Xmas/Easter/Zygo Cactus - Schlumbergera


Thanksgiving Cactus - Schlumbergera truncata

Contents

  1. Top Tips
  2. Care Requirements  (Water, Humidity, Location + Light & Fertilisation)
  3. Common Issues
  4. Telling the Difference Between Christmas, Easter & Thanksgiving Cacti
  5. Achieving Annual Flowers
  6. Why Hasn't It Flowered?
  7. Origins, Temperature, Spread, Propagation & more.

1. Top Tips

  • Water once the top half of the soil dries out, reducing this further a few weeks before the flower buds develop. Keep the soil evenly moist during the flowering period.
  • Keep the ambient temperature above 10℃  (50℉) throughout the year, especially when placed outdoors in the summer.
  • Provide a humid location. Introduce a humidity/pebble tray to keep the surrounding moisture high during the winter. The use of artificial humidifiers aren't needed in the summer months.
  • Provide a bright location. Avoid more than two hours of direct sunlight, but also out of excessively dark settings.
  • Whilst in bloom, supplement using a potassium-based feed to prolong flowers. Revert back to a general plant fertiliser once the blooms have elapsed.
  • Regularly check for pests, most notably being Mealybugs.

•Water - πŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

The rule of thumb with Schlumbergera (the genus & our blanket name for the Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Zygo Cactus) is to allow the top half of the soil dry out in between waters, reducing this further during their dormancy period. To find out when your plant's dormancy takes place, scroll down to the table below. Either use fresh bottled water or let tap water to sit for at least 24hrs as failure to do so may damage the roots due to the chemicals and colder temperatures. Whilst the plant is in bloom, keep the soil evenly moist, allowing the top third to dry out in between irrigations. Under-watering symptoms include little to no new growth, a much-needed transplant, and drying leaves - remember, although Schlumbergera are in the cactus family, they originate in tropical locations meaning soil moisture and humidity should be generous. Over-watering symptoms include yellowing leaves/stems that soon drop off, no or little growth and root rot. These are common with too much soil moisture, an improper soil medium or too low light.


•Humidity - πŸ”ΈπŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

High humidity is mandatory for all types of Schlumbergera. A weekly mist, or introducing a humidity/pebble tray will help replicate its natural habitat in the Brazilian forests. Botrytis petal blight and southern blight are caused when excess moisture (from misting or messy irrigations) is allowed to settle in the cubbyholes of the flowers or stems.


•Location & Light - πŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

Bright, indirect light is favourable; however a darker location won’t do too much harm. A position that offers more than two hours of strong direct light must be kept off the cards, due to their susceptibility to sun-scorch. A location within three metres of a north, east or west-facing window, or below a skylight window are the ideal areas for Schlumbergera.


•Fertilisation - πŸ”ΈπŸ”Έ

Use a fertiliser high in potassium to prolong its flowers during the festive period - an excellent example would be Tomato Feed. Regular fertilisers will still do the job but will favour foliar growth instead. For the rest of the year, a standard fertiliser can be used to supplement the plant, once every four to eight weeks depending on the time of year - scroll down to the table below for more information.




3. Common Issues with Schlumbergera

Root rot is a big issue; typical symptoms include yellowing lower leaves, stunted or softened growth often accompanied by vine collapse. Take the plant out of the pot and inspect its root systems. Yellow roots symbolise good health, whereas, if they're brown and mushy with the soil being quite soggy, action must be taken immediately. More information about addressing root rot can be found on this link.

Yellowing leaves or a naked base are products of excess moisture being allowed to sit on the foliage, commonly sped up by too little light or poor air circulation. Although watering from the top is acceptable, it's recommended to use the bottom-up method to reduce the chance of rotten foliage. For specimens that have a bare crown, improve growing contains by using this irrigation method and increasing light levels slightly. Promote a bushier appearance by taking vine cuttings and placing them halfway down into the soil. Immediately remove yellowed or rotten debris as this will harbour both bacterial and fungal diseases that can both spread across to other sections of the plant.

