Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Thanksgiving Cactus or Christmas Cactus?

Your Christmas cactus is already in bloom, well before Christmas? That’s probably because you don’t have a true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera russeliana and its hybrid, S. x buckleyi), but rather a “Thanksgiving cactus” (S. truncata ), so-called because it naturally blooms in November. Greenhouse growers produce Thanksgiving cactus by the millions in barely heated greenhouses designed to delay their bloom until Christmas. So when you buy them the first year, they bloom right on time. But the next year and the following years, no such luck: they bloom heavily, but in November.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera russeliana)

The true Christmas cactus (S. russeliana and S. x buckleyi) can be recognized by its hanging stems with rounded teeth and fuchsia flowers that hang downwards. Commercial growers don’t appreciate its weeping stems because they mingle with those of its neighbors, making the plant hard to ship… and it is also more costly to produce, as it needs a heated greenhouse. It is often found in private homes, as it is a long-lived houseplant, but almost never in garden centers.

novembre 27.3There are many varieties of Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata) on the market ranging in color from pink to purple, red, white and yellow. They have stems that are generally upright in their youth, although they arch as they grow, and have distinctly pointed teeth, like crab claws. The flowers are carried slightly upright or horizontally. They are readily found in garden centers during the holiday season and also in supermarkets, box stores, and florist shops.

To delay flowering of your Thanksgiving cactus until Christmas next year, keep it cool, 60˚C (15˚C) or less, throughout the autumn. This is what the greenhouse growers who produce them do: by growing them in barely heated greenhouses, they manage to produce Thanksgiving cactus cheaply, just in time for Christmas.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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