Christmas has come and gone and the stores are still filled with plants to decorate the home. Christmas cactus are in full bloom, ready to take home to spread winter cheer.
Actually, there are several species of the so-called Christmas cactus, including Thanksgiving cactus. They are long-lived and tolerant of most conditions, which makes them easy to grow.
Christmas and Thanksgiving cactuses are similar in appearance but have some distinctive characteristics. Christmas cactus usually has smooth stem segments, and Thanksgiving cactus has hook-like appendages on each segment.
The Thanksgiving cactus is probably the most common, as it is in bloom for the holidays. The flowers’ colors range from white to red, lavender or salmon. The true Christmas cactus flowers a little later, from December through March. Its flowers are rosy red.
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Holiday cactuses originated in the jungles of South America. They are epiphytic plants, which means they live on another plant but are not parasitic. They grow in the crotches of trees and derive their nutrition from the heavy jungle rains.
In the home these plants are not demanding. They depend on short days and cool temperatures to set flower buds.
An ideal place to force these cactuses into bloom is in a spare bedroom or basement where no artificial lights are used at night. The plants should receive bright light during the day, and the temperatures should be cool, under 65 degrees.
Keep the plants a bit on the dry side until the flower buds start to appear. Once the buds have set, the plants can be moved into other locations, as short days are no longer needed. Keep the plants on the cool side to avoid flower bud drop.
These cactuses require well-drained soil, as they do not like wet feet. Even though they are a member of the cactus family, they do like a little more moisture. Fertilization on a regular basis is also recommended.
Holiday cactuses do best when they are somewhat root-bound. Repotting is best done when they are not setting buds or in flower.
Pick up one of these plants to enjoy for the winter or for starting your own holiday tradition next season. What better way to celebrate than with a home-grown decoration?