DECEMBER NATURE NOTES - How to Grow and Care For a Holiday Cactus
You may be the fortunate recipient of one of the most popular gift plants during the holiday season: aThanksgiving or Christmas Cacti.
Actually, there are 3 species of flowering holiday cacti: the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii, and Easter cactus, Schlumbergera gaertneri.
Look closely, as all three species of holiday cacti have slight differences to distinguish them. Christmas Cactus bloom between December and February on scalloped stems and produce red flowers with purplish centers. Thanksgiving Cactus stems are toothed and the plants bloom from late October through November and produce red, white, yellow, peach, lavender flowers. Easter cacti resemble Christmas cactus, but if you look closely, you will see it has wider and rounded leaves with teeth on the stem segments, with red and pink flowers appearing in the spring.
Care and Feeding
If you treat it with a little TLC you should enjoy beautiful white, pink or red blooms for a couple of months.
Upon receipt of your cactus, put it in a cool, draft-free spot. 60-65 degrees F is optimal. Water only when the soil becomes barely moist, and allow the water to run out of the bottom of the pot. Too little humidity and over-watering are the two main reasons for bud drop.
After blooming is done, withhold water for about six weeks or until new leaf growth appears. Then resume watering, as described above, and fertilize at 2 to 3 week intervals with a weak solution of liquid houseplant food such as Miracle Grow.
Next Year: Getting It to Bloom Again
Your Christmas Cactus is a sensational pot plant when in bloom. Getting it to bloom next year is a study in neglect. Unlike the prickly members of the cactus family, this cactus is not a dry soil plant. However, during the month of October treat it like one. If you have taken it out of doors for the summer, leave it there until the nighttime temperature dips below 50 degrees F. Buds will develop and appear by the end of October, perhaps sooner. If temperatures remain above 50 degrees F at night, leave the plant outside. Otherwise, bring it inside and place it in the coolest environment possible. if you must put it in a warm room, group your other houseplants around it (make sure you sprayed it before bringing it into the house for insects) or place it on a tray filled with pebbles (don't allow the bottom of the pot be submerged) and water the pebbles only. This creates humidity. This cactus is a tropical plant.
Now, give the plant a big drink, so that the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Then don't water again until the soil feels barely moist. Always water so it runs out the drainage holes. if the water doesn't run through the easily, the soil is too heavy and needs replacing with equal parts of potting soil, perlite and peat moss.
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