The holidays are a time to make merry, celebrate and be happy. As such, this is a time synonymous with decorations. Whether we are talking of Christmas or any other holiday, we do our best to improve the overall outlook of our homes. So what better ways to do this than using attractive plants like the Christmas cactus? The Christmas cactus, otherwise known as the holiday cactus, is a common holiday plant and comes in different types based on their growth habits and blooming seasons.
So what are the three types of Christmas cactus you can grow indoors? Christmas cactus (holiday cactus) comes in three main types: Schlumbergera truncata, Schumbelgera bridgesii and Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii. The difference between these three types of holiday cactus lies in the shape of their leaves and blooming seasons. While the Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii has distinctively rounded edges the Schlumbergera truncata features clar shaped and distinctively pointed projections at the edges. The Schumbelgera bridgesii on the other hand has tear-drop –shaped or scalloped leaf projections.
This article seeks to break down the specific features and characteristic of the various types of Christmas or holiday cactus. It will look at their growth habits, requirements and blooming seasons.
The Schlumbergera Truncata, also known as zygocactus or false Christmas cactus flowers around Thanksgiving all the way to Christmas. This falls between the months of November and late December. Depending on care and variety, some may bloom up to January.
This holiday cactus blooms in a variety of colors that include white, golden-yellow, red and pink.
The Schlumbergera Truncata does well when placed in a partial shade, making it a perfect indoor plant
The Schumbelgera bridgesii or Schumbelgera buckleyi is commonly known as the Thanksgiving cactus. This is all thanks to its blooms that happen around the Thanksgiving holiday. The cactus starts to bloom from October and will last through November. Its blooms are huge and will spread all over. Its large vibrant flowers are easily noticeable even from a distance.
This is one of the most common holiday plants. They would usually be in bloom at the time of purchase. The cactus stands out with its variety of bloom colors that range from red to white, peach orange, pink and lavender.
The Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii has an interesting growth pattern. New growth forms a new segment, thus creating a rickety stacked outlook. Its soft pointed nodes at the edges serve as the equivalent of spines in other types of cactus. Unlike the Schlumbergera species that are native to Brazil’s troika forests, the Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii is native to the Natural forests.
By virtue of being tropical plants, the Schlumbergera species will require the same care and weather conditions as any other tropical plant. Develop a regular watering regime. Once the top one inch of the soil feels dry, it is time to start watering the plants. You may see the need to reduce your watering during the spring and winter months. This not only helps avoid root rot but also encourages the plant to bloom. The Schlumbergera species requires higher humidity, and you can achieve this easily through a humidity tray. Do this by filing gravel on a waterproof saucer and filling it halfway with water. You can then position your cactus on the gravel surface.
Transplanting/repotting a Christmas cactus
Transplanting a Christmas cactus works best after the blooming season. Usually, this would be later winter or early spring. Repotting a Christmas cactus when blooming is a recipe for disaster because the chances of survival are slim. Once the roots look a little too crowded, then it is time to repot in order to help improve it chances of blooming within the right season.
Prepare some wall draining soil and get a sizeable container with a drainage hole to help drain off any excess water.
You can then remove your Christmas cacti from its old pot with some soil ball. Loosen the roots lightly and wash some excess soil away with water. Replant your cactus by ensuring your root ball is at least one inch below the new soil mix. Water it sparingly and place it is a shade with enough light for 2 to 3 days.
How to get a Christmas cactus to bloom easily
What is a Christmas cactus without is flowers? Every cactus enthusiast knows too well that a Christmas cactus without its ability to bloom is as good as dead. While most Christmas cacti will bloom naturally when the right season comes, others may not follow the same pattern and may not bloom at all. As such, you ought to device practical ways to ensure your cactus blooms when the holiday season comes around.
Understand the ecology of the plant
The plant may be called a cactus, but has nothing to do with the desert. Unlike its cousins, the Christmas cactus is, indeed, a forest plant. As such, its ecological needs reflect those of any other forest or tropical plant.
Notably, the Christmas cactus thrives best when potted correctly. You may see the need to plant it in a small pot and repot it later to a larger container as need arises.
Light and temperature
These are two basic factors that will determine the overall health of your Christmas cactus. The cactus flowers more easily and brightly when placed in a cool environment. For better results, expose your cactus to at least 16 hours minimal light and at least 8 hours of enough light per day. This, in essence, means even at night, do not turn on any form of light for the plant as this will break the dark cycle required for better blooming.
For the case of temperatures, the Christmas cactus prefers around 61 degrees. Avoid exposing the plant to hot or cold air drafts. All you need to do is place your cactus in a cool room. A window seal is preferred as an ideal location for better lighting. In some cases, the plant will grow flower buds but would later fall off prematurely. This is usually a case of too much water or lack thereof. In some cases, lack of hair humidity will cause the same.
As long as you meet the light and temperature requirements, it should be easy to get your Christmas cacti to bloom. Other notable factors you may need to keep in mind include the following:
Fertilization – Once the flower buds appear, use high potassium fertilizer every two weeks.
Soil – Use quality soil mix high in humus and other essential nutrients for your cactus. You may opt to make your own mix or buy ready commercial soil mix from reputable dealers.
Transplanting – For better results, consider repotting your Christmas cactus every year. Do this just after the flowering period.
How to propagate a Christmas cactus
A Christmas cactus is always a sign of joy whenever the holidays are nigh. As such, one is never enough. You want to have as many of these as possible. Talking of propagation, there are three basic methods you can use to propagate your Christmas cactus:
Propagating upright in soil – This is ideal for large cuttings with good whole ends. Let your cutting callous for about two days. This is an important step to help spur rooting. You can then place your cutting deep into fresh potting soil. Water sparingly and wait for about 3 weeks for the roots to develop.
Propagating on flat soil – This is ideal for cuttings with damaged bottoms. Here your goal is to spur rooting at the middle point of your cutting rather than the bottom. After letting it dry for two days, place your cutting flat on top of your potting soil. Ensure that there is a good contact between the soil and the cactus for better results. The cutting should root within 3 weeks if given the right moisture levels.
Propagating in water – This is by far the fastest method to propagate your Christmas cactus. Take a good cutting and let it dry for a good callus before dipping the bottom end in water. Within two weeks, your cactus will be rooting already. You can then take the cutting and plant it in good potting soil. This is a delicate method and any slight mistake will see your cutting rotting away. Nevertheless, it is worth it.
Apart from these, you can propagate your cactus by its seeds. For better results on seen production however, cross pollination is advised.
The Christmas cactus has always been a darling to most cacti enthusiasts. With the right care, you can rest assures of colorful blooms, just in time for the holidays. However, this doesn’t come easy. It takes good care and expertise. The three types of Charismas or holiday cactus can be confusing but a keen look will reveal the differences. Nevertheless, they serve the same purpose of making our holidays as colorful as it can get. Whether you opt for the Schlumbergera or the Rhipsalidopsis species, this is a cactus plant you do not want to miss in your collection.