Increasing Christmas Cactus Blooms
Christmas cactus blooms increase less from fertilization than by controlling their temperature and light exposure between October and December. Akin to poinsettias and chrysanthemums, Christmas cactus collecting has become a cherished family tradition resulting in high demand for this limited availability plant at the holidays. Folklore from Brazil tells the story of a boy’s prayer for a sign of Christmas answered by a rainforest bounty of Christmas Cactus blooms on Christmas morning. Christmas cactus blooms appear in orange, pink, purple, red, yellow, and white with hybridization. However, the plant with its showy position at family get-togethers is likely not a Christmas but a Thanksgiving cactus if purchased in recent years.
Central Florida was once the epicenter of Schlumbergera hybridization, making Christmas cactus seemingly easier to collect than today. Barnell Larry Cobia, owner of B.L. Cobia nursery in Winter Garden, Florida, is credited for being “the most important Schlumbergera nursery in the USA in the second half of the last century,” writes Schlumbergera.net.
When Coba started Christmas cactus hybridization, they were relatively rare collectibles. “A majority of the holiday cactus grown in the United States can be traced to Cobia’s hybridization work,” per a 1988 Orlando Sentinel article. His hybridizing and nursery ended with his passing in 2003. The slow growth rate of Schlumbergera and operational expenses of independent garden centers result in difficulty in having readily available local sources of them.
“There are three main types of “holiday” cacti out there: the Easter cactus (S. gaertneri), Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata), and Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi),” according to the Farmer’s Almanac. “Each holiday cactus typically blooms closest to the holiday that it’s named after. However, most of the “Christmas cacti” sold today are actually Thanksgiving cacti, which tend to bloom from November through February and therefore pass unnoticed as Christmas cacti.”
Christmas cactus are epiphytes native to Brazil. They are leafless with flattened photosynthetic stems called phylloclades or cladodes found in other succulents, including night-blooming cereus and prickly pear cactus. The Thanksgiving cactus has 2 to 4 pointed serrations along the margins of its stems. In contrast, your grandparents cherished Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) has dull, less sharp serrations.
“A second method to distinguish between these two Schlumbergera species is based on the color of the pollen bearing anthers,” according to Clemson University. “The anthers of the Thanksgiving cactus are yellow, whereas the anthers on the Christmas cactus are purplish-brown.”
Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus blooms both require that same cool and short-day growing cycle. “To initiate the production of flower buds, there needs to be at least eight days of 16 hours of dark and eight hours of light each day,” according to Michigan State University. “Wherever the plant is placed, do not turn on the lights at night, even for a short period of time. That breaks the dark cycle required. The temperature should be around 61 degrees. Avoid placing the plant where it receives either cold or hot air drafts.” Follow this course of action for 8 days.
Christmas cactus blooms set naturally without the disciplined control of their light and temperature but aren’t likely to be as full as they could be. Suppose one side of your Christmas cactus blooms well with little to no blooms on the other. Controlling the light and temperature will improve the Christmas Cactus blooms throughout the plant. A balanced 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 fertilizer application monthly during the growth period is best for Schlumbergera that does well in bright indirect light the rest of the year indoors and outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11.
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