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Holiday “Cactus” (Schlumbergera varieties)

Have you noticed the odd-looking plants with neon bright flowers blooming since Halloween? You may know them as Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus or Crab Cactus. Whatever you call them, they’re certainly bright and cheerful, and bring a bold bloom of color indoors during the winter months.

These plants don’t resemble their cactus cousins. Native to forests and jungles rather than desert regions, these plants are generally epiphytic, growing on trees or rocks. Distinctly flattened claw-like joints approximately 1″ long form the arched and hanging stems. The 2.5 – 3″ tubular blossoms emerge from the stem tips.

In case you’re wondering, the Easter cactus is a close relative but a different genus. However, in addition to blooming in the spring, another difference is the blossoms also form at the stem joints. Hybrids now bloom at different times of the year and new introductions create a wider variety of colors including pink, reddish, white, orange, purple and even multicolored blooms on the same plant. You can actually create a blooming rainbow effect over the entire year, with proper care and diligent upkeep.

The Christmas cactus usually begins flowering when night temperatures are around 55° Fahrenheit. After the buds are set, night temperatures of 60-70° Fahrenheit and slightly higher during the day are ideal. Many people summer their plants outdoors in a shady location and bring them indoors after bud set to enjoy during the holidays.

Caring for Holiday Cacti

Holiday cacti are as easy to grow as most houseplants. These easy instructions can help your Christmas cactus become part of your holiday traditions for years to come.

  1. Use general all-purpose container potting soil and a pot with sufficient drainage to protect the roots.
  2. Keep the soil moist while the cactus is blooming and allow it to become mostly dry while resting before watering again.
  3. Fertilize “weakly, weekly” while flowering. Otherwise, water every other month without fertilization.
  4. Place the cactus where it will receive bright indirect light for 6-8 hours a day. Avoid direct sunlight that can burn the plant.
  5. Transplant the cactus to a larger container when roots are very tight and blooming is less vigorous.

A holiday cactus can be a fine addition to any winter decorations, or by itself it will brighten any room for weeks with its bold, colorful blooms. With proper care, you’ll enjoy your cactus for many holiday seasons.