Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter Cactus

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter Cactus

Thanksgiving, Christmas & Easter Cactus


Written By: Joe Blickfeldt


Whether it’s a treasured cutting from your grandma or one of your favorite pieces of holiday décor, a Christmas cactus, which you'll learn may actually be a Thanksgiving cactus like what we have in store, is part of a popular houseplant genus, Schlumbergera, known for long life and habit of blooming mid-winter, just in time for Christmas!  It’s a very recognizable succulent that forms chains of oval-shaped segments that are easily propagated.  When it’s happy and ready to celebrate the time of year, it develops brightly colored flowers that range from reds to yellows and beyond!  As the season quickly approaches, it would be a good idea to know a bit more about our festive friends in case you get one for a gift, if you’re having trouble getting yours to bloom, or if your interest has just been piqued and you need to get one right away! 


Is That Really a Christmas Cactus?


To start off, the plant you might have found labeled as a Christmas cactus may, in fact, NOT be a Christmas cactus!  As scandalous as that sounds, there are a few different types of Schlumbergera, three of which that are more common (and conveniently paired with a holiday) and it’s not rare for them to get labeled as one or the other.  Aside from the Christmas cactus (S. bridgesii), there’s a Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata) and an Easter cactus (S. gaertnerii) which are each a bit different and, traditionally, bloom around each of the different holidays, but more on that later. The best way to tell the difference is by looking at the segments of each plant.  Starting with the Thanksgiving cactus, you’ll see the outward corners of each segment have more jagged angles to them.  Each scallop comes to a point along the side as well, forming very clear hooks along the edge.  On the other end of the scale, the Easter cactus has a lack of jagged edges, and each bump along the side is smooth and without texture.  Christmas cactuses, much like the holiday, fall right in between Thanksgiving and Easter in the way that they form slight points along the side, but they aren’t smooth nor hook-shaped like either of the other two. 



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Flower Power!


Regardless of the type of plant you have, the care, for the most part, is the same for all three!  The main difference in upkeep is the time of year that they bloom, but there are a few things to note about flowering as well…  Like just about any plant, they can be trained to bloom at just about any time of the year so long as they’re given the necessary environment to make them feel like producing flowers!  One of the main keys to getting Christmas cactus to bloom relies on the quality of the night.  During the day, they enjoy bright indirect light, but they need long nights (at the very least 13 or more hours, generally) that are also fairly cool (usually around 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit).  It’s no wonder they like to bloom during the holidays!  As far as the different species’ bloom time, the reason Thanksgiving cactuses bloom first is because they typically need fewer weeks with this quality of night before wanting to bloom.  On the other hand, the Easter version typically needs a few months longer with these conditions, bringing it much closer to the end of winter rather than the start. 


Caring For Your Festive Friends


Although they enjoy the darkness, Christmas cactuses do have needs like any living plant.  During the spring and summer, you’ll see new growth if these plants are given bright indirect light.  This is also the best time to fertilize with something like Dr. Jim Z’s Houseplant Magic every 4-6 weeks or so.  They are a succulent, and as such should NEVER sit in water!  That being said, Christmas cactuses have a slightly higher appreciation for watering, and should be watered less often, but consistently during the growing season.  Being a succulent, an often-overlooked preference for the Christmas cactus is humidity.  They quite like humid conditions, and winter is often a drier time of the year since temperatures drop which makes moisture in the air do the same.  This preference is due to their native environment in which Christmas cactuses are epiphytic, meaning they tend to grow in crevices or cracks between tree branches.  Because of this, you’ll also want your cactus to have well-draining soil with ample organic matter.  I often like to mix my own soil for my plants, and I have my Christmas cactuses in a mixture of roughly 3 parts Zamzows Premium Potting Soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part Zamzows Fine or Regular grind bark (bark helps to add drainage as well as organic matter over time).  That being said, most well-draining potting soils will do so long as the pot is not much bigger than the established root ball.


As the holidays come and go, a Christmas cactus is a great addition to any home and can become a sentimental tradition that goes beyond a season.  With their brilliant color and long lives, Christmas cactuses can be handed down through a family, or propagated and shared with friends.  With as much love and enjoyment they provide, that’s likely why Christmas cactuses are as cherished as this time of year!