Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, or Easter Cactus? How to Care for your Holiday Cactus

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Holiday cacti like the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii or Schlumbergera x buckleyi), Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) and Easter Cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri), are a special type of cacti.

The Schlumbergeras holiday cactus plants are real cacti that don’t come with any spines!

And they give you flowers during the holidays they’re named after.

Although they are different plants, the Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter Cacti all require the same basic care to keep as indoor plants.

Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Holiday Cactus plants in bloom.

Heirloom Holiday Cactus

Holiday cacti are typical heirloom plants. They are known to be passed down from mother to daughter. The reason for this is simple.

It’s an easy to care for houseplant. Not toxic for pets. And it propagates just perfect. Ideal to hand over to the next generation.

I too got my first holiday cactus from my mother. It was a cutting from her Thanksgiving cactus. The cutting that I got was already as large as a full-grown plant. The mother plant is huge.

At first, I looked at it and thought Why? My mom has so many plants. Why did she choose this plant?

You must know I thought it was kind of strange-looking. However, I also loved it right away. This was a new friend. Lovingly cared for by my mother and now it was my turn to give it a good home.

Since then the cutting has grown large, gave me many flowers and my collection of holiday cacti has grown a lot.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about the care of a holiday cactus.

READ: Catch up on the basic indoor cactus and succulent care tips.

Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter Cactus?

Which one do you have? Is it a Christmas cactus? Or maybe a Thanksgiving cactus? The common holiday cactus plants all look somewhat similar. But if you know what to look for, it’s simple to identify which plant is which.

The main differences between the Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus are the time when they bloom, and the shape of their stem segments, or ‘leaves’.

The time they bloom is obvious. Their names reflect the holiday time around when they flower. Or when they are supposed to flower when their circumstances are right. Read on, how to get your plant to flower will be described later.

So the Christmas Cactus blooms around Christmas, the Thanksgiving Cactus about a month earlier, around Thanksgiving, and the Easter Cactus grows flowers in spring around Easter.

If you get your holiday cactus plant outside the blooming period, you can identify it by looking at the leaves. Well, those green, flat ‘leaves’ are actually segmented stems. They are just called leaves by many people.

So let’s look at their shape for the differences.

A Thanksgiving cactus has stem leaves with spikey points on the edges. Christmas cacti have more rounded scalloped edges. If you have an Easter cactus you see rounded leaves with small bristles on them.

Holiday Cacti Care Tips

Caring for a holiday cactus can get tricky when it won’t bloom, or starts dropping it’s flower buds.
Know the basic needs and it will be easy to care for.

Holiday cactus plants don’t come from dry and hot climates as desert cacti do. Their natural habitat is the rain forest of Brazil.

In the rainforest, they grow high up in the top of the trees clinging to the trees with aerial roots. Just like the fishbone cactus and other airplants. The canopies of the trees protect the holiday cactus from full, direct sunlight.

Because of their native habitat, they prefer indirect light and more humidity than other cacti and succulents.

TIP: Place your Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, or Easter Cactus on a plant stand or plant it in a hanging pot to mimic their actual growing habits. The plants will droop down once the limbs get longer.

MAKE:
Holiday Cacti will love their own handmade macrame plant hanger!

How much Light does a Holiday Cactus Need?

Now we know that the holiday cactus comes from a low-light spot in the rain forest.

What this means is that you want to protect your indoor holiday cactus from direct sunlight. This is especially important in spring and summer.

You can keep your holiday cactus in lower light conditions, but it will do better in a bright window with plenty of indirect light.

MAKE: Protect your plant from too much direct sunlight by making this quick and easy DIY Window Sun Diffuser.

How to Water a Holiday Cactus

No matter which holiday cactus you have, the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, or the Easter cactus, most problems are because of improper watering.

Although a real cactus, your holiday cactus is a tropical plant. Don’t think it doesn’t need a lot of water. It does.

In the rain forest, your plant was used to getting lots of water during the rainy season. Even in the dry season, they still get rainfall.

A holiday cactus is definitely not as drought tolerant as most other cacti. They like high rain forest humidity, not desert dryness.

However, look at those segmented stem leaves. They are succulent and can store water. So be careful not to overwater them either.

READ: How to know its time water your plant?

Your plant will tell you when it needs water. It’s too easy. The stem segments of your holiday cactus will wrinkle and feel soft if the soil is dry and they lack water.

Water plentiful during the flowering period.

Make sure you use soil for cacti and succulents. It has to be fast draining so you can give your plant frequent waterings.

Thanksgiving cactus blooming white flowers. How to get your Holiday Cactus to Bloom.

How to Get a Holiday Cactus to Bloom

Holiday cacti can produce wonderful flowers. There are numerous hybrids that grow flowers in many different colors. They come in white, pinks, reds and purples. Even orange and bicolored versions can be found.

The flowers of the Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus both open somewhat similar to the flowers on a fuchsia plant. Their flowers’ outer leaves curl back towards the stem giving the flower an interesting tubular shape.

