CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Horticulture Magazine recently answered one of my "burning plant questions." I have a "Christmas" cactus that always blooms at Thanksgiving. Another typically blooms at Easter. How can I make them bloom at Christmas?
Well, according to the magazine, a Christmas cactus is one of three popular holiday cacti: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"You can probably guess by their names when these festive plants usually bloom; Thanksgiving cacti typically start in late fall and Christmas cacti around a month later. An Easter cactus starts producing flower buds in February. If you have a Christmas cactus that always blooms around Thanksgiving, it is probably because of one of the following reasons: It is actually a Thanksgiving cactus, or it blooms early due to growing conditions.
"Thanksgiving cacti are often sold as 'Christmas cacti,' and these two holiday plants look very similar. Both fall under the genus Schlumbergera, have the same color scheme and require the same care. There are two main differences between a Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus: the flowering season, which we have already discussed, and the segments of the leaves. To help determine whether your cactus is a Christmas or Thanksgiving variety, will depend on the edges of the leaf segments. Christmas cacti have smooth, round edges, while Thanksgiving cacti have pointy, jagged ones.
"If your holiday cactus still sounds like it belongs to the merry Christmas groupings, then it probably flowers early in the season due to the growing conditions. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti need cool temperatures (roughly 55 to 65 degrees) to begin the production of flowers, so your cactus is most likely exposed to this change in weather early. You can help instigate when your plant will bloom by keeping track of the temperature outside. When it is below 50 degrees, you can place the container by a drafty window or when it hits the ideal 55- to 60-degree range, place the container outdoors. These cacti are most successful with longer periods of uninterrupted darkness, around 13 to 16 hours, and shortened days."
The magazine said to be sure you are actually purchasing a Christmas cactus and not a Thanksgiving cactus, go by the botanical name. A Christmas cactus is Schlumbergera x buckleyi, and a Thanksgiving cactus is Schlumbergera truncata.
Readers tell old plant stories
Several weeks ago, I wrote about old, dear houseplants. Many people have plants that are like members of the family. Here are a few wonderful stories from readers.
Linda McCauley writes:
"My old and dear plant is a solid green spider plant that I got in April 1974! Its name is 'Shane.'
"We were a Navy family and were 'home' on emergency leave when my son Shane was born! My 17-year-old brother-in-law was dying of cancer and we went home to be with the family. After getting back home to Virginia Beach, one day, to get out of the house (I was the mother of a 3-year-old and a newborn), I told my husband, 'You've got it for a couple of hours. I need a break!' I stopped at a yard sale and bought the spider plant already potted in a hanging basket for a dollar! Took it home and hung it under the eaves of the house.