Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > November 2014 > CHRISTMAS, THANKSGIVING, EASTER--HOLIDAY CACTUS

CHRISTMAS, THANKSGIVING, EASTER--HOLIDAY CACTUS

The Zygocactus, or Schlumbergera, is an epiphytic cactus, living up in trees, its roots clinging to the bark and taking its nutrients in from the plant detritus that accumulates around its roots.  The green flattened leaf segments dangle from the tree’s branches placing the brightly colored flowers in the way of pollinators.  Hybridizers have produced a wonderful range of flower colors from the original red:  white, gold, salmon, pinks, oranges, and reds.  We bring in Christmas cactus every year, and some years they are almost finished blooming at Thanksgiving.  These true cacti are light sensitive, taking their seasonal cue from day length.  We get requests for these plants any time of year, but they are generally available only “in season”. 
 
In nature, they may flower any time during the shorter days of November through February, depending upon the Schlumbergera species.  Cooler temperatures during this period also play a roll in stimulating flower buds.  To get a “Christmas Cactus”, growers have to carefully control the light and temperature to which the plants are exposed prior to their normal occurrence.  You can initiate flowering by controlling the “day length” yourself, placing a box over the plant each day after nine or ten hours of daylight.  Leaving a Zygocactus outside in the fall until right up to a frost allows it to be exposed to flower-initiating cooler night temperatures.
 
Most will flower sometime in November or December, but many people find, if left to its own devices, their Christmas cactus will go into bloom in January or February.  Sometimes a Zygocactus will bloom a little in the fall and again in the spring.
 
Another epiphytic cactus, the Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis) or Spring cactus, has a similar appearance, with dangling branches of leaf segments and bright flowers at the terminals.  However, while related, the Rhipsalidopsis flowers are different—open flat star-shaped red, pink, or orange.   They tend to flower in late winter or early spring, following the long period of shorter days of fall and winter.  They may do a little flowering in the fall, due to the shorter days at that time.
 
Other than flowering time, the care for these holiday cacti is basically the same.  Bright indirect light to early morning or dappled sun will simulate their growing environment.  Try not to move them around after flower buds have formed, as they may experience bud drop.  A well-draining potting mix is necessary, and allow the medium to dry slightly between thorough waterings…these are not desert cacti.  After flowering, allow the plant to rest for a couple of months, with slightly less water and no fertilizing.  After the rest period, water and fertilize normally until the next short-day period.
 
Happy Holidays!
Posted: 11/20/2014 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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