Tis the season for holiday gift plants. These colorful additions to the home are usually sold at specific times of the year because they are associated with a specific holiday and they tend to bloom around that holiday time period.
During the Christmas holidays you have Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus which collectively are called "holiday cactus". There are differences in how they look and when they bloom.
The plants most often sold as Christmas cactus are really Thanksgiving cactus or as the botanist call them Schlumbergera truncata. They come in many colors and usually bloom about a full month before the true Christmas cactus.
The true Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera x hybrida and Thanksgiving cactus look almost identical. It is a popular long lived plant but is not as often seen in stores because it blooms a little late for good holiday sales.
Inquiring minds want to know, How do you tell them apart? Well, it all comes down to looking at those flat green stems everyone calls leaves. The stems on a true Christmas cactus have round edges (top plant in photo to the right) and the stems on a Thanksgiving cactus has edges with points
Should you care if you are buying a Thanksgiving cactus or a True Christmas cactus? Not really. Both plants make great additions to the holiday scene at your home and when taken care of properly can live for many years. Speaking personally, I have a true Christmas cactus that I received while I was in high school. I graduated in 1964. You figure out how old the plant is (not me).
When you get your holiday cactus home try to place it where it gets bright light and cool temperatures. The cool
temperatures will help extend the bloom period of the plant. As far as watering, keep in mind that unlike their arid cousins, these cacti are jungle cacti. Water so the soil is kept on the slightly moist side. If you err, err on the side of dry. When flowering is finished continue to maintain the plant in bright light and cool temperatures. In the spring when all danger of frost is past, relocate the plant outdoors in a semi-shaded location. Under some trees is good. Water to maintain proper soil moisture and fertilize maybe once a month with liquid houseplant fertilizer. Before frost move the plant indoors. The plant can tolerate cool fall temperatures just not frost and leaving it to experience the cool temperatures will help with re-bloom.
Holiday cactus tend to bloom naturally in the fall/early winter because temperatures are cool and days are shorter. These are the two things the plant needs to re-bloom. Try to keep the plant in an area that is around 55-60 degrees and provide it with about 12-16 hours of uninterrupted darkness. Once visible buds are set, the plant can be handled normally.
As a follow-up to last week's blog entry, the Easter lilies are now settled in for a long winters nap in the cooler. For the next eight weeks they will lie comfortably at 45 degrees developing roots and shoots. We will follow their progress when they come out of the cooler.