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The key to getting your holiday cacti to bloom

In the Garden

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There is a lot of beautiful eye candy during the holiday season. Included in this list is the Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus or Easter cactus (three different species of the genus Schlumbergera). This year my Christmas cactus started setting flower buds in early November. At the other end of the season, it often continues to bloom into April or May.

Holiday cacti are epiphytic (grow on other plants for support) in their native Brazilian forest habitat. They are a gift that can provide beauty year after year, if they are treated right, and are wonderful examples of how we can manipulate light and temperature to produce blooms.

If your holiday cacti are not blooming as you think they should, here are some things to consider:

Soil, pots, water and fertilizer

Holiday cacti do not like wet feet. A loose, well-drained soil is essential.

Do not plant directly into decorative pots that do not drain. If you insist on a non-draining decorative pot, plant your cactus in a pot with drainage holes and place that pot into the decorative pot. Pour any excess water out of the decorative pot to make sure the potted plant is not sitting in a puddle of water.

During bloom, the soil should be kept evenly moist, during the rest of the winter months, holiday cacti do best a little on the dry side. Water them when the soil feels dry, but not bone dry. During the summer they should be watered regularly for active growth, but still not waterlogged.

Fertilize with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer at half strength, once a month from June through August.

christmas cactus 2
Ron Patterson | EastIdahoNews.com

Light

Holiday cacti blooms are mostly a response to night length. The Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus set flower buds as the nights get longer. They need around 12 – 14 hours of uninterrupted night (or darkness) for four to six weeks for good bud set. Turning on the light for a quick midnight snack is all it takes to interrupt the night. A porch light just outside the window may be enough to cancel the blooming signal. Once the buds are set, they will bloom regardless of night length, but with continued long nights, they may bloom all winter long.

Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus will bloom as the nights get longer. The Easter cactus will bloom as the nights get shorter in the spring.

Temperature

Research indicates that blooms may initiate with shorter nights if the temperatures are around 60 – 65⁰F. Some say that if the temperatures are above 68⁰F they will fail to bloom. My house is consistent at 70 – 72⁰F and I get blooms every year. They may be forced to bloom regardless of night length with temperatures between 50 – 59⁰F, but there is no way I am having my house that cold.

During the summer, holiday cacti may be moved outside into a shady location. Be sure they don’t dry out. Once temperatures start dropping into the 50s they should be brought back inside.

With a little care, these beautiful blooms can lighten your holidays every year.

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