The Thanksgiving cactus is a low-maintenance houseplant that blooms in late fall around the Thanksgiving season in the United States. The beautiful flowers come in shades of yellow, pink, red, and white and last about five to six weeks under good care.
To get the Thanksgiving cactus to bloom, keep it in a cool room with temperatures around 60 to 68 °F during the day and 50 to 59 °F at night. Provide darkness for 12 to 14 hours daily for six to eight weeks.
In many cases, the Thanksgiving cactus has been confused for other plants in the Schlumbergera genus, including the Christmas cactus and Easter cactus, as they are all sold as “Christmas cactus” or “holiday cactus.”
However, their main differences lie in the shape of their leaves and bloom times.
- The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has claw-like projections on the leaves and blooms around the Thanksgiving season in late fall.
- The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) has scalloped leaves and blooms in early winter around the Christmas holidays.
- The Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri) has rounded leaves and blooms in spring.
Note: The flat stem segments of the Schlumbergeras are often referred to as leaves, but they are usually not true leaves.
Schlumbergera plants are native to tropical and subtropical Brazilian forests, where they grow as epiphytes on rocks and branches of trees. These plants enjoy humidity, nutrients from decomposing plant materials, and coolness from tree shades and canopies in their natural habitat.
Their low maintenance requirements, beautiful flowers, and bloom time make them a great choice for holiday plants. Apart from adding glamor around holidays, they are also offered as gifts to friends and family members.
How to get a Thanksgiving cactus to bloom
Most stores sell holiday cacti plants already budding, and first-time owners may not know what it takes to bloom. If you purchased a Thanksgiving cactus without buds or want your plant to bloom again, you’ll have to do a few things to initiate the formation of flower buds.
Starting mid-September, do the following:
- Keep the plant in cool temperatures. A daytime temperature of 60 to 68 °F and a nighttime temperature of 50 and 59 °F should be provided consistently. This can be anywhere in a cool room, garage, or closet.
- Provide a few hours of bright light and longer hours of darkness. Keep your Thanksgiving cactus in complete darkness for 14 hours every day for six to eight consecutive weeks. Street lights, car lights, or indoor lighting can disrupt the darkness process and cause buds not to form.
- Stop fertilizing and cut back on watering from late summer until the cactus blooms. This also prepares the plant foliage for supporting the upcoming buds and blooms.
Thanksgiving cactus care
Growing and caring for a Thanksgiving cactus is easier than other houseplants. The following are tips for keeping your cactus healthy before, during, and after blooming.
- Use cactus soil mix for growing or repotting a Thanksgiving cactus: Cactus soil is designed to drain water easily and dry quickly. Regular potting soil is often too dense for a holiday cacti plant and can encourage root rot.
- Water your plant when the top inch of the soil feels dry: Dip your finger to test if it’s dry enough before watering. Overwatering a Thanksgiving cactus can result in fungal and bacterial root rot.
- Place the Thanksgiving cactus in bright indirect light: Place your plant on the east-facing window, where it will get the first soft rays of light every morning. You can also use sheer curtains to filter bright sunlight.
- Fertilize Thanksgiving cactus monthly when new growth starts in early spring and throughout the summer: Use a one-half-strength soluble houseplant fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 with trace elements.
- Nourish the plants with magnesium sulfate monthly during the growing season: Thanksgiving cactus has a high affinity for magnesium than many plants. Apply Epsom salts mixed at 1 teaspoon per gallon of water one week after applying regular fertilizer.
- Prune the plant after the blooming season: Trim the Thanksgiving cactus when the blooms have faded to encourage new growth. You can use the cuttings to propagate your Thanksgiving cactus – grow new plants.
- Repot your Thanksgiving cactus every 1 to 2 years: Holiday cacti like crowded roots, but over time the entangled roots may not effectively take up nutrients and water as required, which can result in stunt growth or a sickly yellow plant.
Thanksgiving cactus problems
Without proper care, you may run into issues growing your holiday plant. A Change in lighting, temperature, and other conditions during blooming may cause buds not to open, fall off the plant, or get shriveled.
During summer, direct sunlight may cause the green plant to turn purple or red. Keep it protected if you take it outside for warmth and humidity. Keep it under other trees or on your patio.
Root rot is common in holiday cacti plants, caused by overwatering or poor-draining soil. It leads to severe wilt, bad smell, discoloration, and plant drooping.
Although rare, pests and scale insects like mealybugs, spider mites, and aphids can attack a Thanksgiving cactus, damage its tissues, or create vectors for fungal and bacterial infections. Inspect the cactus regularly and treat pests before they harm the plant.
The Thanksgiving cactus is a popular houseplant that brightens homes during the winter holiday. It blooms in late fall to mid-winter. Although not much, this plant needs good care to keep rewarding with healthy foliage and beautiful blooms.
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension: THANKSGIVING & CHRISTMAS CACTI
- Iowa State University: Is it a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter Cactus?
- North Carolina Extension: Schlumbergera truncata
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.