Failed leaf or stem cuttings are a common issue among amateur gardeners, with damaged wounds or too small vines being the usual culprits. Although propagating all tropical cacti is relatively easy, people still find it hard to ace. Not only will the size of the vine dictate its success, damaging the leaves or vine can also hurt the chances of it rooting. For more information about how to take vines, scroll down to the 'Propagation' section of this article.

Too much sunlight will cause a red or purple tinge to the foliage. Although Schlumbergera are best grown in locations offering bright light, prolonged periods of intense rays cannot be tolerated. Although the new growth will develop into its original green texture, sunburnt leaves will remain red, yellow or purple for the rest of its functioning life.

Pests could also be an issue, especially Mealybugs. Especially before purchasing, have a quick scan over the plant's foliage and flowers, inspecting its cubbyholes for those white critters. If your specimen has fallen foul of pests, click on the appropriate links to learn more about treatment, as well as observing what they look like.


A Thanksgiving Cactus damaged by frost and under-watering, pictured in April 2019. See the image below to see how it has rejuvenated itself in September later that year.


4. Telling the Difference between Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving Cacti

There has significant confusion with the identification of all three species for many decades. Schlumbergera is subdivided into two groups - Truncata and Buckleyi. The Truncata group, which holds the Thanksgiving Cactus, will bloom in between October and December with flowers developing in a horizontal, zygomorphic manner. The Buckleyi group holds both the Christmas, and Easter Cacti that produce actinomorphic, star-like flowers that are near-symmetrical and grow almost vertically. Christmas Cacti will flower from November to late January, with Easter Cacti blooming in early spring. Another critical difference between the two types of flowers is the colour of their pollen; the Truncata group is pink, whereas the latter is white.

The foliar differences between the three main types of Schlumbergera. NB - Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri (Easter Cactus) was later placed in the Schlumbergera genus after the drawing. Copyright: Hans Muller.

Apart from the flower structure, their visual leaf structures are also different. Members of the Truncata group  (Thanksgiving Cactus),  have pointed teeth along the leaf edge, whereas the latter is more blunted. For those who are eagle-eyed, you'll notice that the Christmas and Easter Cacti have slightly different edges - the first has teardrop-shaped ridges, while the latter is more equally curved like the number three (3). The list below is a summary of this section.

Christmas Cacti (S. × buckleyi or bridgesii) - Flowers from late November to early February and has teardrop shaped leaf edges.

Easter Cacti (Schlumbergera/Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) - Flowers in springtime with equal ribbed leaf edges, tends to sport slightly larger leaves.

Thanksgiving Cacti (S. truncata) - Flowers from October to early December and has claw-like leaves with serrated edges.


5. Achieving Annual Flowers

Established specimens (two years +) will eventually bloom during spring to summer if its previous dormancy period has been served well. As ukhouseplants has been challenged many times on this subject, we've created an acronym to help you through this process; SHOT. The combination of persistent droughts, cooler temperatures and long nights during winter will all contribute to the flowering process that'll take place in the following summer. Repotting isn't mandatory, and instead might hurt the chances because of transplant shock. Have a look at the table below to learn more about what to do for each month. Please note that this is tailored to the Northern Hemisphere, with those living below the equator following the same actions per month, just six months later - i.e. the table's January actions must be taken in July, and so on.


PeriodActions
JanuaryEnd of the Flowering Period. Gradually decrease both water and fertiliser intake in the soil. Remove spent flowers as they wilt.
February & MarchResting/Dormancy Period. Reduce irrigations and fertilisation.
April & MayEnd of Resting/Dormancy Period. Increase waters and feed using a nitrogen-based fertiliser at monthly intervals.
June, July & AugustMove outdoors, with around an hour of morning sun. Bring it inside if the night temperatures dip below 10℃  (50℉).
September & OctoberPre-Flowering Period. Use a potassium-based feed fortnightly during this period. Only re-hydrate the plant once half of the soil dries out to dry the leaves' nodes.
November & DecemberFlowering Period. Maintain moist soil and fortnightly potassium-based feeds.


