The Christmas season is upon us. Lights, trees, and holiday greens and plants are all around. Most people think of poinsettias as the traditional plant to decorate with for the holidays. Two holiday plants that can be purchased in bloom from Thanksgiving through Christmas are called holiday cacti. These include both Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus.
Both Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus plants are commonly given as houseplants or flowering plants during the holiday season. What are the differences between these two holiday cacti? Both are species of Schlumbergera, a leaf cactus, where the leaves are segments of the plant stem called pads. The Thanksgiving cactus has very sharp pointed leaf edges and flowers typically in the fall around Thanksgiving. The Christmas cactus has softer, scalloped edges and flowers a little later, closer the Christmas.
Image courtesy of gardengatemagazine.com
Holiday cacti are called “short day plants” meaning they require short days (less than 12 hours of light) to set flower buds. Cool night temperatures can also help to set the buds. This environment naturally occurs in Ohio in the fall.
They can be very long-lived, and when given the right conditions, they will rebloom each year.
During the summer, plants may be located outside on a deck, patio, window box, etc. in part shade (3-6 hours of sunlight per day). Filtered sunlight, such as under a tree, is preferable as it mimics the plant’s natural habitat. Excessive sunlight may result in pale green branches, drought, and sunburn.
One way to initiate flower buds next year is to leave plants outdoors in a protected location until just before frost danger. The shortening days and cooler nights of fall signal the plant to produce flowers buds resulting in abundant blooms. Alternatively, locate holiday cacti indoors a cool, bright location where daytime temperatures are 65-70° F and evening temperatures are 55-65° F. When plants are exposed to cooler night temperatures of 55° F, they bloom in approximately 5-6 weeks, sometimes regardless of the day length. However, when the night temperature is 60-65° F, plants must have at least 12 hours of complete darkness every night for about 6 weeks to bloom. Plants are unlikely to bloom if exposed to night temperatures above 65° F.
Can you tell what kind of holiday cactus this is? Hint: the sharply pointed stems indicate that this is a Thanksgiving cactus!