Picture: Tom MacCubbin
Sometimes plants you receive at Christmas may not make a colorful display until the following year. This is often the case with the Holiday or Christmas cactus. You can name this plant what you like but most are hybrids between the true Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus. May of these crosses were made in Central Florida by B. L Cobia an Ocoee nurseryman.
When you bring one home from the garden center, try to find a cool to a warmish spot. Here is the problem. The plants do not like a change of environment. No matter what you do the conditions are not going to duplicate those in the nursery. Thus most open their fully developed buds and drop the rest. The best display will be from a much bigger and acclimated plant next near.
Keep the plant a bit on the dry side during the winter until March arrives and new growth begins with the arrival of warmer weather. Then keep the plant in a very bright room but out of full sun or outside in the filtered sun to lightly shaded area. Begin monthly feedings with a fertilizer solution for container plants or use a slow release fertilizer as instructed. Begin waterings when the surface soil starts to dry to the touch.
You either keep the plants moist as needed or let the seasonal rains doing the watering. Continue the feedings and waterings until October when the plants should be kept on the dry side watering only when the surface soil feels dry to the touch. Also, discontinue feedings. Too much water and fertilizer at this time can cause the plants to decline.
Many ask if the plants need pruning. Only if you want to start more specimens to increase your collection or the plant is weeping too much. Prunings to remove a few inches of the leaf-like stems can be removed in March and June if you wish. The plant portions root quickly in soil or vermiculite when kept moist.
Here is the secret to successful flowering. Make sure your cactus receives no nighttime light - not a flicker or even street lights. All may prevent or delay flowering. Then try to find a spot where you want the cactus to flower. Remember the plants do not like changes in their growing environment. It might be best to leave the plant where it has been growing throughout the year to have it in continuous bloom for a month or more during the holidays.
Holiday or Christmas cactus make great repeat performers if giving just a little care.