Sunlight

Be sure to provide a bright location with little to no direct sun throughout this period. Although the winter sunlight won't necessarily hurt the plant, you can easily fall in the trap of under-watering. Avoid the use of artificial lighting during the night, especially a month before the PRE-FLOWERING PERIOD.

Hydration

Reduce waters so that the soil stays fully dry for around ten days during the RESTING/DORMANCY & PRE-FLOWERING PERIOD. This is to dry the leaves' terminals (nodes) that'll help bud formation.

Occasional Feeds

During the PRE-FLOWERING and FLOWERING PERIOD, supplement the soil using a potassium-based feed - tomato food is an excellent choice. Revert back to a general plant fertiliser as soon as the last flower elapses. 

Temperature & The Outdoors

Situating a Schlumbergera outdoors during the summer will benefit the plant in many ways. Not only will they generally perform better when given a vacation outdoors, but it'll also revitalise and provide vital nutrient in the form of fresh air and natural lighting. If you can't place it outside, no need to panic. Schlumbergera can still flower well during the budding season, but its overall health won't be as good as the others. During the PRE-FLOWERING PERIOD, it's best to situate the plant in a location that offers nighttime temperatures of 15℃  (59℉) for the formation of buds.



The same Thanksgiving Cactus that has rejuvenated after a near-death experience five months prior.

6. Why Hasn't It Flowered?

Key - Thanksgiving/Christmas Cactus & Easter Cactus (in bold).

If your Cactus hasn’t flowered during the allocated flowering period, it most likely would be because of incorrect care and its environment throughout the year. From August or December, reduce irrigations so that the soil almost dries out, along with reducing the temperature a few degrees, too. The amount of light your Cactus receives is crucial for successful flowers. Provide an area that has at least twelve hours of complete darkness, with an absence of artificial light during the night in the PRE-FLOWERING PERIOD.

The buds may start to drop off if it has endured persistent droughts or has been relocated in another room too soon. The table above shows a basic timetable in which you can follow to significantly increase the chance of flowers during the festive period.



Origins

Schlumbergera is an epiphytic or lithophytic genus consisting of six to nine species, endemic to the coastal regions of southeast Brazil. Many of the species are, in fact, cultivars, and therefore don't occur naturally in the wild. Although the genus' name was first penned back in 1858 by Charles Lémaire, to honour Frenchman Frédéric Schlumberger, cultivation and taxonomy can be dated long before this. The S. truncata (then called Epiphyllum truncatum) was first documented in 1818 and the S. russelliana in 1839. An Englishman, named W. Buckley, purposely hybridised the two species to create the 'S. × buckleyi' (the well-known Easter Cactus). Higher classifications (tribes) have caused significant confusion over the last few centuries, with many of the species jumping between genera. Most species and cultivars within Schlumbergera belonged to now-defunct genera (Epiphyllanthus and Zygocactus) or were originally part of another genus (Hatiora, Cereus and Epiphyllum), for example.

Schlumbergera can be divided into two main divisions by their leaf and flower structures; the Buckleyi group (Easter Cacti) and the Truncata Group (Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti). The Buckleyi division sport blunted edges to the leaf segments, with actinomorphic flowers that are almost symmetrical, with the latter group has serrated leaf edges with the flowers developing in a zygomorphic manner.


Temperature

10°C - 26°C   (50° - 78°F)
H1b - can be grown outdoors in summer in a sheltered location, but is fine to remain indoors. Placing a Schlumbergera outside during the warmer months is very beneficial to heighten the chance of flowering later in the season. If you decide to bring the plant outdoors, do not allow it to endure more than an hour of direct sunlight a day as this will burn the leaves. Regularly keep an eye out for pests, most notably Mealybugs and Aphids.


Spread

Christmas Cacti (S. × buckleyi or bridgesii) -  Up to 0.6m in height, and 0.8m in width. Each leaf segment can reach to 5cm in length with maturity being reached in 8 years.