The flowers of the Easter cactus are a bit different. Their flowers are broader and look a little like daisies.

By regulating light and temperature, you can make your holiday plants bloom at a very specific time, such as exactly at Christmas.

How to Get a Holiday Cactus to Bloom with a Dark Treatment

How to Get a Holiday Cactus to Bloom with a Dark Treatment

Yield: one blooming holiday cactus
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: easy

In nature, holiday cacti are triggered to bloom as the days shorten and temperature drops.

At home, you can mimic this by giving your plant a dark treatment and get your holiday cactus to grow flowers indoors.

To induce flowering, start the dark treatment 6-8 weeks before desired bloom time.

Materials

  • One Holiday Cactus Plant
  • Dark location, closet, or box large enough to cover the plant

Instructions

  1. To mimic shorter days, place your holiday cactus in a dark room or closet for 12-14 hours daily. You can also place a box over your plant each night around 6 p.m. and remove it the next morning when you wake up around 8 a.m.
  2. Give your plant cooler night temperatures. Keep it in the range of 50-65 °F (10-15 °C).
  3. If you can’t get the temperature cool enough, increase dark time to compensate.
  4. Water less often than normal.

Notes

When the flower buds begin to show, you can stop the dark treatment.

Once the buds set in..

At this stage, keep the budding plant warm and humid. Keep the soil consistently moist.

Plants with flower buds should not be moved. Especially not to another location with different light or temperatures. Holiday cactus plants don’t do well with changes and will drop flower buds.

As the flowers bloom, keep it in bright, indirect light. A cool room is best; Too much heat can cause flowers to fade and drop quickly,

Fertilize lightly when the buds form and continue until the flowers fade. In steady temperatures of about 68°F (20°C), flowering can last for around 8 weeks.

When the plant is done blooming, allow it to rest. Keep it in a cooler location for about 6 weeks and keep it on the dryer side.

To get a Christmas Cactus to bloom by the holidays: Begin the dark treatments mid September.

Or… just let nature do its thing. Fall will set in and shorten the daylight hours. So your plant can flower by itself without any help if you’re lucky. But it might be less full of flowers, and maybe the holiday flowering timing won’t be exactly right.

How and When to Prune a Holiday Cactus

The best time to prune a holiday cactus is in spring through summer or right after it has bloomed.

Pruning your Christmas cactus, or Thanksgiving cactus will make it branch out, and grow more segmented stem leaves.

It is easy to prune your plant. All you do is gently pinch off segments at the joints. Wherever you feel it makes sense to remove some of the growth.

Don’t throw away the pieces you’ve pruned. Propagate and turn them into new plants for your collection or to give away to friends and family!

How to Propagate a Holiday Cactus

All the types of holiday cacti are super easy to propagate from stem cuttings.

Propagation can be done from as little as one stem segment. It is a wonderful thing to see that one segment grow up to be a full plant. But it will take a long time.

My advice?

Start with a few larger cuttings, each with at least three or four segments. You will have a fuller plant from the start. And even though still small, it will mature and be ready to flower sooner.

Let the cuttings dry and callous over. Just put them somewhere and wait two or three days.

Before you plant the cuttings in soil, dip them is a bit of rooting hormone. This powder helps the roots to grow faster and stronger. If you don’t have any, you can skip it, the process just might take a little longer without.

Plant the cuttings about an inch deep in well-draining soil. Place it in a bright location with indirect light. Keep the soil moist but not soaking wet.

Now wait.

After about two to three weeks the cuttings will have rooted and you should start to see new growth.

If you like to see the roots grow, you can choose to root your holiday cactus cuttings in water before you plant it in soil.

Common Holiday Cacti Problems

There are a few common problems with all the holiday cacti. It drops its flowers or doesn’t bloom at all. Maybe you’re seeing the leaves turn limp.

If it’s a Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter cactus these things can happen. Luckily, holiday cacti are strong plants and most problems can be fixed.

Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus plants don’t tolerate stress well. Changes in conditions, or too much or too little water can make your holiday cactus to drop leaves, buds, or flowers.

QUESTIONS? Get fixes for all common holiday cactus problems, or leave a comment with your question down below and I will try to answer it asap. Let’s talk plants!

Where to Buy your Holiday Cactus

Around the holidays, Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter Cactus plants are commonly sold in most nurseries and garden centers.

You will also see them pop up in grocery stores, gas stations, and discount stores. I would recommend you go and buy your holiday cactus plant at the plant nursery or garden center. Usually, their holiday cacti are better cared for, giving you the best chance of keeping your plant happy and healthy from the start.

If you don’t live near a nursery or want to buy a Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus when they are not in season, there are a number of plant growers that sell them online on Amazon and Etsy.

READ: Where and How to buy indoor plants. Get all the tips!

Thanksgiving cactus plants with flowers and flower buds. Holiday Cactus Care. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter Cactus.

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