The word “Holiday Cactus” more aptly describes the type of cacti that bloom during Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. Although they may look similar to most people, they are of different species and there are some very slight differences.
Thanksgiving cacti have 2 to 4 pointed teeth along the edges along each branch section while the Christmas cacti have more rounded, scalloped edges. Both these cactus variations bloom with red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream and white blossoms. The most common are the bright rose and red. Easter cacti only bloom with pink and red flowers. The flowers are fringy and elongated and dangle from the tip of the plant.
Holiday cacti do not really have leaves. What is perceived as leaves are actually stems that look like flattened leaves. The color of pollen given off by the flowers also gives a hint as to what type of cactus you have. Thanksgiving cacti have yellow pollen on their anthers while Christmas cacti have purple-brown pollen.
Growing a holiday cactus is very easy. It just needs to be watered and given enough light to continue to live throughout the year. The holiday cactus is not as drought tolerant as other cacti and needs to be watered when the soil in the top one inch feels dry. Just stick your finger down to the first knuckle and if the soil is dry, it is time to water the plant.
Sun & Temperature
The holiday cactus likes sun, but can adapt to lower light conditions in a house. Keep the plants in a sunny window either on plant stands or in hanging baskets, but make sure the leaves do not touch the window as they can burn. The plants can be placed out side in temperate weather, but full sun will make the stems turn red and they may become limp, so it is best to place the cactus in some shade. When temperatures start to get a little cooler, gradually start bringing the cactus indoors for longer periods until it is kept inside completely. If the plant seems to be drying out too quickly, you should probably re-pot it in a larger pot using potting mix mixed with sand. A good mixture is two parts soil to one part sand.
The holiday cactus comes from the tropics of Brazil and when left to the normal light cycle of the region, they bloom at the appointed time. When the plant is brought out of its natural environment, artificial re-blooming procedures can make the cactus bloom. Time your cactus re-blooming procedure to about 6 to 8 weeks prior to when you want it to bloom. That would be September or October for a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus.
Reduce the amount of water you give the plant for about one month. Some say to completely restrict water during that time, but the plant may start to wilt if you do. Watering sparingly works just as well. Every night, put the cactus in a dark closet where the temperature is relatively cool for about 12 to 14 hours per night. You can put it in at about 6 pm and remove it around 6 am.
Avoid putting it in full sun during this time. You can also cover the cactus with a dark cloth at night, but make sure the fabric is very dense. It is important that the plant get some light during the day, so take it out of the closet or uncover it during the daytime. Once buds start to form, start to water regularly again and keep the plant in normal light. The plant will do well with some water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer, half strength, once blooms start to burst.
Blooms last longer if you keep the cactus in a cool area where the temperature are around 68 to 70 degrees. If it gets too hot the blooms and buds will drop. They will also drop if the plant gets too dry.
Friend for Life – and a Friend for your Friends!
With just a little preparation and care, you can have a Holiday cactus for a very long time. They have been known to live 10 to 20 years and they are easy to propagate by just cutting off a stem and sticking it into growing medium. It will take root and start growing very quickly. You can start them and give them as gifts for the holidays.