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One of the plants you’ll see almost everywhere this time of year is Christmas/Thanksgiving/Holiday cactus. So here is what you need to know about these beautiful seasonal bloomers.
Holiday cacti are a small genus of plants called Schlumbergera. They are native to a small area in the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil where they often grow on trees or moss-covered rocks in lightly-shaded areas. They have flat segmented stems with toothed margins. In Brazil, they’re called May Flowers because that is usually when they bloom there.
There are two types of Holiday cactus—Truncatas, which have stem segments with more pointed teeth and tend to bloom November-ish (often called Thanksgiving cactus), and Buckleyi’s which have rounded more symmetrical teeth on the margins and blooms a bit later—these are the traditional Christmas cactus. Easter cactus are related but not the same.
Even though Holiday cacti are real cacti, they require vastly different care than do their dessert cousins. Because they’re native to the rainforest, they do not require a lot of direct sunlight. An African violet exposure—a couple of hours of good morning sun (before 11:30) or afternoon sun (after 2:30) is ideal. Allow them to dry partly but do not let them go bone dry. And because they are native to areas with lots of humidity, a light misting while inside or setting on pebble trays is beneficial.
Give them an occasional shot of African violet food from April through August. Don’t feed after August as this may make them grow more foliage instead of flowers. Also, let them dry out a little more in the fall as they prefer a slightly dryer “rest” before blooming.
You can prune in mid-spring before just before putting them outside for the summer. Pruning is easy–simply “twist” off the stems where the segments attach. The tips can then be placed in a small pot where they easily root. Pruning will help keep your plant “bushier,” thereby giving you more flowers in the long run.
A Holiday Cactus is what is called “thermos-photo periodic” meaning it needs a combination of cooler night temperatures and long dark nights (12 to 14 hours) in order to initiate bud set. In our homes, that’s easy enough to do if you have a room that is very bright during the day, but around 50 at night with uninterrupted darkness from sunset until dawn.
I simply put mine outside for the summer—moving them outside the first week or so in May (depending on temperature) and not bringing them back inside until night temperatures are falling to around forty.
Remember, when you put them outside, place them under a tree where they get only get dappled sunlight.
Come in and check out our selection of these beautiful and easy Holiday plants.