The colorful blooms of the Thanksgiving Cactus can be hard to resist during the holiday season.
Thanksgiving cacti, also known as Schlumbergera truncata, are a tropical plant that hail from South American jungles. The flower buds of this bright beauty come in a variety of pinks, creams, oranges and reds.
As the name implies, this vibrant plant blooms beautifully right around Thanksgiving.
Let me just interject…. beautiful bold colored blooms during winter are a must in some parts of the world! They brighten up our winter drear and bring immense joy. Thank you, cacti! I digress…
Holiday cactus make wonderful gifts and add a splash of color to holiday decor. Thanksgiving cactus, especially, bring vibrancy to the winter months. But there’s much more to this holiday bloom than what meets the eye!
Today we are sharing everything you need to know to grow and care for one of these unique holiday cactus plants yourself.
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Thanksgiving cactus plants are a tropical plant that bloom in cooler temperatures. When we think of cactus we often think of dry deserts, little water and heat.
But this vibrant bloomer is a tropical plant, native to South American jungles, where life is shaded and cool. As such, these cacti crave indirect light and cool temperatures to bring out their prolific blooms!
Thanksgiving cacti are often called by the common names crab cactus or crab claw cactus due to their pointed leaf shape. They are part of a small genus of cactus called Schlumbergera.
Several different plants from this genus are commonly grown in the US from this region, and are differentiated by the time of year in which they bloom, and their leaf and flower shape.
Christmas cactus and Easter cactus are two similar cactus beloved in the US. They bloom as their name indicates, around Easter and Christmas, although depending on the specific growing conditions, bloom time can range.
(Sources: North Carolina State University)
Thanksgiving cacti grow in the coastal mountain regions of Brazil and make their homes in rocks and trees. They are an epiphyte, which is a plant that that roots on another plant or plant debris, such as a tree. (Similar to an air plant).
They have a shallow root system and need loose, well draining soil to prevent too much water from sitting on their roots.
The natural environment is shady with moderate temperatures. In the wild, holiday cacti grow on a woody base and can grow 4 feet tall.
The plant is composed of green stem segments which act to absorb light and perform photosynthesis. The flowers hang downwards or horizontally and have tepals that are tubular in shape and curve backwards towards the base of the plant.
When in bloom, they look like a beautiful firework display.
Thanksgiving cactus are available in a variety of colors and can be purchased at garden centers and grocery stores during the holiday season. They make a savvy gift for your Thanksgiving host, or a gift for a family member. (I bought one for my mom last year!)
Give these unique holiday plants bright, indirect light and use soil that is kept moist but well draining. Make sure you have adequate drainage holes in the bottom of your container before potting or re-potting.
We go in depth on soil, water, and light requirements here:
Thanksgiving cactus grow best in loose, slightly acidic, well draining soil that has good aeration. Heavy potting mixes that stay damp and do not allow draining can kill the plant.
Perlite, a lightweight material made from volcanic ash, can be added to the potting soil and will add drainage and aeration.
Orchid bark is an excellent soil add in that adds additional nutrients and drainage.
In their natural growing environment Thanksgiving cacti are surrounded by decaying matter in the form of leaves and plant debris, which creates an acidic soil. A pH range of 5.5-6.2 is ideal.
Overly moist soil will encourage fungus and rot to grow, and attract fungus gnats. Good drainage is absolutely essential!
Typically speaking, your cactus will need to be watered once every week to two weeks.
When the top layer of soil is dry water your cacti deeply, allowing the water to drain out of the bottom of the pot. (Don’t drown your plant, use good judgement!). Then wait until the top few inches of soil are dry before you water again.
Well-draining soil must go hand in hand with a good watering schedule!
The specific environment you live in will affect the watering needs of your plant, however. A plant growing in a humid climate will need less water than one growing in a dry climate. Seasonality will affect the plant’s need for water as well.
You can tell that a Thanksgiving cacti is thirsty and needs to be watered when the top two inches of the soil is dry to the touch, or you can use a soil moisture meter.
Always use a gentle stream of water and apply at the base of the plant. We love using this watering can that has a long spout-specifically made for indoor plants.
