Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Several cheery weeks of unfurling magnificent blooms are what you’ll get from the Easter cactus and its relatives. This time of the year we can expect to see Easter cactus for sale. For the Thanksgiving and Christmas types, these are available in November and December.
Though the Easter cactus is just as lovely as the others, it often doesn’t receive as much attention. This may be because this holiday arrives during the spring. At that time, we are eager to turn our attention to outdoor gardening. In comparison, we are doing the opposite from Thanksgiving onward for the winter months.
Easter cactus is related to the winter-blooming ones. Its blooms are usually scarlet.
On the other hand, the blossoms of the Christmas cactus come in a range of colors, including pinks, reds, whites, and bicolors as well as others. Among the red shades are brick-red. I’ve also seen Christmas cactus with blue-violet blossoms.
Originally, the three kinds of holiday cacti may have started out as different species. However, modern plant breeding techniques have led to many kinds of hybrids that show fewer differences in appearance.
The original species of Thanksgiving cactus could be identified by the joints and the margins of the stems. However, that is no longer true with some hybrids.
All the holiday cacti are natives of the jungles and woodlands of the Amazon Basin area in Brazil. There, they dwell in trees along with orchids and bromeliads. These plants prefer warm, humid, shady growing conditions.
Their origins indicate the care that these various kinds of holiday cacti need. In that respect, they differ considerably than desert cacti.
The holiday cacti prefer a moist, but not soggy, soil during their flowering period. The winter-blooming ones take a rest period, beginning around mid-February or March. For the Easter cactus, this comes earlier—in October or so.
During the plant’s rest period, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. But don’t overdo this. These can tolerate dry conditions. But I keep a close eye on ones in hanging baskets since these dry out quicker than ones in ordinary pots.
Fertilize the holiday cacti only when the plants are either flowering or actively growing. I usually use an ordinary soluble fertilizer at half the strength recommended on the label.
For optimal flowering, place the plant in a cool spot (around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit) during its rest period. Once the flower buds form, increase watering and temperature slightly to about 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid moving the plants once the flowering buds emerge as this disturbance may cause premature bud drop.
All of the holiday cacti do best in a porous, well-drained soil high in organic matter. I would recommend soilless mixes since regular soil-based potting soils may not be quick-draining.
Concerning light, I’ve had good luck placing them under a skylight in the winter, and outdoors in full to partial shade during the summer months. Limit their exposure to direct sunlight to about two hours a day.
These plants are very easy to propagate. I snip off pieces of the stems at the joints, and allow the cuttings to dry for at least 24 hours. Then, I place them in a damp, soilless mix. Generally, I use hanging baskets. These display the trailing stems very nicely.
All of these different holiday cacti are short-day plants, meaning they need darkness for about half the day. For the winter blooming ones, the short days of fall initiates the formation of flower buds. Likewise, the same thing happens during the spring as the days gradually lengthen until the Easter cactus begins to set its flower buds.
People often think that the plant has to have complete darkness to start blooming. It turns out that this is not necessarily true for the cactus. It is probably necessary for the poinsettia, but not for these. I set the pots in unused rooms where the lights are rarely turned on during the evening or night. This is enough to give the plants the amount of darkness they need.
Other factors can affect the blooms of holiday cacti. Temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, can disrupt flowering.
Any sudden changes in either the temperature, amount of light, or humidity can cause the blossoms to fade more quickly than usual.
If you buy a holiday cactus in an ordinary plastic pot, dress it up for spring with foil wrap decorated with spring themes. I would remove the foil before watering the plant.
Whether you already have an Easter cactus or are thinking of buying one, you’re sure to enjoy their delightful blooms.