Holiday Cactus


During the holiday season, Christmas cactus hold their blossoms like colorful birds perching on the tips of dark green branches. Years of breeding have produced an array of jewel-tone colors in shades of lavender, pink, orange, red, white, and--just recently--yellow. Most existing reds tend toward pink or orange, but this year two new varieties ('Sleighbell' and 'Pasadena') are true apple red. Other recent developments from a Florida grower are plants with thicker leaves, more upright branches with larger buds, and wider petals that give the flowers a fuller look (see 'Cambridge' and 'Sanibel' on page 51).

COLLECT HOLIDAY CACTUS

FOR EXTENDED BLOOM

Once known as Zygocactus, all Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus are now classified as Schlumbergera. (Most are sold as Christmas Cactus.) Because of hybridizing, the original parentage is unclear, and bloom can be anywhere between October and late winter.

Bloom continues for several weeks. If you choose different varieties, you can extend it over a few months.

PLANTS THRIVE FOR

YEARS WITHOUT FUSS

Christmas cactus are easy to grow and can live for 80 years or more--although 25 years is more typical (eventually plants may succumb to a bacterial infection that lies dormant until triggered by a sudden shock like a change in growing conditions).

When you bring blooming cactus home, set in a cool, bright spot out of direct sun. Tropical cactus shouldn't dry out completely; water when top 1/2 to 1 inch of soil is dry.

If bud drop occurs on recently purchased plants, it's usually caused by poor growing conditions at the store, combined with the shock of moving. Buy only plants that appear to be well cared for (adequately watered and displayed in bright light, not in sleeves or displayed in artificial light for a long time).

When flowering is over, set the cactus outdoors if you live in a frost-free climate, in a protected area if light frosts are possible. Provide filtered sun. Too much sun burns leaves; low light causes weak growth. Watch out for snails.

Otherwise, keep them indoors until weather warms. Cactus can stay indoors all year, but getting them to rebloom may be more difficult. …

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