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Holiday Cactus-Tips And Ideas

Been gardening for more years than I can count. Here are some of my favorite plants and tips to help you get the most out of your gardening.

Thanksgiving cactus in bloom

Thanksgiving cactus in bloom

Holiday Cactus

We most often think of this plant or refer to it as Christmas Cactus(Schlumbergera bridgesii), but it can also be called Easter(Hatiora gaertneriand even Thanksgiving cactus(Schlumbergera truncata.) They brighten up any space no matter when you purchase them. They are actually native to Brazil.

These are easy to grow plants that have an unusual life span with very little care or maintenance to them. Even people with the brown thumb can grow them with little effort. They are known to be passed down from generation to generation.

They are called "cactus", but they are not the thorny plants we think of when we think of that variety. Instead, they are “epiphytes,” which means that they nestle in the high branches of rain forest trees, taking their nutrition from pockets of decaying plant matter and adapting to the water shortages as rain quickly drains.

The main colors of the holiday cactus are white, pink, red, purple, lavender, cream, and salmon-orange. The red variety is very pretty against the green of the stems. A variety called " Kris Kringle " has the truest red color.

The white color brings some bright color to your home or office in the winter months. Some of the white varieties have a secondary color in the stamen and interior of the flower.

The orange variety is especially pleasing in the fall months. Many bloom in October through November. "Xmas Fantasy" has much more pale, almost peach blooms, that are tinged with purple and feature purple stamens

Most commonly, the varieties are also known as Thanksgiving cactus normally flower a month before Christmas. The varieties are known as Christmas Cactus flowers in or around late December.

Another member of the group sold as holiday cacti is the Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri; synonym Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri), which flowers primarily in the spring and sporadically throughout the year with pink or red flowers.

Flowering can last up to 7 to 8 weeks if the plants are kept at 68 ºF.

The pink and purple varieties are the most common of the holiday cactus. The hues of these plants range from pale pink blush through to the darkest purple.

No matter what holiday cactus you chose, you are going to be pleased with these plants. Even if you think that you have a brown thumb, you can have huge success with any holiday cactus that you chose.

The Difference Between Thanksgiving Cactus And Christmas Cactus

There is a very subtle difference between Christmas Cactus and Christmas Cactus.

If you look at the leaves of the plant, you might find out that the plant that you thought was a Christmas cactus, is actually something else.

One main difference between a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus plant is the shape of the leaf segments. Christmas cactus leaf segments are rounded and Thanksgiving cactus leaf segments have sharper points.

Another difference is when they bloom. They bloom by name. Thanksgiving cactus blooms in November and Christmas Cactus blooms in December.

This is an easy way to understand the different types of holiday cactus.

This is an easy way to understand the different types of holiday cactus.

Caring For Your Holiday Cactus

MonthCare Guide


If you got a plant for Christmas, just let it rest after it blooms, Keep it in a cool place with indirect lighting until it starts new growth. Water sparingly only when it is completely dry.


Time to repot any holiday cactus that may be root bound. They like to be root bound


Time to pinch or prune your plants

April -September

This is your plants growing season. You can fertilize your plants every few weeks with an all purpose fertilizer. If you move it outdoors , make sure that it is in a cool shady spot. Water only when the soil is totally dry, only about once a week. Only give the plant enough water to wet the root ball. Don't saturate it. Never leave water standing at the bottom

September -October

This is the more critical time for ensuring your holiday cactus will bloom. Beginning in September, put your holiday cactus in a cool room (ideally around 50° F) with indirect bright light for 10-12 hours and total darkness for 12-14 hours. “Total darkness” means just that – no daylight, and no artificial light, either. You can easily achieve this by moving your plants in and out of a dark closet, or by covering them with a thick fabric cover – just take care that the cover doesn’t break the plant. They’ll need these conditions for 6-8 weeks to ensure flower bud formation. Stop fertilizing, and reduce watering to keep the soil just barely moist (once every couple of weeks).

November- December

Time to take your plants out of the dark and enjoy them. You can resume more frequent watering.

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Temperature Tips

Holiday cactus grow in the mountain forest of Brazil, so they generally like warmer temperatures of 75-80 degrees F, But they are also used to cooler nights. So they can go as low as 50-60 degrees. They will not tolerate frost!

Ideal spring and summer growth occurs at temperatures between 70 to 80 °F during its growing season from April to September. During the fall, the Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti depend upon shorter day lengths (8 to 10 hours) and cooler temperatures to set their flower buds. Do not let temperatures rise above 90 °F once the flower buds are set in the fall. Continuous warm temperatures can cause flower buds to drop. Do not leave these cacti outside if temperatures will drop below 50 ºF.

Holiday cactus in a hanging basket. This plant is great for an indoor or outdoor hanging basket. Plants must be brought indoors when the outdoor temperature hits 50 degrees

Holiday cactus in a hanging basket. This plant is great for an indoor or outdoor hanging basket. Plants must be brought indoors when the outdoor temperature hits 50 degrees

Indirect Sunlight Only !

