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Wondering why your Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus isn’t blooming for you? I will give you the secrets in this blog post that will make you successful. It will work like magic! And it’s so EASY that it is ridiculous!
I will also give you tips on growing and propagating your Christmas cactus as well. The care tips apply for both Christmas Cactus and Thanksgiving Cactus.
The care is the same and I will show you what the difference is too. Most places mistakenly sell Christmas Cactus as Thanksgiving Cactus.
Occasionally, you’ll just see both of these plants labeled as holiday cacti, but I show you later in this post how you can determine if your plant is a Christmas cactus vs. a Thanksgiving Cactus.
If you follow my tips in this post, you will have a beautiful, long-lived houseplant that will bloom for you every year. These are actually wonderful heirloom plants that you can pass along to future generations.
Before I get into the care, I have a little story about this plant.
While growing up in my parent’s house, I received cuttings of a Christmas cactus from my great aunt’s house and used those to make a new plant.
I took care of it for over 15 years while I still lived in that house, and it grew into the largest Christmas cactus I had ever seen. In fact, it grew so huge that part of the plant collapsed under its own weight!
The plant had trailed probably 3 feet long. I should have taken it with me 🙁 But I left it with my parents.
It hung in front of a large sliding door, facing a Northern exposure, so it received plenty of bright indirect light.
It was so huge that it remained in bloom for a solid 3-4 months! Although I can’t promise you the same until your plant grows to mammoth proportions.
You’ll know if they are getting a little too much sun because their leaf segments will start to turn reddish. If this occurs, your Christmas cactus is likely getting too much sun.
HOW CAN YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHRISTMAS CACTUS AND THANKSGIVING CACTUS?
You can easily visually tell the difference between Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus by looking at the stem segments. The leaves are technical modified stems.
But we will call them leaf segments here…
The Thanksgiving cactus will have small pointy tips as you can see in the photo below. These belong to the species Schlumbergera truncata.
Christmas cactus segments will not have the tips and the segments will be rounder, and they tend to bloom a bit later than Thanksgiving cactus.
They also tend to have a more pendulous growing habit than the Thanksgiving cactus. Especially as the plant grows old.
Take a look at the rounder leaf segments with no points on the Christmas cactus below.
Now let’s take a look at both plants side by side so that you can see a good comparison.
Christmas Cactus Care
Although they look a little different, the care is identical! Many times though, they’re both labeled as Christmas Cactus when they are sold.
Christmas cactus (genus Schlumbergera), despite the name cactus, actually grow in tropical forests of Brazil.
They are actually epiphytes, similar to many orchids, so they’ll grow on tree branches instead of in the soil. And they actually ARE cacti! Except they are the jungle version of their desert cousins.
Christmas cacti, and the very closely related Thanksgiving cacti, generally prefer bright indirect light, although some sun indoors is beneficial, especially morning sun. Sufficiently bright light is important for blooming and overall health.
A northern window will do fine (especially if it is a larger northern window) and they can grow and bloom well even if you just have indirect sunlight, as I mentioned in my case earlier in this post.
An eastern facing window would work beautifully as well.
A west or south window would work as well as long as you can protect your plant from too much direct sun by using sheer curtains or slightly closed blinds if needed.
(I live in the northern hemisphere, so northern windows will get no direct sun and southern windows are sunny. If you live in the southern hemisphere, this will be reversed.)
Remember that leaf segments will turn reddish when they are getting too much sun and sitting in full sun all day.
Below is my Thanksgiving cactus that I propagated from my grandmother’s plant and that I’ve had for a few years now. It started as just small cuttings.
It is hanging in a south window however it doesn’t get a lot of direct sun because of an outdoor wall that is blocking the sun for part of the day, but it is a nice, bright window and it is thriving.
Water & Fertilizer Requirements
Ensure that your Christmas or Thanksgiving cactus has excellent drainage and is not sitting in excess water for long periods of time.
Drainage holes are a must so make sure your pot as at least one, otherwise your risk of root rot will increase.
Since it is an epiphyte and grows on trees in nature, they demand excellent drainage.
I can’t recommend a frequency to water your plant, since it depends on your individual lighting and temperature conditions.
Allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again, but at the same time, you should avoid letting the entire pot dry out.
Overly dry conditions will cause your plant to shrivel and wilt so try not to allow your potting mix to stay completely dry for too long.
As far as fertilizing, you can use any balanced water-soluable fertilizer for your Christmas cactus. I’ll continue to fertilize until about October or so. Then I’ll refrain from fertilizing until new leaves start growing in the Spring.
My favorite all-purpose houseplant fertilizer is Dyna-Gro Grow which I purchase on Amazon.
It’s an amazing, complete, premium fertilizer that contains all the micro and macro nutrients that your plants need and I’ve achieved wonderful success using it!
Get some Dyna-Gro Grow today!
Any freely draining soil will work. My preferred soil mix is to use 2 part of an all purpose potting mix (you can even use cactus soil) with 1 part of pumice.
These plants grow in humid environments in nature, so naturally, it would be ideal to recreate this in the home.
If you have a small plant, you can place your plant on a tray of moist pebbles. You can also run a humidifier. Check out my detailed blog post on how you can increase humidity for your plants.
2 Secrets to Getting your Plant to Re-bloom
This is the million dollar question! There are two main tricks to get your Christmas cactus or Thanksgiving cactus to rebloom in December or November or so (as the names imply).
