Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter?
With the holidays come the ever present "Holiday Cactus". Did you know that you may have a Thanksgiving or Easter cactus and not a Christmas cactus? Read on, we will help you identify the holiday your cactus represents!
The main difference between the Christmas, the Thanksgiving, and the Easter cactus is the time of bloom. As their common names suggest, a Thanksgiving Cactus can bloom in late Fall, one month before the Christmas Cactus. The Easter Cactus starts producing flower buds in February.
Now, what if your cacti can't read a calendar? I know, they should have learned that at an early age. But if they missed that lesson, they are probably relying on current temperatures and amount of day light.
The true Christmas Cactus does not have the points on the side, but are still bumpy. The Christmas Cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi, a hybrid produced in the late 1840s by William Buckley at the Rollisson Nurseries in England.
The actual Thanksgiving Cactus, the plants most often sold as "Christmas Cacti" (by which name they sell best) are Schlumbergera truncata cultivars. These are clones selected for their colors, growth habit and given cultivar names. They bloom about a full month or more before the true Christmas cactus, given the same treatment, and so are more easily made to
bloom at the best time for Christmas sales. They are also known by many popular names such as "Link Cactus", and "Grandmother's Cactus". Like I mentioned, these clones have been selected and bred for their many colors. They can come in Lavender, White, Fuschia, Red, Orange, and all shades in between.
As you can see, there are more defined "points" on their sides.
The Easter Cactus is Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri . In some respects it is very similar to the Schlumbergera. However, it blooms in April (about Easter) and its flower is very different. It is not nearly as popular a
s the Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus because it is a little bit more difficult to grow well, and it has th
e nasty habit of shedding its phylloclades (stem segments) at the slightest drought, or whenever over watered. It may also refuse to bloom for no apparent reason. As you can see, the edges are almost smooth and the flowers are very different.
Flower bud initiation in Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti start in response to cool temperatures and shortened day lengths so they should be left outdoors, away from artificial light until night temperatures dip into the 40s. At this time, they do best at temperatures between 50 and 65 degrees.
From October to November, very little water is required for flower bud initiation. In December, raise the temperature to about 65 degrees and water sparingly.
All three Holiday cacti can be propagated quite easily by removing a single segment and planting a quarter of it's length deep in a pot filled with slightly sandy soil. It helps to put some kind of rooting hormone on the base of the cutting. Place the pot in a well lit area (but not in direct sunlight) and keep the soil moist. The cutting should begin showing signs of growth after two or three weeks.
When it comes to overall care, all three have the same basic needs. The soil should be evenly moist for best growth, but they are intolerant to constantly wet soil. They will do best in bright indirect light. Long term direct sunlight can burn the leaves and stunt growth. A well balanced general fertilizer applied once or twice a year is usually all that is needed.
Unless the plants outgrow their containers, you can usually get away with repotting every 2-3 years. The flowering can actually be encouraged by the plant being somewhat pot bound. If soil quality deteriorates rapidly, you might consider repotting more often. One of the best soil mediums to use is African Violet soil.
There are not many pests that bother Holiday cacti, other than mealy bugs. One easy solution is to touch each insect with an artist's brush or Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. Heavier infestations can be treated with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap, repeated weekly. If this doesn't work, a malathion spray should do the trick. Be careful with the strong spray of water however, the joints of the plants are quite fragile and can break apart if the plant is handled too roughly.
My Mother and Grandmother always had the most beautiful "Christmas Cactus" when I was growing up. I remember marveling at the pretty flowers. Hopefully, yours will give you just as much enjoyment.