Last updated on December 2nd, 2011
Not all cactus plants come from the desert. The one I treasure most comes from the mountains of Brazil, where it grows, like the orchid, in the crotches of trees. I’m referring to the oft-mislabeled Schlumbergera truncate which probably belongs in your window garden:
From late October through November, this “Thanksgiving” cactus puts on a show that mocks every other resident of the window garden, when some two dozen fuschia-like flowers drip from all the leaf tips which cover the five-inch pot. If you don’t already own one of these beauties in purple, pink, red, yellow, or white, why not obtain a fine specimen now? Your florist is sure to have one already in bud or bloom at this time. And what an investment! The plant increases in both grace and dignity with each passing year.
Unlike desert cacti, truncate is all the better for a humus-rich but well-draining soil. My own three flourish in two parts leaf mold and one part perlite. A commercial potting mix, if it drains well, is as good.
For better growth, and hence more blossoms, I pamper my cacti during the warm-weather months. They lounge and luxuriate on the shady and sheltered front porch all summer long , and I keep their fountainous growth coming along with every-other-day waterings, and frequent applications of all-purpose plant food.
Summer is also the time to pinch off segments to encourage branching. Broken segments, 3 to a 4-inch pot, can be rooted for new plants. These often flower their very first year.
Truncate, like the poinsettia, produces its flowers in response to shortening day-lengths. In September all food must be withheld, and watering decreased to once weekly. Bring the plant to a cool, dim windowsill in October, and leave it there until every leaf tip is lit with color. If your plant refuses to set buds, give it long, 12-hour nights in a dark closet for thee weeks, and only dim light during daytime.
When buds begin to open, bring the cactus to a light, cool place, and preferably on a perch of some sort where its pendulous stems can freely cascade. Here at a Garden for the House, purple ‘Majestic’ goes on a plant stand set somewhat back from the sunny southern window in the parlor. Rose ‘Amethyst’ and carmine ‘Maria’ observe the world from old-fashioned lamp brackets in the library and music room window gardens. Cool temperatures and weekly water insure a lush and lengthy bloom period that lasts from four to six weeks.
When flowering ceases, decrease water and move the cacti back to the sunny window garden. That is, until warm weather invites its return to a shaded, sheltered position outdoors.
Florists commonly mislabel the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncate, as the Christmas one. The true “Christmas” cactus is Schlumbergera bridgesii. Here is how you can tell the difference between the two (even if your florist can’t): Truncate has two or three jagged points on every leaf segment, and its bloom time, under natural circumstances, runs from late October through November. Bridgesii has smooth, not jagged, leaf segments, and typically flowers in January or February.
The Christmas cactus is very difficult to find these days. But that’s not a problem, because the Thanksgiving-type offers a much broader color-range than its orangey, late-blooming relative. You might enjoy one of these truncate varieties:
Purple – Christmas Charm, Christmas Magic, Sabrina, Majestic
Yellow – Gold Charm
White – Snowflake, Snowfire
Rose-Pink – Lavender Doll, Amethyst, Sonja, Lavender Lady
Red – Kris Kringle, Red Radiance, Maria, Koeninger, Norris
If you have any questions or comments about this cactus that mitigates all of November’s dullness, please post them below.
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