Easter Cacti (Schlumbergera/Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) - Up to 0.6m in height and width. Each leaf segment can reach up to 7cm in length with maturity being reached in 5 years.

Thanksgiving Cacti (S. truncata) - Up to 0.7m in height, and 0.8m in width. Each leaf segment can reach to 5cm in length with maturity being reached in 5 years.



My 46 year old Christmas Cactus.

Pruning

Remove yellowed or dying leaves and plant debris to encourage better growth and improve the all-round appearance. Vine cuttings can be taken to halve the vine-length of the specimen, as well as doubling your stock. Be careful not to cut into the actual leaf when removing yellow leaves - wait until it has naturally fallen off to prevent damaging the node.

Propagation

Via seed or leaf/stem cuttings. To learn about the essentials with sowing seeds, be sure to click on this link - Seed Propagation Tips.

Cuttings can be taken during the spring, when the plant is actively growing. You can either root them in water or soil, with the latter being the better option. Whenever taking any tropical cactus cuttings, high humidity has to be at the forefront of the operation, as they'll immediately begin to loose stored moisture. Providing a moist environment will help slow the rate of transpiration (water loss in the leaf), along with aiding the process of root development.


Water Propagation

  1. Choose which leaves to use. The ideal candidates are those that show no sign of damage, pests or diseases, and have small wires roots already-attached. Cuttings that don't sport any roots will still root, but it may take a little longer for its propagation. Each cutting must have two nodes - both for rooting, and for one that remains above the soil or water line.
  2. Delicately cut the end two leaves off from the vine, just above the second node (intersecting the third leaf that is still attached to the main plant). It's important not to cut direct across the nodes as this could prevent the development of new growth.
  3. Place the cuttings onto a moist paper towel, away from direct light or an operating radiator. Never submerge the newly-cut leaves immediately into water, as it'll allow bacteria to engulf the wounds and help the spread of disease. Allowing the leaf's cut to callous over (dry-out) will kick start the rotting process, along with keeping out unwanted pathogens.
  4. Place the bottom half into lukewarm water, keeping at least one of the nodes in fresh air. Situate the cuttings into a bright, indirect location that offers temperatures above 18°C  (64°F).
  5. Replace the water every few days and remove any rotting matter. Maintaining a hygienic setting is mandatory for water-propagation, due to the high chance of harbouring bacteria.
  6. Roots will begin to develop after a few weeks. In some cases it'll take longer when the temperature or lighting isn't optimal. As long as you maintain good growing conditions, success should be achieved!
  7. Once an inch of roots have developed, it's now time to pot them up! Choosing a free-draining potting mix, for example, Cactus & Succulent Compost, provides a nice balance of moisture-retention and well-drainingness. Of course, most soils are acceptable (Houseplant or Multi-purpose compost), but try to add some extra ingredients like grit, sand and perlite to help loosen it. If you've got any shallow and wide pots, for example a Bonsai pot, this is the time to use it. Propagating tropical cactus cuttings won't require deep soil, so try and avoid pots that are too big. Terracotta and plastic pots are both acceptable in this instance.
  8. Do NOT pat down the surrounding soil to aid support. The ideal soil conditions need to be fluffy and oxygenated, so compacting the soil will result in the suffocation of roots that'll lead to root rot. If support is needed, use a small stick or cane, but be sure NOT to compact it.
  9. Aftercare - Maintain evenly moist soil, allowing the top third to dry out in between waters. The ideal location would be in a warm, humid room - do not allow the cuttings to endure dry air or direct sunlight. After another month of being in the soil, treat it like a normal houseplant.


