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HOLIDAY CACTUS CARE
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The common holiday cacti (Thanksgiving Cactus, Christmas Cactus, Easter Cactus) are composed of several closely-related species in the genus Schlumbergera (often called "Zygocactus" in older works). They are originally forest cacti, growing as epiphytes at elevations between 1000 and 1700 meters in the Organ Mountains north of Rio de Janeiro in southeast Brazil, South America (not to be confused with the Organ Mountains of New Mexico in the United States of America).
The scientific name for the Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera x Buckleyi. Christmas cacti are not only popular holiday gift plants, but they are also the subject of frequent debate among gardeners. There appears to be much confusion about these unique tropical cacti regarding care, maintenance and, especially, on how to get them to re-bloom. The following tips address the most frequently asked questions.
We typically think of cacti as being heat tolerant, but Christmas cacti will keep their blossoms longer in cooler temperatures. Keep the plant in a well-lit location away from drafts from heat vents, fireplaces or other sources of hot air. Drafts and temperature extremes can cause the flower buds to drop from the plant before they have a chance to open.
Christmas cactus is a tropical type plant, not quite as drought tolerant as its desert relatives and, in fact, may drop flower buds if the soil gets too dry. The plants will wilt when under drought stress. Water thoroughly when the top inch or so of soil feels dry to the touch. The length of time between waterings will vary with the air temperature, amount of light, rate of growth and relative humidity.
The plant does not particularly need to be fertilized while in bloom, but most gardeners enjoy the challenge of keeping the plant after the holidays for re-bloom the next year. While plants are actively growing, use a blooming houseplant-type fertilizer and follow the label directions for how much and how often to feed.
While the Christmas cactus can adapt to low light, more abundant blooms are produced on plants that have been exposed to more light intensity. Keep your plants in a sunny location indoors. Plants can be moved outdoors in summer, but keep them in a shady or semi-shady location. Leaves may start to turn a bit red if exposed to excessive light. Too much direct sunlight can actually burn the leaves or may cause them to become limp. When it's time to bring the plants back inside in the fall, slowly adjust the plants to life indoors by gradually increasing the number of hours they spend indoors each day.
If your plant tends to dry out and/or wilt frequently, it may be time to repot the plant into a slightly larger container. Well-drained soil is a must for Christmas cactus. Use a commercially packaged potting mix for succulent plants or mix your own by combining two parts plain potting soil with one part clean sand or vermiculite.
Pruning your Christmas cactus after blooming will encourage the plant to branch out. Remove a few sections of each stem by pinching them off with your fingers or cutting with a sharp knife. These sections can be rooted in moist vermiculite to propagate new plants.
Christmas cactus will bloom if given long uninterrupted dark periods, about 12 hours each night. Begin the dark treatments in about mid-October to have plants in full bloom by the holidays. You can place the plants in a dark closet from about 8 P.M. - 8 A.M. each night for 6-8 weeks or until you see buds forming. Christmas cacti will also bloom if they are subjected to cool temperatures of about 50 to 55 degrees F, eliminating the need for the dark treatments. Plants should be blooming for the holidays if cool treatments are started by early November.
Other species of holiday cactus bloom at different times of the year and have slightly different growth habits. Christmas cacti have scalloped stem segments and bloom at the stem tips. Thanksgiving cacti have 2-4 pointy teeth along the edges of the sections and will bloom earlier than Christmas cactus if left to natural day-length. Easter cacti have rounded teeth along the segments and bloom primarily in the spring but may also periodically re-bloom at other times of year.Christmas cacti grow in the tropical forests of South America, where it is very humid and warm all year round. They also receive very little light, which is why you should never put them in the sun and the best place for them is in a room. Their soil should never be left dry, even in winter. Water them daily in summer and weekly in winter. This way some of them will flower in the winter time. Others, like the Epiphyllous and Nopalxochia-+ will flower in summer with the most magnificent flowers. The Christmas cactus is not the same as the Easter cactus.
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is a popular, winter-flowering houseplant native to Brazil, available in a wide variety of colors including red, purple, oranges, pinks and creams. The Christmas cactuses pendulous stems make it a great choice for hanging baskets.Christmas cactus is a member of a group sold as holiday cacti that includes the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and the Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri). When grown under normal night length conditions, Thanksgiving cacti normally flower near Thanksgiving approximately a month before Christmas cacti. The Easter cactus flowers primarily in the spring and sporadically throughout the year. All of the holiday cacti have similar cultural requirements.
Light and Temperature: The Christmas cactus grows best in light shade. Full sunlight is beneficial in midwinter, but bright sun during the summer months can make plants look pale and yellow. Ideal growth occurs at temperatures between 70 to 80 °F during its growing season from April to September. Do not let temperatures rise above 90 °F once the flower buds are set in the fall. Continuous warm temperatures can cause flower buds to drop.
