There are three different types of holiday cactus (Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter) and they are named based on when they bloom. The Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti are part of the same family of plants known as Schlumbergera, while the Easter Cactus is from a different plant group – Rhipsalidopsis. These cacti are very different from the desert type of cactus many of us are familiar with or have grown. These plants are tropical epiphytes cactus and they are native to the rainforests of Brazil. They are found in nature attached to trees and rocks. They do not grow in soil and prefer a humid climate, not a dry one, so it is important to water these cacti regularly.
The care of these three houseplants is comparable. The look of the Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti are similar but there are some distinct differences. The Christmas Cactus typically have round or scalloped leaves and bloom in December and January, while Thanksgiving Cactus have pointy leaves and bloom in November – December time period. Thanksgiving Cactus is much easier to ship and is often mislabeled as Christmas Cactus so make sure to check the leaves. Easter Cactus has lots of blooms and the leaves are also scalloped.
After each of these plants bloom, they need a resting period so do not fertilize them for one to two months and use very little water. If you do not do this it will affect the plants blooming the following year.
Remember these plants can be long-lived houseplants. Also, a big plus is these plants are non-toxic to cats and dogs but will irritate their stomach if ingested.
Here is more detailed information on each plant and their care:
Christmas Cactus – The flowers on this plant are available in pink, orange, red, white and you might also find yellow. As previously mentioned, the bloom time is December. You can grow these plants in a container soil but also might want to consider a cactus soil. Make sure the soil drains well and that the container has drainage holes. Keep the plant in bright indirect light. During the day a temperature of 70 degrees is optimal. In the evening it can go down to around 60 degrees. In the summer keep your plant out of direct sunlight (put it in a shady location in your garden) or an unheated porch until it gets too cold.
Water the plant when the top of the soil feels dry. Dowse the soil until the water runs through the pot’s drainage holes. Do not let the plant sit in water, so when you water the plant discard any excess water after any watering. When the plant is flowering it is important to water the plant well and to keep it cool. Fertilize, with a common houseplant fertilizer, every 2 weeks from Spring through early Fall, the rest of the time fertilize monthly.
Right before blooming time, your plant will need extended periods of darkness in order for it to flower. To help your plant put it in the basement for eight weeks. Once you see the buds have started on the ends of the leaves, put the plant back in its usual location. If you notice your plant has bud drop, make sure the plant has high humidity and even soil moisture. Also, don’t move the plant around as the stress could cause the flower buds to drop. The plant starts growing upright but as it matures the leaves tend to arch downwards.
Christmas Cacti can be pruned in late Spring around June, which will inspire the plant to branch and blossoms. Just cut off a few sections of each stem. You can use these cuttings to propagate new plants.
Thanksgiving Cactus – With this plant, you find flowers of many bright colors including pink, purple, golden yellow, orange, red and white. The flowers are found at the ends of what look like flattened stems, or leaves, but these are actually called “joints”. Buds form each year as early as September and flowers will appear between November and December. Plants are almost certain to flower but the goal is to get masses of blooms. This cactus is also known as Crab or Yoke cacti.
The care of this plant is the same as the Christmas but because of the bloom time, the different steps will take place a month ahead of time. Normally, the Thanksgiving Cacti leaves grow upward or in an erect direction. As previously mentioned this differs from the Christmas Cacti which curve upwards and then sag down.
Easter Cactus – Of these 3 plants, the Easter Cactus is the more difficult to grow. This plant also comes in purple, red and pink and the color is more brilliant compared to Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus. The flowers are more star-shaped too. I have heard them described as almost Daisy-like. The plant will be in bloom in the April – May timeframe. The leaves are similar to the Christmas Cactus but the scalloped edges are subtler. Another difference is the end of the leaves have small bristles. Easter Cactus plants are also smaller than the other two plants. It is also not uncommon for this plant to not bloom for several years.
Like the Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus follow the same instructions, just make sure you adjust the time period. The plant performs best in bright natural light with no direct sunlight. When in the sun if it gets too hot the leaves can actually burn. When in bloom, water it more often but don’t let the plant sit in water as it will cause the roots to rot. Something to consider is to put pebbles in the drainage dish so the plant can’t sit in the water. Easter Cactus plants are more sensitive to over and underwater than the Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus. Many people who grow this plant use a soil moisture meter to monitor watering of the plant.
With all three of these Holiday Cacti, depending on the care of the plant and the growing environment you might see flowering at different times of the year. Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti might also bloom again in the March – May time period. It is quite rare to have the Easter Cacti bloom again, so when it does what a great added bonus!
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