CERTIFIED TEXAS EXPERT GARDENER — Beautiful holiday epiphyte with Thanksgiving cactus

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, November 15, 2023

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Rain events of the past week, while not “drought busting,” were severely needed and hopefully will continue as we desperately need our normal winter weather patterns to return.

Moderate daytime temperatures mean our fall vegetable gardens are enjoying almost perfect weather and should provide us with a bountiful harvest, however I have experienced an issue with snails and slugs, who have been ‘snacking’ on our favorites: pak choi, tatsoi, Swiss chard, spinach and Chinese mustard.

Slug bait to the rescue-which sent them packing. The cooler weather also had me harvesting okra for what I thought would be the final time … but maybe not-as it continues blooming, but enough about vegetable gardening, let’s move on to today’s topic-Thanksgiving Cactus.

This gardener is always in search of plants to add to my collection, knowing space is a bit more limited during the cooler months, especially now as my greenhouse is very near capacity. My preference is to be surrounded by plants and the holidays provide all gardening enthusiasts with several plant choices, which are available but for a limited time.

One such plant, the Thanksgiving cactus is readily available at many grocery stores and garden centers. Thanksgiving cacti are available in a variety of colors and are relatively easy to maintain after the holidays, even though I always seem to overwater one or two of them during the summer months, which means replacement plants are always needed during the holidays-such a vicious cycle.

Thanksgiving cacti or other holiday cacti are nothing like the spiny plants many of us have in our succulent gardens. These types of cacti are epiphytes, many originating from treetops in tropical rainforests.

These cacti produce beautiful blooms which vary in color from bright orange, red and purple to subtle pink and white variations. There are three varieties, which are considered holiday cacti: Thanksgiving (Schlumbergera truncata), Christmas (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and Easter (Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri).

Thanksgiving Cactus, known as “Schlumbergera truncata,” are available in an array of vibrant colors, providing instant beauty to any area of your home. (Farmersalmanas.com).

These three plants look similar and have similar care requirements but there are differences in leaf and flower structure.

When purchasing Thanksgiving cacti, slowly scrutinize perspective new additions and make certain the plants’ flower buds are well developed with a few buds open but most of the buds remaining unopened providing you with a long blooming interval.

The leaves of Thanksgiving cactus plants are flat and wide, with small, serrated edges. These plants often bloom in shades of pink, yellow, white, or red, which is notably a bright contrast to traditional fall décor.

The blooms may last from two to four months, but for them to flower again the following year, the plant requires a dormant stage by providing it with less light and cooler temperatures.

The most important aspect to consider while caring for a Thanksgiving cactus is the amount of water provided to the plant. It needs to grow in soil, which is moist, but does not tolerate being overly saturated or having “wet feet.”

Remember, these plants grow naturally in the tops of trees in the rainforest, where there is less moisture and an abundance of sun. They enjoy bright light and morning sunlight, but not direct afternoon sunlight, which is much too hot!

Humidity also encourages this plant to thrive as that is the way that these plants naturally wet their roots in nature.

These plants should be pruned during the summer months to prepare them for the Thanksgiving blooming period in September. During this time, the plant needs 12 hours of darkness a day.

Propagation of these plants begins with a stem that has a few leaves attached. Allow the stem to callus for several days, and then plant it in soil, adding a plastic tent to keep the humidity level around the plant up.

Allow the cutting to have an hour of fresh air each day, and within three to four weeks, the cutting should take root. It will take a few years for the Thanksgiving cactus to bloom.

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

Thank you for sending me your questions and please continue sending comments and questions to jongreene57@gmail.com.