“Earth's saddest day and gladdest day were just three days apart!” Susan Coolidge.
“Easter spells out beauty. The rare beauty of new life.” S.D. Gordon.
The Easter (or spring) cactus is very adaptable to many growing conditions throughout each season and has many colorful hybrids which were developed from species that originated in the jungles of Brazil. These species include Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri (Hatiora gaertneri) which has red to orange large blooms and large stem segments, and Rhipsalidopsis rosea (Hatiora rosea) with small pink blooms and small stem segments.
Both of these species have been crossed many times to create the many hybrids available in the market today and are easy to grow. Most hybridization efforts have been focused on the production of variations in the bloom color, form and the bloom size.
Properly water these cacti during the growing season from March through September and sparingly in the semi-dormant season from October through February. They prefer container soils with good drainage and will not do well in poorly drained soils or standing water. The Easter cactus needs to be watered about 2 or 3 times a week during the growing season and once per week in the off-season. Overwatering can cause the stems to rot and encourage bacterial diseases to be prevalent. Also, overwatering is the main enemy of the Easter cactus.
This cactus prefers part shade to full sun and can be acclimated to be grown indoors near a well-lighted window, but out of direct sunlight. If grown indoors, the Easter cactus likes to experience a cool period (hardening-off) from October to February for bloom induction with minimal growth.
Never plant the Easter cactus directly into the ground. Instead, select appropriate containers that best match the plant with its surroundings and keep a daily check on the moisture content. Ceramic or clay containers are a good choice in high humidity conditions since they “breath” easier than the plastic ones.
Rhipsalidopsis can be more upright than the Christmas cactus, but most varieties are semi-pendulous in their growth habit which makes them a good choice for hanging baskets. When using ground-type containers, be sure height is considered to allow the stems to hang down freely without obstruction. This is accomplished by using a plant stand or placing the container on an upside down container.
Trim the Easter cactus stems for shape and to encourage new growth at the same time that the cactus is being re-potted into a larger container. Trimming will help to achieve a favorably layered form which means more stems and more blooms. Always prune the Easter cactus at a leaf joint where it goes narrow again using shears or finger movement (snapping). This pruning can be done after the blooming season and before new bud development in January. Proper timing assures effective future blooms for the coming season. Selectively remove any damaged parts throughout the year for health and curb appeal.
Wilting of the stems may occur when the temperatures exceed 90 degrees F, which can be prevented by placement into more shaded environment and/or syringing (misting). However, once the temperatures stabilize between 85-90 degrees, wilt doesn’t become as issue.
The Easter cactus prefers a well-balanced but slightly higher nitrogen-based fertilizer like 10-10-5 (N-P-K) or similar formulation at label rates during the growing season from late February to September. Apply fertilizer every 3 to 4 weeks during the growing season. Foliar spraying of fertilizers has proven very effective. Bloom fertilizers (0-10-10) can also be applied at label rates from January through the blooming season (March to September). Bloom fertilizers will improve flower bud formation, as well as the color, quality and size of the blooms. Do not use excess amounts of fertilizer.
April and May are the peak months for blooming, depending on the variety. If the spring is hot, they will bloom several times throughout the season. Unlike other holiday cacti (Thanksgiving and Christmas), the Easter cactus does not have scallops or teeth on a healthy leaf. The leaves darken in color and grow wider and flattened as they age.
The Easter cactus will not flower if it is watered regularly or fertilized in the 30 days following blooming. Also, next year's blossoms will be smaller if the plant is permitted to waste energy developing fruits. Pinch off the withered flowers to prevent this from happening. Furthermore, never disturb a blooming plant for any reason except to water it. Touching the flowers will cause them to fall off the plant.
Always move the budding plant from the winter room to its usual light source immediately when buds are seen. Any over-watering will result in segments of the plant breaking off for no apparent reason. However, these segments can be re-potted for propagation. Also, under-watering will cause the segments of the plant to collapse in toward the pot and start turning yellow. Simply increase watering over the next few weeks to correct this problem. Be reminded that too much water too quickly will surely shock the plant.
The temptation in plant selection can be very obvious during such seasons as Easter. As you commit to the effort and cost of spring landscaping, please also commit to providing the necessary care to keep your plants healthy and attractive. Continue to think in terms of native and sustainable plants in the landscape since these will be more environmentally-friendly and easier to maintain. Get outside and enjoy your early spring gardening! And remember to feed and water the birds! Happy Easter to all!
On another note, Earth Day 2014 is Tuesday, April 22 and the focus will be on green cities and mobilizing people to create a sustainable, healthy environment by greening communities worldwide. Have a Happy Earth Day!
Many thanks to all who read this column which is an effort to provide each reader with timely and useful information. It is a small contribution on my part in “paying it forward” to my readers, as a means of sharing the blessings bestowed upon me. In keeping with this thought, many of you know that we are planning a mission trip to the Amazon Jungle in Peru this summer. We are currently raising funds to help finance this mission trip. If you feel led to do so and would like to donate to this cause, please make a check payable to Heritage Church and mail to Eddie Seagle, Peru Mission Team, 108 Tallokas Circle, Moultrie, GA 31788. We would appreciate your prayers for a safe journey as well, and many thanks to each of you.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17.