By Charlie Nardozzi
With the holidays on the horizon, one plant that will be featured in many homes is the holiday cactus. This succulent not only offers beautiful holiday color, but also allows you to teach your kids about plant growth and flowering. Here’s how to create gardening activities for your kids involving holiday cactus:
- Origins: Have your kids research where in the world holiday cacti grow naturally. Although we see them as houseplants, they are native to cool, tropical areas such as the mountains of Brazil. Ask your kids about the climate in those areas and how we can mimic that in the classroom or at home.
- Growth: Although called a “cactus,” holiday cactus does need more water than traditional cactus. In their native area these plants are also epiphytes. This means they grow on the bark of trees, getting the water and nutrients they need from the air and the tree. Ask your kids how this growth habit will influence what soil your holiday cactus grows in.
- Flowers: Ask your kids when they normally see holiday cactus flowering. You might get answers ranging from Thanksgiving to Easter. Explain that most holiday cacti are hybrids of three different types: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter cactus. The plants will flower at different times, depending on which type you get. Explain what holiday cactus needs to flower. The plants like at least six weeks of fourteen-hour-long nights and cool temperatures (50 degrees F), to stimulate flowering. Have your kids experiment with giving your cactus different dark intervals and temperatures to see how conditions influences flowering. Explain that flower buds will drop after forming if the humidity is too low or if there’s a sudden change in light or soil moisture.
To care for your flowering holiday cactus, keep the plant in a room with bright, indirect light and cool temperatures. The flowers will only last one day, but each cactus should produce many flowers, keeping it in bloom for weeks.