Great soil drainage and proper water amounts are key to key to keeping a Thanksgiving cactus happy and healthy.
Remember that Thanksgiving cactus are native to the jungle and receive a lot of bright, indirect light in their natural habitat.
This same bright but indirect light in the home is essential for crab cactus to produce blooms. Pick a spot that is well lit but has no direct sun beams that will fall on the flower.
Harsh sunlight can burn the leaf segments and damage the plant. Purple leaves are often a sign of too much direct light.
Long nights are needed for buds to set in the fall (at least 12 hours of darkness).
The tropical region that Thanksgiving cactus naturally hail from is full of humidity. When grown as a houseplant, these succulents will be happiest with a humidity level of at least 40-50%.
You can naturally increase humidity levels by running a humidifier, like this one. Or, you can set your plant near a bathroom or a kitchen with frequent running warm or boiling hot water.
I have personally had success keeping my holiday cacti in a bedroom that is adjacent to our frequently used bathrooms. All the bathing raises the overall humidity in the atmosphere!
Thanksgiving cactus give an absolutely stunning bloom available in pink, red, white and cream tones.
The medium sized buds grow from areoles at the tips of the stem. The flower tepals (which look like the petals), unfurl backwards toward the plant, then begin to fuse together towards the end of the flower, forming a tube.
There is a cluster of long, brilliant stamens bursting forth from the center of the tepals. The pollen at the end of the stamens is a light yellow color. (Christmas cactus have pink pollen!).
The bloom is incredibly festive, reminiscent of a beautiful holiday ornament.
Thanksgiving cactus bloom in late fall, right around the time of the holiday in November. When a plant is purchased right before the holiday the buds will already be set.
Blooms can last up to 8 weeks if properly cared for. Optimal temperatures are between 68-70 degrees, use care with watering, and keep the plant out of direct sun.
However, the following year you will have to create the right conditions for your cacti to bloom in. You will need to try to limit the light that the plant receives (many growing zones are conducive to this, and you may not need to anything).
*Do not fertilize or re pot while the plant is blooming!
How To Get Thanksgiving Cactus To Bloom
Holiday cactus are short day plants, which means that they need long hours of darkness and shorter daylight hours for 6 weeks in order to set their buds.
These cooler temperatures and longer hours of complete darkness are essential for getting a Thanksgiving cactus to bloom. They need 12-15 hours of darkness. You may need to “trick” your plant with artificial darkness to get it to set buds.
To do this you can carefully place your cactus is a dark spot for 12-15 hours of continuous darkness. You can place it in a dark closet or cover it with a plastic bag for this time.
Make sure that no light hits the plant during these hours as it will be detrimental to the bloom process!
You can also try setting your cactus outside in early fall when temperatures hover around 55 degrees and longer nights set in.
Once your plant sets it’s blooms, you can bring it out and enjoy the flowering process!
If you’d like to learn how to take up close photos of flowers, read this article!
When grown in containers, Thanksgiving cactus will eventually use up all the nutrients within the soil.
Because of this, it is essential to fertilize the cactus plant. Use a water soluble fertilizer with a ratio of 20-20-20. Fertilize in early winter and spring, and stop when bud production starts in late summer and fall.
While Thanksgiving cactus like to be root bound, you do need to replace the soil every few years as the nutrients are consumed by the plant.
How Long Can Thanksgiving Cactus Live?
Thanksgiving cactus can live up to 100 years! With proper care, Thanksgiving cactus can live for decades… we have a friend with a 40 year old plant.
Growing new plants from a holiday cactus is incredibly easy. You can take stem cuttings from your established plant, place them in potting soil, and roots will grow rather quickly!
The best time to propagate new plants is after the plant has stopped blooming. You can combine pruning with propagating new plants.
