Christmas cactus

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Although it’s still summertime my mind is wandering just a bit to the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. That truly is a great time of year. The festive mood, delicious food and family time together are both refreshing and heartwarming. It is also true that some of the most beautiful indoor plants are available at that time of year. Right now it seems that many commercial plant growers, like Santa’s elves are hard at work to bring you the best, most beautiful flowers and foliage for the holiday season.

Often flowering plants are given as gifts during the holidays and those who receive them want to know how to get them to bloom again next year. Holiday plants such as cyclamen and poinsettias will last well beyond the holiday season, but are difficult to get them to bloom again in following years. However, there is one popular holiday plant, the Christmas cactus that is kept in the off-season for its unique foliage and will re-bloom with relative ease if given the right environment.

Many gardeners and houseplant enthusiasts have grown Christmas cactus for years and have debated why some of them have leaves with pointed serrations at the tips and others are more rounded. Actually, these are two different “cousins” of the same family. Because of the confusion we commonly lump both together and call them Holiday Cactus. One blooms around Thanksgiving (points on leaves) and the other around Christmas (rounded leaves). And there the mystery is solved. However, these indoor plants aren’t grown for their leaves necessarily, but rather for their outstanding orchid-like flowers of white, pink, red and purple.

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Early September is the time to get started in order to be successful in getting our holiday cactus to bloom. It needs about 20 to 25 days with less than 12 hours of sunlight in order to start the flowering process. During that time, it should not receive any light at night. Consider placing the cactus in an unused room that receives plenty of sunlight during the day but no light at night. Something as simple as a security light shining in on the cactus may severely reduce or prevent blooming altogether.

During the time of bloom development try to avoid giving your plant too much water. Over-watering is the leading cause of houseplant death. Don’t fertilize during this time since the plant doesn’t really need much of that right now. Also, give your plants frost protection and once inside, protect it from cold drafts. To sum it up, sort of neglect your Holiday cactus, but don’t let it dry out and put it somewhere that provides bright light during the day and darkness at night. Good luck and happy gardening!

By Eddie Smith