Soil Propagation (Recommended)

  1. Choose which leaves to use. The ideal candidates are those that show no sign of damage, pests or diseases, and have small wires roots already-attached. Cuttings that don't sport any roots will still root, but it may take a little longer for its propagation. Each cutting must have two nodes - both for rooting, and for one that remains above the soil or water line.
  2. Delicately cut the end two leaves off from the vine, just above the second node (intersecting the third leaf that is still attached to the main plant). It's important not to cut direct across the nodes as this could prevent the development of new growth.
  3. Prepare the pot and soil. Choosing a free-draining potting mix, for example, Cactus & Succulent Compost, provides a nice balance of moisture-retention and well-drainingness. Of course, most soils are acceptable (Houseplant or Multi-purpose compost), but try to add some extra ingredients like grit, sand and perlite to help loosen it. If you've got any shallow and wide pots, for example a Bonsai pot, this is the time to use it. Propagating tropical cactus cuttings won't require deep soil, so try and avoid pots that are too big. Terracotta and plastic pots are both acceptable in this instance.
  4. Place the cuttings ON TOP of the moist soil. Allowing both the plant and it's wound to callous over (dry up) will kick-start the rooting process, along with the prevention of rot. Keep the cuttings on top of moist soil for a week, misting the soil and foliage on opposite days. Have a look at the image below to see what the new roots look like.



  5. Provide a bright, indirect location with temperatures above 18°C  (64°C) throughout this period.
  6. Once the roots begin to develop along the nodes, place it into soil, submerging the bottom half. Make sure you don't place the cutting too far into the soil, as this may lead to blackleg ( the rotting of its base).
  7. Do NOT pat down the surrounding soil to aid support. Tap the pot's side to consolidate (not compact) the soil. The ideal soil conditions need to be fluffy and oxygenated, so compacting the soil will result in the suffocation of roots that'll lead to root rot. If support is needed, use a small stick or cane, but be sure NOT to compact it.
  8. Aftercare - Maintain evenly moist soil, allowing the top third to dry out in between waters. The ideal location would be in a warm, humid room. Do not allow the cuttings to endure dry air or direct sunlight. After another month or two of being in the soil, treat it like a normal houseplant.


Flowers

Schlumbergera can be divided into two main divisions by their leaf and flower structures; the Buckleyi group (Christmas & Easter Cacti) and the Truncata Group (Thanksgiving Cacti). The Buckleyi division sport blunted edges to the leaf segments, with actinomorphic flowers that are almost symmetrical, with the latter group has serrated leaf edges with the flowers developing in a zygomorphic manner. The latter will 'lean' over, whereas the the Buckleyi division radiates with an equal angle of petals. Interestingly, the buds will only develop on the leaf terminals that face towards the light, meaning that a bright location will result in more blooms.

Christmas Cacti (S. × buckleyi or bridgesii) - Diagonal flowers that bloom from late November to early February, and grows actinomorphically with white pollen.

Easter Cacti (Schlumbergera/Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) - Diagonal blooms that develop in springtime with star-shaped flowers.

Thanksgiving Cacti (S. truncata) - Horizontal flowers that bloom during October to early December, and grows zygomorphically with pink pollen.


The difference between the Thanksgiving Cactus pictured left, and the Christmas Cactus on the right.

Repotting 

Repot every few years in spring, using Cactus & Succulent Compost and a larger pot. This is an excellent time to check the roots' condition, as well as division. As all tropical cacti are prone to root rot, have a look around the bottom half of the root ball for any brown or broken down roots. If this is the case, remove the affected areas with clean utensils and ease off with the irritations. Click on this link to learn about how to perform the perfect transplant.

A rare occurrence of a three-sided Thanksgiving Cactus leaf.

Diseases & Pests

Typical diseases associated with Schlumbergera are root or leaf rot, leaf-spot disease & powdery mildew. Keep an eye out for mealybugs, spider mite, whitefly, scale & vine weevils. For more information on how to address any of these issues, click on this link.  Identifying Common Houseplant Pests & Diseases


Toxicity

This genus is classified as non-poisonous, however, if large quantities of the plant are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite may occur. 


Retail Locations

Blue Diamond,  B&Q,  Dobbies,  Online Stores. Specimens are most commonly sold during November - January for Christmas & Thanksgiving Cacti, and March - April for Easter Cacti.

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