Step By Step Guide For Propagating Thanksgiving Cactus:
- Gather small plastic containers such as discarded yogurt cups and add drainage holes to the bottom (make sure they are clean)
- Fill with a loose, well draining potting soil
- Water the soil well until the water begins to run out of the drainage holes
- A cutting is simply a cacti stem that is about 4 segments long. Twist off a cutting at the joint of the 4th segment
- Prop the cutting into the soil and water well once again. Make sure the cutting is standing straight up
- Place in a warm room in indirect light
- Keep soil moist for several weeks as the cutting develops roots
*In lieu of soil you can use vermiculite mixed with potting soil.
**Some gardeners allow the bottom of the cactus become callus by setting it out to dry for a week prior to planting.
If your plant cutting remains stiff and firm, it is a good sign that it is thriving and creating new roots.
Growing new plants from cuttings should be fairly easy, as Thanksgiving cactus naturally grow and adapt new aerial roots on debris and trees in their native habitat, and should not be high maintenance to propagate.
If the cutting is wilted or decayed, however, it can be tossed and the process started again. Making multiple cuttings at one time is a good idea to guarantee success.
If all goes well, you will have beautiful Thanksgiving plants to share with friends and family next year!
Thanksgiving cactus come in many brilliant colors, and look a bit like a stationary firework display when they are in full bloom! You will find them in various shades of light pink, dark pink, peach, rose, lavender, orange and white.
Thanksgiving Cactus Vs Christmas Cactus
The difference between Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus lies in the shape of the leaf, it’s pollen color, and the bloom time of each plant:
Shape Of Leaf: As the name claw cactus indicates, Thanksgiving cactus have a sharp claw like shape at the end of each leaf. The leaf of a Christmas cactus is more scalloped in shape, with blunted round curves at the end of each leaf point.
Color: The stamen of a Thanksgiving cactus contain a brilliant yellow pollen, while on a Christmas cactus they pollen is pink. The stamen are the long, slender reproductive parts of the flower which contain the pollen.
Bloom Time: Each type of cactus blooms in reference to it’s common name. The Thanksgiving cactus blooms around Thanksgiving, of course, and the Christmas cactus blooms a few weeks later.
Should you deadhead Thanksgiving cactus?
Yes, as blooms become faded and wilt, you can carefully deadhead your cactus plant. Gently remove spent blooms from the end of the plant leaf.
The plant will not produce new blooms because of deadheading, but it will be able to put all it’s energy into the rest of the flowers!
Alternatively, the flowers will wilt and then fall, and you can just clean them up.
Pruning Thanksgiving cactus can be done in late winter after the plant blooms and will encourage branching and new growth, resulting in a larger and bushier plant.
To prune, gently twist of the leaf section where you would like to see new growth.
How Often Does A Thanksgiving Cactus Bloom?
Thanksgiving cactus bloom just once a year, around the holiday in November.
Does Cactus Like To Be Root Bound?
Thanksgiving cactus do like to be root bound, however too tight of growing conditions will eventually contribute to wilting.
If the cactus is overly pot bound, choose a container one size up, with drainage holes and transfer your plant to potting soil mixed with vermiculite.
While these tropical plants are generally low maintenance, they can have plant problems from time to time. Here are a common problems and their solutions:
- No Blooms: Remember that the Christmas cactus needs long periods of darkness in order to set buds in the fall. If you cactus does not have blooms, it probably did not get the appropriate light and darkness ratio earlier in the year.
- Flower Buds Falling Off: While generally hardy, Thanksgiving cactus can be sensitive to being moved around frequently or subjected to cold temperatures. Keep the location consistent and the temperatures steady and moderate.
- Yellow Leaves: Yellowing leaves can be indicative of over watering. Let the soil dry out slighting between watering. If over watering is not the problem, the plant may need a bigger pot to give it’s roots some room to expand, or it may need new soil.
- Drooping: Drooping can be indicative of several things: your plant may need a bigger pot, or you may be under watering it. Direct sunlight can also cause wilting of leaves.
- Root Rot: Root rot can be caused by over watering and will kill the plant. To prevent, make sure to wait until the top of the soil is dry before watering, and have proper drainage in your container.
We hope you enjoyed learning all about the magnificent Thanksgiving cactus with us. This brilliant flower is truly a show stopper during the holidays!
Let us know in the comments if you have any cacti questions or concerns.