You already may be acquainted with the lovely Christmas cactus, which blooms right along with all other holiday plants, such as poinsettias, at the end of the year. But there’s another holiday plant that blooms a month earlier: It's called Thanksgiving cactus. In fact, there's yet another relative, the Easter cactus, which blooms in spring. All three cacti, named for the holidays closest to their bloom times, are native to the rain forests of Brazil. And all of them are incredibly long-lived from 40 to 100 years, so they’re totally worth adding to your flowering houseplant collection!
While these holiday cacti all have flattened stem segments, there are some subtle differences in appearance. Thanksgiving cacti have saw-toothed or pointy projections on the outer edges of these segments. Christmas cactus have scalloped or teardrop-shaped edges, and Easter cacti have more rounded edges with little bristles on the segments. Another identifying feature is that Thanksgiving cacti have yellow anthers, which bear the pollen, on their flowers. These plants sometimes are mislabeled as Christmas cacti, so look for these key features to tell if it's really a Thanksgiving cactus you're buying!
Here’s everything you need to know to care for Thanksgiving cactus.
How do I care for my Thanksgiving cactus?
Like other holiday cacti, Thanksgiving cactus prefers bright light but not direct sunlight, which will cause them to turn yellow. During the growing season from spring to fall, water when the soil is a dry to about an inch below the surface (poke your finger in to feel before watering). Don’t let them wilt and dry out completely, which may cause the roots to wither, too, so that they won’t be able to take up water when you do give it a drink. Also, they’re succulents, so don’t keep the soil wet, which leads to rotting.
Thanksgiving cacti and their relatives also bloom better when slightly pot-bound, so it’s not necessary to repot them for several years. Feed them once a month from April to October during their active growing season with a balanced liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 to encourage blooming.
How do I get my Thanksgiving cactus to bloom again?
All three types of holiday cacti prefer cool nighttime temperatures between 55 to 65 degrees and day time temps of 60 to 68 degrees. They’re also “short-day” plants, which means they need 12 to 24 hours of total, uninterrupted darkness to bloom, starting in mid-September. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti need 6 weeks of short days, while Easter cactus requires 8 to 12 weeks (which is why it blooms later in spring). Make sure to place them in a room that’s not used in the evenings, and also shield them from outside light sources at night such as a streetlight or car headlights passing a window.
Can I make new Thanksgiving cactus plants?
Yes! It’s very simple. Pinch off a few stem cuttings comprised of a few segments, and let it dry out for a day. Push the cut ends of each piece into moist potting soil. Cactus soil is best, but any well-draining soil works. You also can dip the cut ends in rooting hormone first before planting, if you like, but it’s not entirely necessary. In a few weeks’ time, the plant should form roots and push out tiny new leaf segments.
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