1. Plants Need a Certain Number of Hours of Darkness
The first is uninterrupted hours of total darkness at night. If you have your plant in an area where you have lamps or any other lights on at night, this will deter your plant from blooming!
These plants need a dark period, and even if you have lights on for short periods of time. They need evenings of complete darkness in late summer and Fall in order to set flower buds. This is probably the most important factor.
You can also place your plant in a dark closet for 13-15 hours each night. At the end of each night, place it back in front of its window. If you want your plant to bloom during the holiday season or at Christmas time, count back about 8 weeks from the time you want blooming to start, and begin the darkness treatment until flower buds form.
Once buds start to form, you can leave your plant in front of its window and resume normal care.
2. Cool Temperatures at Night
The other factor that helps the plant set buds is cooler nighttime temperatures.
Any drop in temperature at night would be helpful, with night temperatures in the 55F-65F range probably being ideal.
One way to achieve this is simply by placing your plant outdoors so that they are exposed to these lower night time temperatures for a few weeks.
Or if you have a cool room, that will work as well.
If you can have both the uninterrupted darkness and cooler temperatures, you should get quite a show from your plant.
It’s always fun to have my readers get back to me when their plants suddenly start blooming after I tell them what they need! You’ll be surprised how quickly plants respond to proper care!
Christmas Cactus Propagation
Early spring to late spring is an ideal time for propagation. If your plant is blooming, you can wait until the summer months.
Propagating this plant is easy. Just take a few cuttings and then place them in a jar of water. Before you place them in water, allow them to air dry for a few days.
This will allow the cuts to dry and callous over so that the segments don’t rot. These plant are true cacti (although they are the jungle cousins and not from a desert!)
Roots will grow fairly quickly, and then potted them up in a good all-purpose potting soil. You can add some perlite or pumice to the soil to improve drainage.
You could also put the cuttings directly into soil (after you let the cuttings air dry for a couple days). It is helpful to
Looking to purchase a special Christmas cactus? One of my favorite and most convenient one-stop-shops to buy practically any plant is Etsy. Check out the Christmas cactus selection (link to Etsy) today!
FREQUENTLY ASKED CHRISTMAS CACTUS QUESTIONS
Why are my flower buds falling off?
One common complaint with these plants is bud drop. This can be caused by inconsistent conditions such as extremes in temperature or soil moisture levels.
Let’s say you bought a plant at a store, and have to carry it outdoors in cold weather in order to bring it home. Just this simple act of exposing it to cold temperatures and then placing it in a new environment can cause a plant to abort its flower buds.
This similar type of bud blast also commonly occurs with moth orchids.
Another situation that can cause buds to abort include allowing your soil to go bone dry while buds are growing, or even allowing your potting mix to stay too wet for too long (perhaps your plant is sitting in water).
Why are the leaves on my christmas cactus limp?
There are a couple main reasons why your christmas cactus or thanksgiving cactus is limp:
- Your potting mix went too dry. Promptly water your plant if it has.
- Your plant experienced root rot. If this is the case, try and salvage your plant by repotting into a smaller pot if necessary and be attentive to moisture needs. Be sure to use a well draining potting mix and ensure that your light conditions are high enough.
How often do you water a christmas cactus?
You should never water by a schedule. Use a schedule to determine IF you should water, but don’t blindly follow a calendar. All of our growing conditions are different, so watering frequency can vary pretty drastically.
It is best to feel the potting mix with your finger, and allow the top inch or so of the potting mix to dry out before watering again. I advise against the usage of moisture meters since many of them are notoriously defective!
What do christmas cactus buds look like?
The plant below is a Thanksgiving cactus, but Christmas cactus buds will look very similar. You can easily tell the difference between a flower bud and a new leaf because the leaves will be flat, whereas the flower bud will be round and plump.
Why is my christmas cactus dropping leaves?
This is typically caused by one of two things:
- Your potting mix has gone completely dry for too long.
- Your potting mix has stayed wet for too long, causing root rot and leaf drop.
Why is my christmas cactus turning purple?
There are a few reasons why your plant is turning purple. Here are some common reasons:
1. High light levels
One very common reasons for christmas cactus and thanksgiving cactus turning purple is higher light levels.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if your plant is getting a good amount of direct sun, the plant will start to produce compounds called anthocyanins which serve to protect itself against UV rays that are too intense.
If you don’t like this, you can reduce the amount of light and the plant will return to its normal green color. But remember, you still want enough light so that it blooms.
2. Inconsistent moisture levels
If you let your plant dry out too much, the stress may cause it to turn purple as well. Try not to allow your plant to go bone dry for too long in order to avoid this.
On the other hand, avoid letting your plant sit in water for extended periods as this quickly cause root rot and purple foliage as well.
Purple leaves can also be commonly caused by a Phosphorus deficiency, either from a a lack of Phosphorus in the soil, or from the pH being off.
If you have not been fertilizing regularly and your plant has been in the same pot for a very long time, your plant may be deficient. You can simply correct this by starting to fertilize.
On the other hand, there may be Phosphorus present in your plant’s potting mix, but if the pH of your potting mix is off, your plant will not be able to absorb a sufficient amount of Phosphorus.
The maximum availability of Phosphorus for your plant will generally occur in a pH range of 6.0-7.0.
Do you have a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus? I’d love to hear all about it. Comment below!
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