The weather is getting colder outside, but this does not mean that gardening is over. Read on to get some tips for Thanksgiving cactus care and enjoy blossoms indoors even when there is snow on the ground!
We often think of Christmas as a time for lots of flowering plants in the house, but there is one which is named for Thanksgiving, too!
Thanksgiving cactus is not the only flowering cactus plant. There are several others.
Each one blooms during the season for which it is named – Easter cactus, Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving cactus.
These attractive holiday plants can be found in all the big box stores around the holidays each year and are often given as gifts to gardeners.
What is a Thanksgiving cactus?
When most people hear the word cactus, they think of a stubby plant with spines all over it. Thanksgiving cactus does not fit this look at all.
The reason for this is because schlumbergera truncata is not a true cactus! Instead, it is an epiphyte.
Epiphytes are plants that live on other plants. The word epiphyte comes from Greek words epi (meaning “upon”) and phyton (meaning “plant”.)
This type of plant derives their moisture and nutrients from the air and rain, and grow on other plants for physical support. Air plants are a type of epiphyte.
In its natural habitat, Thanksgiving cactus takes root on trees and uses the decaying matter from them as a form of nutrients.
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Information about Thanksgiving Cactus
Thanksgiving cactus is native to the mountains of Brazil with habitats being subtropical or tropical moist forests.
- Scientific name: Schlumbergera truncata
- Higher classification: Schlumbergera
- Family: Cactaceae
- Type: Epiphyte
- Common names: False Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Crab cactus, Holiday Cactus, winter cactus
The plant has a decreasing population and is considered vulnerable. The genus Schlumbergera was named for Frédéric Schlumberger, a famous collector of cacti who lived in the 19th century.
Difference between Christmas |Thanksgiving | Easter Cactus
As noted above, there are several holiday cacti types. All of them are types of leaf cactus which form segmented stems that look like leaves in long chains.
The leaves have tubular shaped flowers which are produced from notches in the stems or from the tips. All three plants look similar on first glance.
The main differences between the three types of holiday cactus are the formation of the leaf edges. Easter cactus has rounded leaf segments. Those of the Christmas cactus are more scalloped or tear drop shaped.
Thanksgiving cactus leaves are very pointed with claw shaped projections.
The other main difference is the time at which the plant flowers. Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus flower late in the fall, with the Thanksgiving cactus flowering, prior to Christmas cactus. Easter cactus flowers in February in the Northern hemisphere.
All are considered short day bloomers and need to be tricked into flowering in subsequent years.
If you are looking for other holiday plants to enjoy during the cold weather be sure to also check out these posts:
- Florist Kalanchoe – This pretty plant is a succulent that will flower for months on end in the winter.
- Florist Cyclamen – A less hardy version of the normal cyclamen plant that comes to life in the winter months.
Thanksgiving cactus care tips
Schlumbergera truncata is a popular, winter-flowering houseplant with gorgeous blossoms that flower for quite a long time.
The plant is easy to care for and maintain. Read on to find out some care tips for growing Thanksgiving cactus.
Sunlight and temperature needs for schlumbergera truncata:
Thanksgiving cactus grows best in light shade during the summer months. You can give it more sunlight in the winter, when it is blooming.
Too much sun in the summer months can make the leaves pale and yellow looking. Too much sun can cause the leaves to turn reddish.
Room temperatures of 60 to 65 °F are ideal. Be especially careful of higher temperatures when the plant has buds on it.
I keep my Thanksgiving cactus outside in the shade during the summer and indoors in a South facing window in the winter months.
Humidity and watering requirements for Thanksgiving cactus:
By far, the most important aspect of Thanksgiving cactus care is watering. Don’t let these tropical plants dry out, but be sure that they don’t collect excess water in the root area, either.
Since the plant is an epiphyte, it sometimes has exposed roots and will gather moisture through humidity in the air.
During the flowering period, keep schlumbergera truncata evenly moist.
