Christmas Plant Cactus

Thanksgiving Cactus Care Guide: Enhancing Your Festive Decor

The Thanksgiving cactus is a charming addition to any home, making for a lovely table centerpiece, window decoration, or fireplace mantel adornment during the holiday season. This succulent, known for its stunning and vibrant blooms, is also incredibly easy to care for year-round.

Native to Brazil, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is a low-maintenance houseplant that typically blooms around November. You can recognize a Thanksgiving cactus by its serrated green leaves, which resemble crab claws, and its bright red or pink tube-like flowers that look like a blossom within a blossom. Despite its name, the Thanksgiving cactus is not a true cactus but an epiphyte—a plant that grows on other plants. In its natural habitat, the Thanksgiving cactus often grows from trees.

5 Tips for Caring for Your Thanksgiving Cactus

  1. Use Cactus Soil: Standard potting soil is often too dense for holiday cacti, which don’t need to retain much water. Cactus soil—a mix of perlite, peat moss, pumice, sand, and gravel—drains well and dries quickly, making it ideal for your Thanksgiving cactus.
  2. Place in Indirect Sunlight: The Thanksgiving cactus thrives in indirect light. Keep the plant a few feet away from windows or use sheer curtains to diffuse the light. Exposing the plant to too much direct sunlight can cause its green leaves to turn yellow or red. The only time the plant benefits from direct sunlight is during its blooming season in late fall.
  3. Prune After Blooming Season: Pruning helps your Thanksgiving cactus grow larger and bushier. The best time to prune is right after the main bloom. You can continue pruning until early summer. You can also propagate new plants using the leaves you cut off.
  4. Pot in a Hanging Planter: If properly cared for and pruned, holiday cacti can grow quite large. A hanging planter or basket is ideal for these plants. They thrive better in a crowded pot, so you’ll likely need to repot your plant every few years. When repotting, move the plant to a pot that is only two inches larger than its current one.
  5. Water When the Soil Feels Dry: Unlike other cacti that thrive in dry conditions, the Thanksgiving cactus prefers the moist, humid environment of Brazil’s rainforests. Use the “soak and drain” method: water your cactus thoroughly over a sink and let the excess water drain out. Wait until the top layer of soil feels dry before watering again to prevent root rot.

Comparing Holiday Cacti: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter

Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata):

  • Recognized by its claw-like leaves
  • Blooms in late fall

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii):

  • Features scalloped leaves
  • Blooms in early winter

Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri or Hatiora gaertneri):

  • Has rounded leaves
  • Blooms in late winter to early spring

How to Get a Thanksgiving Cactus to Bloom

The Thanksgiving cactus typically blooms in late fall, producing flowers in various shades of yellow, pink, white, and red that last for about two to four weeks. If your plant doesn’t have flower buds or is in its second blooming cycle, you may need to take one of two steps in early October to encourage blooming:

  1. Cool Temperatures: Place the plant outside overnight for six to eight weeks in temperatures ranging from 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit to trigger blooming. Bring the plant inside if temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
  2. Total Darkness: Alternatively, place the plant in complete darkness overnight for 13 hours each day for six to eight weeks. Ensure the plant remains in complete darkness during this period, as any light exposure can disrupt the budding process.

How to Propagate a Thanksgiving Cactus

The best time to propagate a Thanksgiving cactus is one to two months after it has finished blooming. For successful propagation, clip off a section of the plant with three to four leaves. Allow the cuttings to dry for a few hours before planting them in fresh cactus soil. Water sparingly until new growth appears.

By following these tips, you can ensure your Thanksgiving cactus remains healthy and vibrant, adding a touch of natural beauty to your home during the holiday season and beyond. Happy gardening!