Q: A couple of years ago I bought a plant called “Easter cactus”. I have had excellent luck getting Christmas cactus to bloom year after year and, but the Easter cactus has never bloomed again. Any ideas?
A: There are three kinds of holiday cactus: Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata, is sometimes called crab cactus because the stem segments have curved points on the edges. The true Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera x Buckleyi, has more rounded stem segments. Easter cactus is Hatiora gaertneri.
All of the holiday cacti originally grew in jungle trees where there are dramatic swings of temperature and light each day. They bloom in response to long day length and nighttime coolness. Different combinations of light and heat determine the period in which each holiday plant blooms.
Keep your Easter cactus outdoors in summer, hanging in bright shade under a small tree. It needs a resting period from October until February. During that time try to keep it in a very cool place, under bright light for ten hours each day. Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings.
In February the plant will begin to develop its flower buds. Keep it cool and relatively dry until you can see the buds. Even if the growing spot gets warm during the day, try to keep the plant as cool as possible at night.
Once the plant shows its buds you can move it to a warmer room. When the plant is flowering be careful to not overwater it. Do not fertilize the plant when it is blooming. It normally blooms from April through May. The flowers are much more “open” than those of the other holiday cacti, whose blooms are more tubular.
By the way, I learned a new word recently. It’s “phyllocad ” : a flattened stem that looks and functions like a leaf, which is exactly what holiday cacti have.