MASTER GARDENER — Holiday Cacti tips for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter (Part 3 of 3)

Published 12:24 am Thursday, December 1, 2022

Gardeners, many of you hosted neighbors, friends and family (as did we) during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Some family members drove considerable distances and others traveled greater distances, traveling from Europe to be with us.

Thanksgiving 2022 is now a pleasant memory but one of pure enjoyment, as meaningful time spent with people in our lives who matter most! It’s truly amazing how quickly this year is coming to an end, with the joy of Christmas a few short weeks away and the New Year rapidly approaching.

This is the final installment in the three-part series, where we will discuss the Easter cactus. Easter cacti have many similarities to Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti, such as segmented leaves, soil conditions, light and water requirements.

There are also a few differences between the three cacti.

Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis Gaetneri)

The Easter cactus is another type of holiday cactus that is like the Christmas and Thanksgiving varieties. The main difference between these plants is that the Easter cactus blooms during spring.

Budding typically begins in March, and blooms can normally be enjoyed during April and May. The leaves also vary slightly from the other two plants that we’ve reviewed. Easter cactus leaves are also segmented and broad, but they have small bristles (which look like whiskers) at the ends of the foliage that help to distinguish them.

Additionally, the flower petal tips are more defined, have sharper details and are more star-shaped than the other cactus types.

Easter cactus blooms are brighter in coloration, and the color range is from vivid pinks, reds, to royal purple petals, which are perfect for a bright addition to your Easter dinner dining area. There are a few variations which produce white blooms, though not as common and the bloom color is less vivid.

These plants require the same indirect sunlight and well-drained soil, but they are especially sensitive to excess water!

When I say to make certain you wait until the top of the soil is thoroughly dry before watering your Easter cactus, I’m speaking from years of personal experience and copious plant annihilations before finally learning!

These plants are also somewhat stubborn, as too much shade or direct sunlight will cause detrimental issues such as root fungus (root rot) or sun burn (sun scald).

There are no tricks to getting an Easter cactus to produce beautiful blooms, the simplest way is to place the plant outdoors from May through beginning of October. The perfect outdoor location is a shady spot, but which receives morning sun only.

Once autumn arrives, for us this is sometime in October, return the plant indoors to rest during the winter months. Direct sunlight should be limited and reduce watering during the resting period.

The optimal temperature range is between 45 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, which for most gardeners is not achievable.

These plants will flower quite nicely if the temperature can be maintained between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Buds will begin to appear in late February or early March.

Holiday Cacti Differences

While each of the holiday cactus plants tend to look similar, pay closer attention and look more carefully at the leaves, as this is the best way to tell the three plants apart from one another, other than the time of year that they bloom.

If the plant has broad, thin leaves with three pointed edges on each side, it’s a Thanksgiving cactus. A Christmas cactus also has segmented leaves, but they are rounder with small indentations and no pointy edges.

Easter cactus leaf segments are thicker than the other two cacti’s leaf segments but without pointy edges or indentations. Further, Easter cactus leaf segments will have small bristles on the edges, which look like whiskers.

So, the easiest way to remember the differences between the three holiday cacti are as follows:

  • Thanksgiving cacti have the spikiest stem segment, and the bloom pollen is yellow
  • Christmas cactus leaf segments are rounder, less spiky and its bloom pollen is pink, and
  • Easter cacti have leaf segments with gently rounded edges which have bristles protruding from leaf segments.

Cacti Growing Tips for Success

  • All Holiday cacti must be forced to bloom.
  • Start the process about two months before the blooming period, mark your calendar to know when to begin.
  • This requires a few weeks of less sunlight & water, and longer periods of uninterrupted darkness.
  • Do not overwater these plants as they are extremely sensitive to excess water, especially the Easter cactus.
  • Heat fluctuation (high temps & dry air) are not ideal for holiday cacti.
  • Mist the leaves to increase humidity around the plants, as most of our homes have much less humidity during the cooler months.

So long for now my fellow gardeners. Let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time!

John Green is a Certified Texas Master Gardener. If you have gardening questions or need more information, contact the Orange County Master Gardeners Helpline at 409-882-7010 or visit txmg.org/orange, Orange County Texas Master Gardeners Association on Facebook or email extension@co.orange.tx.us.