Thanksgiving Cactus: Grow And Care Guide
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, she 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:
Thanksgiving cactus are a tropical plant that bloom in cool temperatures. When we think of cactus we often think of dry deserts, little water and heat.
But the Thanksgiving cacti is a tropical plant, native to South American jungles, where life is shaded and cool. She craves indirect light and cool temperatures bring out her prolific blooms!
Thanksgiving cacti, sometimes called crab claw cactus due to shape, 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. Christmas cactus and Easter cactus are two similar cactus beloved in the US. They bloom as their name indicates, around Easter and Christmas.
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 derives it’s nutrients from air and water and grows on another plant, such as a tree. (Similar to an air plant).
Their environment is shady with moderate temperatures. In the wild, they grow on a woody base and can reach 4 feet in height.
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.
To care for a thanksgiving cacti, give her a home in indirect bright light and make sure the soil is moist but well draining. Make sure you have adequate drainage holes in the bottom of your container before 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.
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.
Keep soil damp but well draining. Typically, your Thanksgiving cactus will need water once every week to two weeks.
You can tell that a Thanksgiving cacti is thirsty and needs to be watered when the top two inches of the soil is dry. At this time, water the cactus deeply until water runs out of the bottom of the pot.
Again, drainage is very important, and avoiding over watering is equally important! Proper watering prevents root rot.
Remember that Thanksgiving cactus are native to the jungle and receive a lot of indirect light in it’s natural habitat.
Bright, indirect light is essential for this cactus to produce blooms. Pick a spot that is well lit but has no direct sun beams that will fall on the flower.
Long nights are needed for buds to set in the fall (at least 14 hours of darkness).
Thanksgiving cactus give an absolutely stunning bloom! 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 bloom is incredibly festive, reminiscent of a beautiful holiday ornament.
When do Thanksgiving cactus bloom?
Thanksgiving cactus bloom in late fall, right around the time of the holiday in November. Typically when you purchase a Thanksgiving cactus around the holidays, the buds will already be set and it will bloom shortly.
Blooms can last up to 8 weeks if properly cared for. Optimal temperatures for a Christmas cactus is around 68-70 degrees.
However, the following year you will have to create the right conditions for your cacti to bloom in.
*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 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. Around 15 hours of dark is needed and 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 about 14-15 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 at all, 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!
Thanksgiving cactus living in containers 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 looks wilted and is decaying, 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 Thanksgiving cactus come 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.
To differentiate between a Thanksgiving cactus and Christmas cactus that are not in bloom, take a close look at shape of the leaves and look for the pointed or curved ends.
Should you deadhead Thanksgiving cactus?
Yes, as blooms become faded and wilt, you can gently deadhead your cactus plant. Gently remove spent blooms from the end of the plant leaf.
Often, the flowers will wilt and then fall, and you can just clean them up.
Pruning Thanksgiving cactus can be done 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 can eventually contribute to wilting. If the cactus is pot bound, choose a larger container with drainage holes and transfer your plant to potting soil mixed with vermiculite.
While Thanksgiving cacti is generally low maintenance, she 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 spring
- 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 warm.
- 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.
- 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, and we hope you enjoy her blooms just as much as we do!