December 21, 2019
Today being National Poinsettia Day reminded me of other Christmas flowers, like Christmas cactus and a very good writing by our dear Carolyn Bush.
She is no longer with us but her writings live on! Enjoy!
They may go by many names, but whether you call them Weihnachtskaktus (German), Cactus de Noël (French), Cacto de Navidad (Spanish), Thanksgiving Cactus (American), Holiday Cactus (US) or even Crab Cactus (referring to the clawed ends of the stem), you can’t go to any garden center or grocery store this time of year without being tempted to buy a Christmas Cactus (Europe/US/Canada). But just how do you keep them healthy—and, as importantly, get them to bloom again next year. Like poinsettias, another holiday flower, there’s a trick to that.
According to Clemson Cooperative Extension, Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) are popular, fall- and winter-flowering houseplants native to Brazil, where they grow as epiphytes on tree branches in shady rain forests. Their flowers are available in a wide variety of colors including red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream, and white.
Strangely enough, what we call “Christmas cactus” and find most often in stores starting around November is most likely the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), as it blooms almost a month before Schlumbergera bridgesii. If you really want to impress your friends with your horticultural knowledge, the way to tell the two apart, according to the Clemson website, is to “look at the shape of the flattened stem segments, which are botanically called phylloclades. On the Thanksgiving cactus, these stem segments each have 2 to 4 saw-toothed serrations or projections along the margins. The stem margins on the Christmas cactus are more rounded.
A second method to distinguish between these two Schlumbergera species is based on the color of the pollen bearing anthers. The anthers of the Thanksgiving cactus are yellow, whereas the anthers on the Christmas cactus are purplish-brown.”
Since Holiday cactus originated in shady rain forests, it is best to grow them in light shade. The secret to good repeat flower production involves temperature regulation (do not let the temperature go over 90 degrees once the flower buds appear) and photoperiod (length of day and night) control. Fourteen hours or more of continuous darkness each day for at least six weeks is required for complete bud set to occur. Street lights, car lights or indoor lightening can disrupt the required dark period. My mother, who once grew a Christmas cactus so large and with so many buds that she donated it to a horticultural center when she moved, would put her Christmas cactus in a dark closet every night for six weeks starting in September.
Watering and fertilizing the Christmas cactus is fairly easy. Though Holiday cactus can tolerate being somewhat under-watered during the summer, once buds appear the soil should remain slightly moist or the buds may drop. Clemson recommends fertilizing once monthly with a dilute 20-20-20 fertilizer from the time new growth starts in the early spring. As Holiday cactus have a higher requirement for magnesium, Epsom salts (one teaspoon per gallon of water) can be used also, but not applied at the same time as the other fertilizer. The plants do best grown in well-drained soil and like being somewhat pot bound. The most common problem is over-watering which produces root rot.
Christmas cactus is easily propagated by cuttings, so if you are looking for a present to give to your gardening friends, you might try growing them yourself. However, whether you want to go to all the trouble of getting them to bloom or whether you just want to consider your Christmas cactus as a “holiday annual plant,” go ahead and purchase that beautiful Christmas cactus at the store. After all, what says “Holiday” to a gardener more than poinsettias and Christmas cactus.
Picture by Starla
In the dead of winter, shopping for flowering quince seemed like a good idea. Like most gardeners, I was familiar with Texas Scarlet and it’s lipstick pink blooms.
They had been blooming beautifully along the Katy Trail since early February.
There are many varieties of flowering quince with colors ranging from red to light pink, white, orange, and apricot. For instance, ‘Orange Storm’, ‘Scarlet Storm’ and ‘Pink Storm’, marketed as the Double Take™ series grow 3-4 feet in height and 4-5 feet in width and have big, vibrant colored, double flowers. The flowers were pretty but no longer looked like the quince I knew. So then I looked at ‘Crimson and Gold’ Flowering Quince. It was too red for me.
Finally, I chose this one:
What do you think about my selection?
Flowering quince is probably suitable for your garden if you have sunshine. Read about it on Texas SmartScape.
If you have heard of Tree Quince, (Cydonia oblonga), you’ll know it produces a yellow pome fruit similar to a pear. Information about the fruit, quince, can be found here.
Some of the flowering quince shrubs (Chaenomeles japonica) bear small, hard, aromatic fruits in fall used in making jelly or preserves. If you don’t get around to using them, the birds will!
We have three more events scheduled and more coming:
Saturday,February 16th, 10am-noon Grape Pruning and Growing class with Michael Cook, Viticulture Extension Program Specialist for North Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Michael Cook, Viticulture Program Specialist – North Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, has been consulting with Raincatcher’s to maximize production on our two grape varieties in the vineyard. We planted ‘Carlos’ Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) and Champanel, (Vitis champini X Worden), an American hybrid, almost four years ago. All that hard work paid off last summer, when we harvested well over 50 lbs of grapes. Michael will demonstrating proper pruning and training techniques for the backyard grower and provide advice on how to care for grapevines throughout the growing season for a successful crop. The class is free and open to all! Raincatcher’s Garden of Midway Hills is a demonstration garden and project of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Dallas County Master Gardeners located on the campus of Midway Hills Christian Church. To find the class, please park in the west or north parking lots and come to the shade pavilion in the north garden.
Tuesday, March 26th, 10:30 am Growing vegetables in the home garden, Jeff Raska.
Thursday, April 25th – Plant sale and DCMGA monthly meeting
Details will follow and we hope to add more classes to the list soon.
All of the above classes qualify for CEU credits for Master Garderners.
All members of the public are invited.
Questions? Send us a comment.
For more education opportunities, check our Master Gardener website.
Picture by Starla Willis
Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, is a breath of spring when we need it most.
Lovely looking lettuce but guess what Syann told me-it took 3 sowings to get that lovely lettuce because the rain kept washing the seeds away.
Here’s our recent radish harvest. We have planted more radish seeds to enjoy throughout the spring.
A dedicated team of Master Gardeners cultivates our vegetable gardens. As you can see in the picture below, note only one smiling gardener, it takes persistence and concentration to tend a research, education and demonstration garden.
We farm this patch of earth on Midway Road so that we can help you. Come see us on Tuesday mornings, attend our classes, or send us a question on this blog. We’d love to help your garden grow.
Pictures by Starla Willis
This year we will plant potatoes in the color wheel in the green section because, well, they have pretty green leaves. Review our video: Perfectly Planted Potatoes Premieres
It’s time to plant onions, buy them now at your favorite garden center and plant like this.
A list of our 2019 classes will be coming later this month.