Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
How To Care For Christmas Cacti, Thanksgiving Cacti, and Easter Cacti
Christmas cacti are a very popular houseplant—and for good reason! When they bloom, they produce colorful, tubular flowers in pink or lilac colors. Their beautiful flowers, long bloom time, and easy care requirements make them a wonderful plant. We’ll bet someone in your family has a Christmas cactus!
Unlike many other cacti, Christmas cacti and their relatives don’t live in arid environments. Their natural habit is one of an epiphyte living in tree branches in the rain forests of Brazil! In other words, they prefer a humid climate, not a dry one, so it’s important to water these cacti more regularly than most succulents. (See more details below.)
How to Tell Holiday Cacti Apart
There are several types of holiday cacti: Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They typically bloom closest to the holiday that they’re named after. For simplicity’s sake, we refer to all three as “Christmas cacti” in the Planting and Care sections of this page.
To tell the three cacti apart, pay attention to their leaf shapes and flowers:
- Christmas cacti have flattened leaves with rounded teeth on the margins of the leaves.
- Thanksgiving cacti have flattened leaves with pointed teeth.
- Easter cacti also have flattened leaves with rounded teeth, but their flowers are broader and almost daisy-like, whereas the flowers of the other cacti are more tube-shaped.
To confuse matters further, most of the Christmas cacti sold are actually Thanksgiving cactus. If you find your Christmas cactus blooming near Thanksgiving, guess what?
- Christmas cacti grow well in most container soils, as long as it drains well. Make sure that your pots have drainage holes.
- Plants should be kept in bright, indirect light.
- A daytime temperature of 70°F (21C) and an evening temperature of 60-65°F (15-18°C) is preferred.
- In the summer, Christmas cacti can be placed in a shady spot in the garden or in an unheated porch until temperatures get below 50°F (10°C).
- As soon as the top inch of soil in the container feels dry to the touch, soak the soil until water runs through the pot’s drainage holes; discard water in the tray so the plant doesn’t sit in water. It’s especially important to water well while the plant is flowering.
- From spring through early fall, feed every 2 weeks with a balanced houseplant fertilizer. During the fall and winter, feed the cactus monthly.
- Prune plants in June to encourage branching and more flowers. Simply cut off a few sections of each stem. If you wish, place the cut pieces in moist vermiculite to make more plants—they root easily.
- If your cactus is not blooming, it may be due to the amount of daylight they’re getting or the temperature.
To trigger blooming, nights need to be at least 14 hours long and days between 8 to 10 hours for six weeks. If you have strong indoor lighting at night, you may need to cover your cacti.
- Flowers will only form when the temperature is between a cool 50 to 55°F (10 to 13°C).
- If the cacti sheds its buds one winter, don’t worry: it should bloom the following year.
Blossom drop: If your Christmas cactus is exposed to any type of stress, the plant will likely drop its blossoms. This could be related to the amount of light, or a sudden change in temperature, as discussed in above plant care section. Also, ensure that your soil doesn’t get too dry while buds are forming.
The plant may be susceptible to mealy bugs and, if over-watered, root rot. If you have problems, cut out infected areas and repot in clean soil.
There are three main types of “holiday cacti” available:
- Thanksgiving cacti, which bloom in late fall, are often mislabeled as Christmas cacti.
- Christmas cacti bloom in early winter.
- Easter cacti bloom in mid-spring.
Wit & Wisdom
- When the buds of a Christmas cactus look as if they’re about to open, make sure you water the plant regularly and keep it cool.
- Late spring is the best time to propagate cuttings because most holiday cacti emerge from their winter rest and initiate new growth.
A giant Thankgiving cactus in bloom. Photo by Catherine Boeckmann.