of the year are actually a “Thanksgiving Cactus” or Schlumbergera truncate. Christmas Cactus, Schlumbergera x buckleyi, and Thanksgiving Cactus look similar. Thanksgiving cacti have spines on each segment and the flowers tend to grow more horizontally. Christmas cacti segments have rounded edges and the flowers are more pendulous. Because Thanksgiving cactus plants bloom slightly earlier in the year, they are more often available in bloom before Christmas. There is also a similar Easter Cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, that blooms, you guessed it, in the spring.
It is actually quite easy to take care of both types of holiday cacti. When the plants are in flower, they should be kept in a well-lit location away from drafts, from heat vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air. Drafts and temperature extremes can cause the flower buds to drop from the plant before they have a chance to open and too much light can cause the flower color to fade. Holiday cacti will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures.
Holiday cacti are tropical type plants, but not as drought tolerant as their name suggests. In fact, they may drop flower buds if the soil gets too dry. The plants will wilt when under drought stress. Water thoroughly when the top inch or so of soil feels dry to the touch. The length of time between watering will vary with the air temperature, amount of light, rate of growth and relative humidity. The plants like light humus-rich soil slightly on the acid side.
After they are through blooming, move to a sunny location indoors and fertilize regularly with blooming houseplant fertilizer during the growing season. They often bloom again in the spring. These plants can be moved outside in the summer, but do not put them in direct sunlight. They do better in a shady or partially shady location. They can be left outside until the night temperatures drop to the mid 40’s, as the lower temperature and shorter days are what stimulates flowering. If the plants are kept inside all year, it is important that they receive at least 12 to 15 hours of complete darkness each day for several weeks to stimulate flowering.
Blossoms are at the ends of the stems, so pruning back the stems to stimulate branching each spring will increase flower production. Just break off a few of the leaflets at the end of each stem.
With proper care, the holiday cactus you bought this year could live to provide flowers for your grandchildren.
For more information on home, lawn, indoor, or outdoor garden care and tips, as well as other garden topics, visit www.ohioline.com and click on the Yard and Garden link, or call the OSU Extension, Butler County, at (513) 887-3722, or in Middletown at (513) 424-5351, ext. #3722.
News Release provided by Kathy Maurer.