The secret of good flower bud production involves temperature and dark (photoperiod) control. To flower plants need:They need a lot of bright sunlight. Keep Night temperatures between 55 and 65°F. Long nights - Thirteen hours or more of continuous darkness each day is required before flowering will occur. Long nights should be started about the middle of September and continued for eight weeks.
Water the growing medium when it is dry to the touch. The Christmas cactus is tolerant of dry, slightly under-watered conditions. Do not let the soil become waterlogged, especially during the dark days of winter. Do not let the soil dry out either. Reduce watering from fall through spring. Fertilize plants monthly from the time new growth starts in late winter or early spring, and throughout the summer using a one-quarter strength soluble fertilizer. Reduce fertilizer during the fall and early winter.
The Christmas cactus flowers best when kept somewhat pot bound. Repotting is necessary only about once in every three years.
The Christmas cacti commonly drops unopened flower buds, which may be induced by an excessive number of buds or a sudden change in temperature, light or other environmental factors, such as drying out of the growing medium. Lack of flowering is often due to light interrupting the long night period (13 hours) that is required for flowering initiation to occur. Street lights, car lights or indoor lighting can disrupt the required dark period. The major disease is root rot, which can be prevented by avoiding excessive watering.
Fertilizing: Cacti and Succulents need regular feeding during their growing season (Spring-Summer). They need a balanced range of minerals. Potassium (K) to encourage flowers and fruit, Phosphorus (P) for good root growth, and Nitrogen (N) for vigorous top-growth. Cacti also need other trace elements. Any commercial houseplant fertilizer will do, but an ideal ratio of nutrients is: 20% nitrogen, 20% potassium, 20% phosphorus, and all of the other trace elements.
A good soil mix is essential if you expect good growth and health for your Cactus. They prefer a porous alkaline soil. Contrary to popular belief, Cacti don't grow well in plain sand. There are several good brands of commercially available Cactus soils that come prepackaged. For those of you who want to do it yourself, here are a few recommended soil formulas. Ingredients are available at most garden centers, or larger department stores.1. Equal parts commercial potting soil and builders sand. Also add one Tablespoon each of ground bone meal and ground limestone per gallon of mix.
2. Three parts course sand, one part loam (good rich soil), one part leaf mold.
3. Two parts soil mix, one part fine to small size pumice, one part leaf mold.
If you are making your own soil it
would be a good idea to sterilize the mixture by baking in an oven at
400 degrees F for 60 minutes. This kills most bacteria, larvae, weed
seeds and insect eggs.
The scientific name for the Easter cactus is Schlumbergera
bridgesii The height of the Easter cactus is 12-18 in (30-45 cm).
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
Additional Comments on the Easter cactus: It may survive in low light for a period of time; medium humidity to prevent shriveling of the stems; allow to dry slightly between waterings; allow the temperature to drop in the evening to help induce flowers.
Source http://davesgarden.com/ Easter cacti & http://www.houseplants-flowers-online-caretips.com/Easter cactus.html
The Thanksgiving cactus is very similar to the Christmas cactus and has other names asoke Cactus, Linkleaf Cactus, Crab Cactus, Claw Cactus, Very notorious big flowers that appear from October to January. In case of not being present during this period, flowering can be forced by diminishing the time of exhibition of the plant to the light. The bloom is sensitive to the photoperiod and it doesn't take place when the days are longer, so what it is necessary to provide the plant an artificial night, keeping the same one during some hours in a closed and dark place.
Water it moderately but regularly. A couple of times a week in summer, every 15 days or less in winter)
Not to flood to avoid the leaves rot. Spray the leaves when it is very hot, without wetting the flowers. A watering excess during the resting time impedes the flowering or makes the leaves wither, in which case watering should be stopped to let the plant recover.
sun, during cool seasons or in the ishade in hotter periods. It can
be cultivated indoors. It doesn't support freezing , so that , in the
event of temperatures below 10º C ( 50 F) , take the flower pot indoors
in an illuminated place. (You should usually do it in the last days of
September). The suitable temperature to get a good blooming is between
11 and 25 ºC. ( 52 - 77 F) An excess of cold or heat produces the fall
of the floral buds before they open.
The Thanksgiving cactus can also also be reproduced by means of an apical graft on another cactus: Cut a couple of healthy leaves of a Thanksgiving cactus . Equally cut a 7 cm piece of the cactus on which it will be grafted. Make a vertical cut with a knife in its center. Peel both sides of the tip of the Thanksgiving cactus and place it inside the cut, holding it smoothly with a piece of cloth or thread. Place the plant in the shade and remove the tie when both vegetables pieces have welded.
Thanksgiving cactus doesn't need to be transplanted very frequently. As most cacti, it prefers its roots to be tight inside the container. Transplanting should only be carried out when the plant loses bloom or stops flowering.
More info on the Thanksgiving cactus http://www.botanical-online.com/thanksgiving cactus
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Last modified - 2-7-07