AUBURN, Alabama —Holiday cacti, whether Thanksgiving or Christmas, put on quite a show during this time of year. The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are closely related.
“Care for them is similar, and to often, it’s hard to tell them apart,” said Sallie Lee, an Alabama Extension regional agent in home grounds, gardens and home pests. “However, for those who want to know why their Christmas cactus is blooming in November, the answer might be, because it’s a Thanksgiving, not Christmas, cactus.”
Although native to the tropical forests of South America, these plants do well in sturdy hanging baskets or containers because they can grow quite large. They do fine outdoors away from artificial light until nighttime temperatures dip into the 40s. At that point, bring them inside to a cool area as they do best when temps are between 50 and 65 degrees. Once inside, to help initiate blooming, keep them away from light from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. Water sparingly, as too much water can cause bud drop and even root rot, so let the top inch of soil become dry to the touch before watering again.
Either Schlumbergera is a striking plant in full bloom. “The most apparent feature, other than when they bloom, is that the Thanksgiving or crab cactus has sharply serrated or toothed leaves. The Christmas cactus has rounded leaves. Another way of identifying which one you have is if blooms push upward, it’s a Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactuses hang down,” Lee added.
Plant bodies are flat. Leaves or segments are stems. Old-fashioned cacti produce fuchsia-colored blooms. New hybrids come in white, red, yellow, salmon and even purple.
Plant Is Easily Propagated
This long-lived cacti—some varieties have been in families for 50 years—are easily propagated. You’ll need a small container of moist potting soil, a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus to provide a cutting or cuttings and rooting hormone, which is helpful but not necessary. Clip off a three or four segment piece of the plant and dip the cut end in rooting hormone if you have it. Then push the cut end about an inch or so into a container of soil.
Make sure the soil stays moist. Prop a transparent plastic bag over the cutting but don’t let the plastic bag touch the cactus cutting. Insert a popsicle stick in the container about an inch or so deep. Drape the plastic mini greenhouse over it. Rooted, growing cuttings make great gifts for friends and family gardeners.
Cactuses like 50 to 60 percent humidity. If your home is very dry in the winter, fill a waterproof saucer with gravel. Add water halfway full and put the cactus (in its pot) on the gravel surface.
When flower buds drop before they bloom, it is usually because of overwatering, lack of humidity or insufficient light. Regardless of which holiday cactus you have, avoid high temperatures and heat fluctuations when the plant is flowering.
Christmas cactus photo by Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/shutterstock.com.
Thanksgiving cactus leaf photo by COLOA Studio/shutterstock.com.
Featured image by t50/shutterstock.com.