Don't ask me where I got my red holiday cactus, because I've had it so long I can't remember. The old girl has been knocked off the porch a time or two, and still she covers herself with blooms just as real winter blows into town. Like many older strains of Schlumbergera, Old Red blooms like mad once a year, but many newer strains can easily be brought into bloom twice -- in fall and again in spring. And their flowers are bigger and better, too.
You won’t have to search for superior Schlumbergeras, because they are exactly the ones sold in stores this time of year. My favorite pink and white plant began as a rooted cutting bought for $2 at a discount store several Decembers back. It promptly dropped those first buds (as newly purchased plants often do) but since then it has bloomed twice each year.
The vigor in today’s Schlumbergeras is the result of over 150 years of breeding work. The early-blooming Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata) has been crossed with Christmas cactus (S. bridgesii) hundreds of times, so most plants carry genes from both parents. In the last 20 years, plant breeders at the University of Massachusetts and in Europe made steady progress improving flower form, size and color, so your eyes are not deceiving you when you marvel at the intricacy of new-generation Schlumbergera blossoms.
Adopting a New Holiday Cactus
Choose a flower color that works well with your interior décor. As you decide upon a color, keep in mind that light colors such as white, pink and lavender show off better indoors compared to dark purples or reds.
Instead of repotting a new plant right away, choose a temporary cachepot (outer pot) for the plant, such as ceramic pot or a basket lined with Spanish moss.
The trauma of moving from greenhouse, to store, and then to your home often causes plants to drop most of their buds and flowers. If this happens, gently shift the plant to a slightly larger container, and let it rest in a cool, bright room until late winter. When brought into a warmer, well-lit room, rested plants that shed most of their fall buds often bloom beautifully in spring.
To Learn More
Purdue University has a great FAQ on holiday cactus, but North Dakota State horticulturalist Ron Smith holds the record for fielding the most questions from cactus keepers, including tales of plants that spontaneously changed colors.
Photos by Barbara Pleasant