Thursday, November 27, 2008
Thanksgiving blooms for you
Happy Thanksgiving! It is a sunny day with temperatures in the 60s here although it is still chilly inside the house (the disadvantage of living in a big old drafty house).
Our Thanksgiving cactus is so beautiful this year that we placed it in the center of our kitchen island. These beautiful plants (Thanksgiving Cactus, Christmas Cactus and Easter cactus) are members of several closely related species in the genus Schlumbergera. Which one do you have? Take a look at the leaves for guidance. Thanksgiving cactus have sharp pointed notches on the edges of the leaves whereas the Christmas cactus has rounded notches. The Easter cactus also has sharp notches but also have tiny hairs as well. They originate from the mountains of Brazil where they grow as epiphytes.
Despite being called "cactus," they are not treated as such. They require regular watering and consistent moisture levels. Good drainage is essential however as they will die from root rot if forced to endure soggy soil. A cactus soil mix is a good medium to use if you are potting up new ones. They will grow happily outdoors in partial shade and should be brought inside during the fall. Weekly fertilizing during the spring and summer months is recommended although not essential.
The changes in temperatures will cause the plant to set blooms. Night temperatures in the upper 50s and lower 60s for 6-8 weeks is needed. Darkness is also a critical factor and if you can't provide the temperature requirements, simply put the cactus in a completely dark environment (like a closet) for 12 hours every night for several weeks. When the plant starts to bloom, place it in a spot with bright indirect light. Avoid full sun and extremely warm areas. Flowers and buds will drop in warm areas or from lack of water. Keep watering the plant until the flowers are gone, then withhold water for six weeks or so and give the plant a rest.
The holiday cactus is a long-lived plant and can easily live for decades. Pruning can be done in June to make the plant bushier and increase bloom count. To do this, cut off two or three segments from each leaf stem. These can be easily rooted by placing them in a light planting medium (1/2 perlite and 1/2 peat moss is a good mixture). Place the cuttings half the depth of the first segment and water lightly. They will wilt but should eventually perk up as the cuttings take root. After that, treat it like you would a mature plant.