Easter cactus a spring blessing
By Linda Hartman - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited Charla Borchers Leon
April 15, 2017 at 10:52 p.m.
Updated April 16, 2017 at 6 a.m.
Easter is considered by some to be the holiest of religious holidays in the world. The observance of this day is celebrated in numerous ways, and as with many holidays, flowers play an integral part. The Easter lily is often used to decorate churches, homes and even graves, but it is not the only flower named for the Easter holiday.
Not a cactus but an epiphyte
Everyone has heard of the Christmas cactus, but what about the Easter cactus? Like the Christmas cactus, the Easter cactus (Rhilpsalidopsis gaertnerii), which is a symbol of rebirth, is not really a cactus but rather an epiphytic plant that grows in trees in the forests of South America.
Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti are native to tropical forests while the Easter cactus is native to drier natural forests. True cacti are found only on the American continents.
Epiphytes differ from the cactus family in several ways. Aloe vera, kalanchoe, echeveria, yucca, euphorbias and ponytail palms are familiar cactus and succulents, which may be easily grown as pot plants or in our gardens - but not on trees. These tough plants are easily grown in our state and other states in the southwestern parts of the United States.
Requirements for budding
The Easter cactus which is a spring bloomer and like the Christmas cactus and the Whitsun cactus requires low to medium light, porous compost which retains moisture, and watering only when the soil is dry.
To encourage bud formation, the epiphytes should be kept drier in autumn. A weekly misting is necessary from spring to late summer as the plants need a humid atmosphere. A saucer of rocks covered with water may also serve as a means of providing humidity.
As the buds begin to form, place the plants in a cool place where the temperature does not drop below 45 degrees. They should be kept in darkness at least 12 hours each night. From early autumn to spring, the plants will require full light. After flowering, the Easter cactus will require partial shade.
Perhaps placing the cactus in a shady place in your garden would be appropriate. During this time the only water requirement will be enough moisture to prevent the soil from completing drying. The resting period should last about six weeks. After the resting time, the Easter cactus may be brought inside for the cycle to begin again.
Check for and treat pests
It is important that one check the plants for worms in the soil. Beware of mealy bugs and root mealy bugs for both can destroy your Easter cactus. Mealy bugs must be destroyed immediately while root mealy bugs will require the removal of all soil.
Wash the roots with methylated spirits such as isopropyl alcohol, rinse the methylated solution from the roots which will need to dry after treatment. Methylated spirits are poisonous and need to be cleaned from your hands or gloves. Clean the container carefully, and replant with fresh, sterilized soil.
With distinctive differences from Christmas cactus, one has to examine the Easter cactus carefully to differentiate between the two.
The Easter cactus has leaves that are wide and round with red tint on the edges. Christmas cactus leaves have points. Healthy leaves will have no scallops or teeth. Leaves will grow wider, flatter and will darken as they age. A fully grown leaf may grow to 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. As the segments grow they will arc toward the ground.
The colors of the Easter cactus blooms are "spring-like" with white to red, orange, peach, lavender, and pink which will form a stunning starburst. Easter cactus and their blooms are nontoxic to cats and dogs.
Care throughout the year
As with all cacti, watering can be a challenge for too much water will drown your plant. Fertilize your Easter cactus with a water-soluble solution (10-10-10) every two weeks, and remember to bring your plant indoors when the temperatures begin to cool. During the resting period, only water when the soil feels dry. Buds should appear around February.
The Easter cactus should be a delightful addition to anyone's home. Like all of our plants, it will require care throughout the year, but it will serve as a blessing to those who celebrate Easter.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org.