By Bonnie L. Grant
Hybridization has given us a host of beautiful and unusual plants to choose from when decorating our homes. The cactus family is a perfect example of the spectrum of plants available. The holiday plants, such as the Christmas and Easter cactus, are the hybrids of the Brazilian forest cactus. These segmented plants bloom at certain times of the year, which gives them the holiday designations.
What is the Difference Between a Christmas Cactus and an Easter Cactus?
The Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are members of the Schlumbergera family, while the Easter cactus is a Rhipsalidopsis. The former hails from Brazilian rainforests while the latter is from drier forests.
Christmas cactus blooms around the winter holidays. The Easter cactus plant blooms late winter to early spring. Both types have flattened stems, called segments, which are lightly serrated on the edges. The segments are actually the leaves of the plant.
About Easter Cactus Plant
The Easter cactus plant (Rhipsalidopsis gaertnerii) comes in a variety of bloom colors. Usually they are in bloom at the time of purchase and are common holiday gifts. Flower tones range from white to red, orange, peach, lavender and pink.
Even following its bloom the plant has an interesting appeal in its unusual shape. The segments are added onto by new growth, creating a rickety stacked appearance. The plant doesn’t have the same spines as a dessert cactus but a more undulating form with softer pointed nodes on the edges of the leaves.
Getting an Easter cactus to bloom the next year requires a special set of conditions which amount to a form of neglect.
How to Care for Easter Cactus
These plants perform best in bright light, but not direct sunlight. Unlike dessert cacti, these plants need cooler temperatures, even during the day, and will bloom for months in nighttime temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees F.
Keep the soil lightly moist and allow it to dry out before watering again. Good Easter cactus care means repotting the plant every two years in spring. The plants enjoy being pot bound, but give it new soil and return the plant to the same pot.
Fertilize monthly after the bloom period with a 10-10-10 or food with a low nitrogen count.
Provide some humidity if your home is dry. Place the plant on a saucer filled with pebbles and a little water. The evaporation will moisten the air around the plant.
Getting an Easter Cactus to Bloom
If you followed your Easter cactus care faithfully, you should have a healthy green cactus. These delightful plants actually need cool temperatures and long nights to set buds. To accomplish flowers, you must be a little rude to them.
First stop feeding them. Then move the plant where it has 12 to 14 hours of darkness. Best bud set occurs when temperatures are 50 degrees Fahrenheit. From October to November reduce the water given. By December you can move the plant somewhere warmer with a 60 to 65 degree range. The plant will flower in February to March.