A handy way to water a Thanksgiving cactus is the “soak and drain” method. To do this, bring the plant to the sink and give it a good watering, allowing the water to drain out of the drain hole in the bottom of the pot.
Between waterings, allow the top layer of soil to dry out well before you water again.
When the plant is not flowering, water only enough to keep it from shriveling. Remember that overwatering can kill the plant.
Don’t treat this winter cactus like a desert cactus! Schlumbergera truncata does best growing in moderate to high humidity – above 50%, if possible.
Growing the plant on a tray with water under some pebbles helps to raise the humidity, as does spraying with a plant mister, often.
Soil needs for Thanksgiving cactus:
Remember their habitat with choosing soil for Thanksgiving cactus. The plant normally grows in tree crevices with decaying matter around them, so it likes an acid soil.
Schlumbergera truncata likes rich, porous soil with plenty of organic matter mixed into it.
A soil formulated for citrus trees and cacti is a good choice.
How to fertilize Thanksgiving cactus:
Once the flower buds have started to appear, apply a succulent plant food according to label directions to encourage lush growth and lots of blooms.
Fertilize twice a month during the bloom season, then hold off on fertilizing until the plant starts actively growing again in the spring.
Thanksgiving cactus foliage:
Broad, flat leaves with segments are the mark of a holiday cactus. In the Thanksgiving version, the deeply indented stems have sharp points, like crabs, which is the reason for one of its common names – crab cactus.
Buds for flowers grow at the tips and along the segments of the leaves. Fortunately, the buds give a very good indication of the color of the flowers to come.
Buds can occur singly or in multiples along the segmented leaves.
Pruning the plant in the spring will encourage it to branch out and become more bushy. Since the flowers grow on the end of the stems, this will also encourage more blooms.
Use the pruned of pieces to start new plants.
The mature size of Thanksgiving cactus is about 12-24 in (30-60 cm). The growth habit of this holiday cactus is pendulous. For this reason, growing the plant in hanging baskets is ideal.
Thanksgiving cactus blooms
Crab cactus has short, tubular flowers with spreading petals which last from November to March. The Thanksgiving cactus bloom comes in many color varieties, from white, peach, pink, salmon, red and orange shades.
The shape of the flowers are similar to fuchsia blooms. Their weight on the end of the flat leaves gives the plant a droopy growing habit.
These plants are often sold by the big box stores in the fall with buds already formed, so they will definitely flower the first year.
How to get a Thanksgiving cactus to bloom
Getting the plant to flower in subsequent years means tricking it a bit.
The plant requires cool temperatures and shorter daylight hours to bloom. If your hardiness zone is such that you get no frost, you can leave the plant outside to experience the weather naturally.
If your temperatures are colder, bring the plant indoors but keep in a very cold room with reduced light until it sets buds.
One easy way to do this is to put the plant in a cool closet with the closed door each evening and take it out the next morning.
The plant will need 12 to 14 hours of total darkness, along with cool night temperatures of 60 to 65 °(F), for about three to four weeks in order to set buds.
When you see buds forming, you can return to normal lighting, but try to keep the plants cool. Plants that are slightly pot bound seem to be better at setting buds.
Too high a temperature, and heat fluctuations, can cause buds to drop. This is also true of a plant that is too dry, or one that has too low a light level.
See my tips for getting a Christmas cactus to rebloom for more information on this process.
Diseases and Insects:
These plants are generally disease free, unless they are overwatered.
Fungal diseases caused from over-watering are something to be on the look out for. This could show itself with limp leaves that look mushy and easily fall off.
If you notice the leaves are turning reddish instead of green, this is an indication of too much sun, too little water, or a lack of phosphorus.
Mealy bugs are an insect that can be a problem for your Thanksgiving cactus. Mealy bugs show up as tiny white insects that have a cotton-like look to them.
