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Caring for cacti

November 11, 2010
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere

It was a scramble to get my beloved cactus plants in the house this past week. It is easy to leave them outside when I know how hardy they are, but only to a point. Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus or whatever you are deciding to choose to call them make some of the best plants for the home. It seems that they rarely have a disease problem or insect problem. They do really well outside when the weather is more bonnie and they do really well indoors when Jack Frost comes calling.

There are many different types of these kinds of cacti however, since we are getting close to the Thanksgiving holiday and the Christmas holiday season, let us focus on these two choices. They both belong to the same genus of plant called the Schlumbergera. We can break it down farther to species but the names are just longer then the genus name, of course. The plants are native to Brazil. They are normally found growing as epiphytes which are plants that grow on a tree without soil and grow in conditions that you would find in very high elevations, 3,200-5,500 feet.

If you want to know, just by looking at them, which are which, then a quick look at the leaves may help to point you in the right direction.

The Thanksgiving cactus has pointed lobes or leaves while the Christmas cactus has smooth lobes or leaves. Flowering time is also supposed to give it away which is which but if your plants are like mine; it seems that they flower just about whenever they want to. Are they crossbreds? You may ask this question and I just don't know for sure what it is that they may be. It may just be in how each individual plant is handled. I have many of these types of cactus and not only do they flower sometime between now and the first of the year, they often have had a second show later in March or April but just not as showy. Flower induction, like many of our plant friends, is related to what plant experts call a photoperiod. This means as the days shorten in length of daylight, this triggers the plant to flower.

You can also look at the flowers to help you decide if you have a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus. The anthers of the flower which are the pollen-bearing parts of the flower are a purple to brown color in Christmas cactus plants while Thanksgiving plants are yellow.

If you are looking for a few tricks to get your cactus to put its best show on-here are a few to try. Exposure to temperatures below 57 degrees F will induce flowering in holiday cactus plants regardless of the photoperiod.

So, a good example is that I have had mine outside until just recently and now they are living in an unheated garage.

Though it is time to bring them in, this exposure has lead them to start showing their buds already on just about all of my cactus plants. The second way to trick your plant to flower at any time of the year is to keep them in a room that does not receive any sunlight for 13-16 hours a day.

You will need to do this for about four weeks. I know of some gardeners who have tried this by pushing the plants into a closet when they come home at the end of the day and then pull them out just before they go to work in the morning. It works quite nicely.

Regardless of how you handle your plants, it seems that they will generally flower at sometime or another and to some degree. They are an easy plant to care for at any time of the year.

For more information about gardening, you can email me at



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