Connecticut Garden Journal: Not Just Christmas Cactus | Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Garden Journal: Not Just Christmas Cactus

Dec 6, 2018

Some plant names are confusing. Take Christmas cactus. This plant can flower anytime between November and April. The reason is most Christmas cactus can have Thanksgiving cactus or Easter cactus genes, but are forced into bloom at Christmas time by growers.

The differences are subtle. Thanksgiving cactus has pointed leaflets. Christmas cactus has rounded leaflets and Easter cactus has fibrous hairs at the leaf joints.

Whatever the name, this plant is native to the southeastern, coastal mountains of Brazil. Europeans starting breeding it in the 1800s, and now it’s one of our most treasured symbols of the holidays.

Christmas cactus are epiphytes, like moth orchids, and grow in organic matter-filled branch crotches of trees in their native environment.

Most Christmas cacti are hybrids of a few species. If your cactus is flowering now, like mine, they probably are mostly Thanksgiving cactus. If you have some that don’t bloom until late winter, you may have mostly an Easter cactus. Purchase some of each for flowers all winter.

Christmas cactus are easy to grow. Plant them in potting soil. Christmas cactus develop flowers in response to shorter day lengths and cooler temperatures. Place your cactus in a cool room or porch in fall, not letting them get exposed to freezing temperatures, and keep the soil dry.

You can also place the plants in a room that stays dark 14 hours a night, with no artificial light, but is brightly lit during the day. Once the flower buds form, avoid cold drafts or the buds may drop. Repot over grown cactus after flowering and feed them with an organic fertilizer.