My Holiday Cactus
My holiday cacti never bloom when I want them to. Mind you, I’ve tried to coordinate when I bring them indoors from their summer vacation on a ledge of my front porch, but I’m always a bit late and the cooler evening temperatures of late August and September—as well as the shortening days—trigger my holiday cacti into flower bud much earlier than I want them to. I usually have Christmas cactus in bloom in time for Halloween. That’s why I don’t call them Christmas cactus anymore: they bloom anytime between the holidays of Thanksgiving and Easter.
Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a desert plant. Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are popular, fall- and winter-flowering houseplants native to the tropical rainforests of South America, and are available in a wide variety of colors including red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream, and white. These Schlumbergera species grow as epiphytes among tree branches in shady rain forests. That’s part of my collection in the photo. Many of these were started from cuttings I took from Martha Stewart’s personal collection of tropical cacti in the greenhouse at her former home in Connecticut (I was working on one of her books and her former gardener, Andrew Beckman, gave me permission) more than 25 years ago. So you know these are long-lived plants.
So how do you ensure they bloom for Christmas? In fall, night temperatures around 50–55 degrees will trigger Christmas cactus to form flower buds, so get them in the house before then. Next, six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a dark space with a temperature around 60 degrees for 12 hours each day. Water only when the top inch or so of the soil is dry to the touch. You should get flowers right on time for the holiday.
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