To remove mealybugs, use a toothpick or soft toothbrush to take them off. You can also use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Be careful, though. Too much rubbing alcohol can damage the leaves. If other treatments fail, you may want to try a systemic insecticide formulated for indoor plants.
Spider mites are also possible. They are very tiny and hard to see with the naked eye. Evidence of an infestation is fine webbing or speckles on the leaves. Insecticidal soap spray will treat them.
If left untreated they leave a sticky substance on the leaves that can attract mold.
Thanksgiving cactus propagation
It is easy to propagate this houseplant.
Get new plants for free by propagating schlumbergera truncata from leaf cuttings. Cut off a stem with 4 or 5 sections. Dust the end with a rooting hormone and let it callous over for about a week.
Add some seed starting mixture (affiliate link) to a pot and place the cuttings into it. Sand is also a good rooting medium to use.
Place in bright light but not direct sunlight. Add a humidity tent using a plastic bag or cut off plastic bottle. (Remove it, daily, to let some air in for about an hour.)
Placing the cuttings on a tray with pebbles over water also helps to keep them humid enough until they root.
In about 3 weeks, the cuttings will have rooted and you’ll have new Thanksgiving cactus plants.
The plant will take a few years to bloom, however.
General tips about Thanksgiving cactus
Toxicity of schlumbergera truncata:
The plant is considered a low-toxic plant. See more about the toxicity of other holiday plants here.
For dogs, if large quantities of the plant are eaten, vomiting and diarrhea have been reported, sometimes with blood. Episodes of depression have also been noted.
With small ingestions, there is generally no signs of toxicity.
In cats, ataxia has also been reported. (abnormal gait after ingestion.)
Cold hardiness for false Christmas cactus :
Thanksgiving cactus is generally considered a house plant. You can grow it outdoors, in partial shade, all year long in the warmer zones – 10 and above.
If your temperatures are colder than this, you should grow crab cactus as an indoor plant. It can be moved outside in the summer months and will benefit from this.
Where to purchase Thanksgiving cactus
Thanksgiving cactus plants are available in many locations, starting in the fall. They make ideal holiday gifts for gardeners.
The links shown below are affiliate links. I earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you if you purchase through an affiliate link.
Check the garden center of both Lowe’s and Home Depot. I found my plant at my local Farmer’s market. The plant is also available online:
- Schlumbergera truncata on Etsy – with buds!
- Thanksgiving cactus on Amazon – with orange flowers.
- Hanging basket of Thanksgiving Cactus at Lowe’s Home Improvement – (described as a Christmas cactus, but leaves show the Thanksgiving version.)
Be sure to check out my tips for buying succulents. This gives information on what to look for both locally and when buying online.
Give your Thanksgiving cactus plant the conditions that it requires, and you will enjoy it for many years to come. There are reports from readers stating that their Schlumbergera truncata has been in their families for many decades.
What about you? Do you have a story to share about your family’s holiday cactus? Share it in the comments below!
Pin these Thanksgiving cactus care tips for Later
Would you like a reminder of this post for how to take care of a schlumbergera truncata? Just pin this image to one of your Pinterest succulent boards so that you can easily find it later.
You can also watch our video for schlumbergera truncata care on YouTube.
- Schlumbergera truncata plant
- Organic matter
- Succulent fertilizer
- Hose or watering can
- Add lots of organic matter to the soil of Thanksgiving cactus to ensure it drains well.
- Place the plant outdoors in the shade during the summer months but bring indoors if the temperature will drop below 50 degrees F.
- Place the pot in bright light but not direct sunlight.
- Keep evenly moist during the bloom time, but water lightly the rest of the year, allowing the top layer of soil to dry out before watering again
- Fertilize with a succulent food during bloom time every two weeks.
- The blooming season is from November to March
- Prune well in the spring to encourage a bushier plant.
- Propagate from these leaf cuttings in the spring.
- Only cold hardy in zones 10 and above. In other locations, grow as a houseplant.
- Watch out for mealy bugs, spider mites and root rot from too much watering.