Holiday Cactus Care

By Andrea Laine

Light and temperature:  This plant does not like direct sun and prefers exposure to medium light throughout the year.  My four currently thrive in front of a large north-facing window and a home thermostat that averages 65°F.    

Holiday cacti need long nights to form flower buds.  Be wary of the length of artificial light exposure during late summer and early autumn.  Two recommended options: 1) Set it outdoors in a SHADY spot during the summer.  When many buds have formed, bring it back indoors, or 2) Set it in a less used, cooler room of the house during the summer.  I’ve had good luck with a laundry room (so long as there is a window to let in natural light) or, a guest bedroom.  When flowers begin to bloom move the plant into a higher traffic room so you can enjoy it.

Pinching back the stems in early June will promote branching and places for more buds to form.

Thanksgiving Cactus
Thanksgiving Cactus

Water and fertilization: Water once weekly to keep the soil evenly moist. When flowering is over, reduce amount of water without ever letting the mixture dry out, and resume as before when the stem begins to grow new segments.  Never let water stand in the saucer beneath the pot.

Fertilize plants monthly from the time new growth starts in late winter or early spring, and throughout the summer using a one-half strength soluble fertilizer.  Stop fertilization during the late summer for greater flower bud production in the fall.

Potting:  The holiday cacti flower best when kept somewhat pot bound. Repotting is necessary only about once every three years and is best done in the spring.

Propagation:  In spring or summer take cuttings of 2-3 joints or more. Pinch them off at the joint and place them in a clear glass of water. Once there are a few roots equal to an inch or so (happens within a few weeks), place in potting soil and you have another plant for your home or to gift to the hostess of the next holiday party.

This Christmas cactus is more than 50 years old.
This Christmas cactus is more than 50 years old.

References and Resources

See the first part of Andrea’s spotlight on holiday cacti here:

Holiday Cacti

By Andrea Laine

Holiday cacti have had a place in my indoor garden for as long as I’ve been gardening.  (That’s 30 years.)  Some in my current collection have been in my husband’s family for close to 50 years!  Hundreds of cultivars are available blooming for several weeks in shades of red, pink, and purple, as well as white.

There are three types that look similar to one another but bloom at different times of year, to which they owe their common names: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

All have gracefully arching stems composed of succulent segments, which are botanically called phylloclades.  Subtle differences in the shape of the segments and the color of the anthers help distinguish one species from another.  

  • Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has saw-tooth or pointed projections on the margins. Its anthers are yellow.  
  • Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) has flat, jointed segments with smoothly scalloped edges. Its anthers are purplish-brown.
  • Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) has flat oblong segments with bristles at the edges. Flowers are more star-shaped than the other cacti.   

Note how the segments differ between these two species of holiday cacti:Christmas CactusThanksgiving Cactus

In their native habitat, these cacti grow on trees in the forests of Brazil. Here in North America they are common holiday hostess gifts and excellent year-round houseplants. Best of all, it is much easier to coax a holiday cactus to bloom again than it is a poinsettia!

Coming soon: Holiday Cactus Care

References and Resources