We usually think of cactus growing in the hot sandy deserts in the glare of a sizzling sun. But Holiday Cactus belong to the family called Schlumbergera. These beautiful flowering plants are from the tropical rain forests of Brazil and grow in the cool moist shade, often in the leaf mold in boughs of trees or on rocks.
Most often these plants are sold during the holidays as Christmas Cactus, since they bloom in the coldest part of the year, with the shortest days. There is also a Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus. Cactus technically do not have true leaves, but for the sake of explanation, these plants have unusual leaves that look like pads joined together in long chains. As the plant ages, it takes on a graceful weeping appearance. Christmas Cactus has more rounded pads, while Thanksgiving Cactus leaves have sharper edges. Many times the two are sold as Christmas Cactus.
Holiday Cactus thrive on neglect and are a welcomed sight blooming in the drab days of winter. All Holiday Cactus sold are hybrids, bred to produce a variety of colorful flowers. I see the flowers almost as feather-like and come in a wide range of colors. The flowers can be orange, red, pink and bi-colored. A highly sought after yellow flower is also available.
Holiday Cactus like to be pot-bound and don’t need to be repotted every year. They like very organic humus, well-draining soil that is similar to the decaying vegetation as they grow in the wild. They don’t like to be in the hot sun, preferring cool shade. It is important not to over water or underwater the plants. Organic fertilizer can be applied up to September. Strong harsh fertilizers can kill the plants.
The cool short days of autumn stimulates the plants to form flower buds at the end of the pads. Here in Ohio, the days naturally grow colder and shorter, so we don’t have to worry about artificially manipulating the plant to form flowers.
I place my Holiday Cactus in my little greenhouse, but they also make great houseplants. I like to buy them deeply discounted after the holidays when they have stopped flowering. In the spring after any fear of frost, I move them to a table in a shady part of my garden. I water them when necessary. I leave them outside until it is about to frost and then move them into the greenhouse to bloom. Remember it is the cool short days that stimulate the formation of flower buds.
It is such a delight to see these unusual cactus in full bloom. They have been known to live for decades, becoming larger and more beautiful with each passing year. Often they are passed on from one generation to the next and take on great sentimental value. I often hear people saying their Christmas Cactus belonged to their mother or grandmother. If you have never tried to grow these colorful flowering plants, I encourage you to give one a try to start a new family holiday tradition!
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