Holiday cactus does not do well in long periods of direct sunlight. Rather, they prefer light indirect sunlight.

Full sunlight is beneficial during fall and winter, but bright sun during the summer months can make plants look pale and yellow.

Some folks have had good results placing their plants in the limbs of shade trees. If you decide to try it in a hanging basket, avoid the deep shade of an old mature tree. They will not have enough sunlight to thrive.

If you have them under a porch, they should not get more than a few hours of sunlight.

Indoors, they like a bright window with lots of circulating fresh air.


Propagating Your Holiday Cactus

Holiday cactus can easily be propagated by cuttings.

Pinch off a section of stem that has 2-5 jointed segments. Let the cuttings dry for a few hours or overnight.

Then push them in a small pot about 1 inch deep with the same planting mix as the adult plant. Place the plant in the pot in a plastic bag. Secure the plastic bag around the plant.

Place the bag in a bright area, but not in direct sunlight.

In a few weeks, gently tug on the piece to see if the piece has rooted.

Treat the cuttings just like an adult plant, and within a few weeks they’ll be rooted and growing.

Water the new seedlings sparingly, otherwise they will just rot.

You can fertilize them for the first time right after they get one new segment growth.

The best time to take cuttings to propagate a new plant is right after they bloom.

The Many Shades Of Holiday Cactus


More Holiday Cactus Tips

  • Use a general purpose soil or a succulent soil for your holiday cactus
  • A orchid pot works well with holiday cactus as it drains the water away from the plant
  • Be sure to turn plants periodically so that you get new and even growth on your plant

Setting Buds For Bloom


Getting Good Bud Propagation

There are some tips that will help you get the most amount of buds and flowers for your Holiday Cactus. Bud production during the fall involves temperature regulation and photoperiod (length of day and night) control.)

  1. Bright Lights (only in the fall)
  2. Long nights. Fourteen hours or more of continuous darkness each day is required before the flower bud set will occur. Long nights should be started about the middle of September and continued for at least 6 continuous weeks for a complete bud set. Note that as little as 2 hours of interrupted lighting will inhibit the flower bud set. Buds normally will be visible in 3 to 4 weeks. The photoperiod has no effect on flowering once the buds are set.
  3. Fall growing temperatures should be kept between 60 and 68 °F, but as close to 68 ºF as possible for maximum flower production. Plants grown with night temperatures between 50 and 59 ºF will set flower buds regardless of day length, but growth will be slower and bud drop may occur at 50 ºF.
  4. Pinching back the stems in early June to promote branching and more terminals for more flowers.
  5. Pinching (also called leveling) at the end of September to remove any terminal phylloclades that are less than 1 cm (0.4 inch) long and to make all stems approximately the same length. These short and immature stem segments will not initiate flower buds until mature. After a short phylloclade is removed, a flower bud forms on the previous, more mature stem segment.

Watering Your Holiday Cactus

Holiday cactus should only be watered when the growing medium feels dry. It can tolerate underwatering during the Spring and Summer months.

Don't waterlog the plants during the dark winter months.

following bud set in the fall, the growing medium must be kept evenly moist to prevent flower bud abscission. Never let water stand in the saucer beneath the pot.

Repotting Holiday Cactus

Every year or so, gently pull the plant out of its container and check the roots. When roots start to mat where they touch the inside of the pot, move the plant into a container that’s an inch or 2 larger in diameter. Rough up the matted roots with a knife or fork before you repot.

Holiday cactus likes to be root-bound, and repotting every 2-3 years (even back into the same pot) is plenty. If you repot, use a sterile, well-draining potting soil such as those packaged for African violets, orchids, or bromeliads.

Make sure to use fresh, new, clean potting soil for the best plant growth.

Getting Your Holiday Cactus To Rebloom

It is not really difficult to get an established plant to re-bloom. There are just two conditions to remember:

  1. Temperature-Your plant needs to be in chillier air to get them to bloom. The right temperature should be between 50-55 degrees at night for 6-8 consecutive weeks. But never allow the plant to go below 40 degrees.indoors try to place the plant in an unheated room.
  2. Darkness-To bloom, your plant will need at least 13 hours of darkness every night. That means total darkness without even one light on at all. You will need about 6 weeks of darkness before the flower buds will form.Indoors, place the cactus in an unused room, cover it or slip it into a closet at night.

Your plant can bloom up to two weeks or more ! But you can loose buds if your plant is either near a cold or hot draft. It will also drop buds if there is not enough humidity.( use a gravel tray to keep humidity at the right level. Maintain the water just below the level of the gravel). You will also lose buds if the right amount of water is not supplied for the plant. You should only water it when the soil is dry one inch deep.

Pruning Holiday Cactus

You should not be afraid to prune your holiday cactus. It will help the plant stay healthy.

You can prune your holiday cactus right after it blooms. This will encourage new growth. The other alternative for prunning is to do it when when new growth appears sometime in March.

© 2019 Linda F Correa

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