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Holiday cacti – there’s more than Christmas

Published: Thu, December 28, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Lillian Quaranta

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

The Christmas cactus is second in popularity only to the poinsettia during the holiday season.

It is quite easy to raise and propagate – my favorite kind of plant.

I was attracted to it because I heard it took little care. So I ignored it for quite a while and then proceeded to water it to death, giving it root rot. Oops. Try again.

My second Christmas cactus will fare better than the first. When all else fails, read the directions.

I discovered that unlike the desert cactus that loves dry, sunny conditions, this cactus’ native home is Brazil’s rain forest. It is not as drought-resistant as a cactus, nor does it like the hot sun. It prefers shade in the outdoor garden and indirect bright light when flowering indoors.

You can force it to flower by placing it in the dark (14 hours) and prolonged cool temperatures (50-55 ∞F).

This plant stores water in its leaf-like segmented stems, called cladophylls. Watering it once every two months is enough to keep it happy and healthy. The plumpness of the cladophylls will tell you when water is needed, even if the soil is dry.

Cladophylls are important in propagation. If your Christmas cactus is full and hearty, you can snap off a few and place them in moist vermiculite to root. Like other succulents, it doesn’t take long for them to root.

I made adjustments with my new cactus. I discovered they like their roots tight up against the pot, just short of root bound.

I also paid close attention to where I placed my cactus in the house. Too close to a winter window, too much direct winter sun, and low humidity may cause flowers to wilt and flower buds to drop.

Well-drained soil is a must. I have mine in a deep, square clear glass container with little soil on top of stones.

I also discovered the plant I’ve been growing is not a Christmas cactus, but a Thanksgiving cactus. That’s right – there really is such a plant. And even another – the Easter cactus. They are all succulents and share all the characteristics of the Christmas cactus – shape, flowers, propagation and colors.

You really must hunt for the difference. Look very closely at your plant’s cladophylls. There lies the difference. If they are sharply pointed, like mine, you own a Thanksgiving cactus. If they are more rounded, you have a Christmas cactus. If they are very round, yours is an Easter cactus.

It doesn’t matter to me which one I have budding in my back bedroom. I’m happy with a blooming plant. I hope you are, too.

To learn about all of the holiday cacti you can grow, go to http://go.osu.edu/holidaycacti.

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