Holiday cactuses are very popular plants this time of year. The cactus is often given as a present as well as used for decorating in the home.

For most people, holiday cactuses don't fit the typical idea of what a cactus should look like. That's because of where the plant originated. The holiday cactus is native to the rainforest of Brazil, not an arid desert, where many cactuses grow.

These plants are true epiphytes, meaning they grow perched in trees with their roots in limb cavities where pockets of decaying organic matter are lodged. This explains a lot about how we need to care for these plants to keep them healthy.

Two different species comprise what we refer to as the holiday cactus. Schlumbergera truncate, considered to be the Thanksgiving cactus, and the Schlumbergera russellian, the Christmas cactus, are the original species, though many breeders have begun to hybridize the two. The Thanksgiving cactus is distinguished by its sharp teeth-like edges on the flat stem joints, while the Christmas cactus is characterized by softer, rounded scallops on the edges of its flat stems.

Christmas cactuses can be found during the holiday season at local garden centers as well as grocery stores, drug stores and gift shops. They come in many flower colors, including red, magenta, pink, rose, lavender, white, salmon, pale gold and orange. It is normal for the plant to begin to rapidly drop flower buds soon after you bring it into the home. This is more common if the plant was growing outside at the nursery, then brought indoors.

If you bring it inside, give this plant as much light as you are can, placing it on a window sill or near a bright window. Watering can be a bit tricky, but, generally, when the soil surface is dry, it’s time to water. Remember, this holiday cactus is not from the desert, so if allowed to dry out too much, it will drop more flowers. 

As spring approaches and the danger of a frost has passed, you may consider bringing your holiday cactus outside. This plant likes full to partial shade. Place it in an area where it will receive some morning sun with shade for the remainder of the day.

Getting your holiday cactus to bloom again next year is simple. This plant is triggered to bloom by getting more than 12 hours of darkness and temperatures below 65 degrees. This is easily achieved by leaving or placing your plant outside in late September. This will give the plant the temperature as well as the long nights needed to re-bloom. Keep the plant out of light from a porch or street light, which could interrupt flower initiation.

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