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Ask the Master Gardener: Easter cactus blooms in spring shades

By: Trish Grenfell, Placer County Master Gardener
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Question: In your last column you talked about growing Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti and only mentioned the Easter cactus in passing. I would like to know how it is different and why I would want an Easter cactus in my home.
Answer: The Easter Cactus, “Hatiora gaertneri” (frequently sold as “Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri”), blooms in spring but starts to produce flower buds in February. If you plan to purchase one, there is ample time to produce a beautiful flower display in the spring, maybe near Easter.
The main difference between the Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter cacti is the time of bloom, but there are differences in their flowers and leaves (commonly called segments).
Since the bloom time is short, the identifier is the leaf. The Thanksgiving cactus is also called the “lobster claw” cactus because the leaf segments have toothy points at the segment tips. The Christmas cactus segments have smooth, scalloped edges. The Easter cactus segment is smooth also but is rounder than that of the Christmas cactus, with its older stems even becoming triangular.
But the easiest spring cactus identifier is the bristles on the sides of the segments and at the tip of the terminal segments. The segments are also often edged in a purplish fringe.
Flower bud initiation is associated with cool temperatures and shortened day length for Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti. The Easter version likes slightly warmer temperatures (65 degrees) and longer light for buds to form and bloom. And the spring cactus is even more sensitive to over watering in the winter and bud formation months. Wait until the soil in the pot is very dry before watering. But don’t forget that this holiday cactus likes humidity and very bright light (no sun) but hates drafts — just like the other holiday cacti.
The flowers of the Easter cactus are rounder and more daisy-like than tubular types of the other two cacti. They come in a broad range of spring colors:  yellows, pinks, peaches, reds and white.
Unlike Christmas cactus flowers that only last four or five days, individual Easter cactus flowers continue to open and close for 10 to 14 days with plants having an effective floral display of about 20 days.
Usually when we think of Easter and a plant, the Easter lily comes to mind. This next Easter however, introduce your friends to the beautiful Easter cactus.
Have gardening questions? Call the master gardener hotline at (530) 889-7388.