How Do You Care for Holiday Cactus?

by | Nov 19, 2011 | 0 comments

holiday cactus

Look at the color of this gorgeous holiday cactus!

  I love this time of year. The holiday season is here, and it’s time for the Thanksgiving cactus to bloom. Some of mine are in bloom, but the Christmas cactus is just budding up.

Thanksgiving cactus

Thanksgiving cactus

What is the difference?

Thanksgiving cactus, or Schlumbergera truncata, is also called claw or crab cactus because it’s stem segments called cladodes have pointed teeth on them. The Christmas cactus, or Schlumbergera bridgesii, have stem segments that are more rounded. Usually, they are just called Christmas cactus or holiday cactus. Whatever you call them, they are beautiful, holiday-time, blooming plants. Other than my African violets, I think they are the most beautiful blooming houseplants.


Holiday cactus

The Thanksgiving cactus is on the left and the Christmas cactus is on the right

True Cacti

aerole on Easter cactus

Areole on an Easter cactus that sets cacti apart from succulents and proves it is a cactus

Let’s talk about them for a minute. They are cactus, but not the kind you usually think about, which are desert cacti. Holiday cacti hail from the jungles of Brazil, growing in the forks of trees. They are epiphytic, meaning they live on trees, but are not parasitic, meaning they do not draw nourishment from the plant they are on. Their nourishment comes from the debris that gathers in the forks they are growing in. They grow like orchids and staghorn ferns, just to name a couple.

Peach holiday cactus

The colors are amazing.

Light Requirements

Because they grow on trees, they would prefer not to be in full sun, even in the house. If taken outside for the summer, place them in a shaded, or filtered sun area. Their biggest requirement is warmth and lots of humidity. They are from the jungle, remember. If they are kept too cold, the yellow and white varieties will have a pink tinge to them. Well-drained soil is a must. Being epiphytic, they do not grow in soil per se, but in the debris that collects in the forks of the trees.


Chtistmas cactus

Christmas cactus


The biggest problem seems to be getting them to re-bloom. The key is to keep them dry in the month of September. Cool night temperatures in the fall help trigger blooming as well. The shorter days and longer nights of fall are also an important factor, and keeping them in the living room where the lights are on all evening can hinder blooming. Many people place them outside for the summer and keep them out until the temperatures are in the 50’s and even high 40’s. Mine stay inside, so I don’t turn the heat on in my sunroom until it’s quite cold. I’ve never had my plants not bloom, so I lean toward the cool temps. I’m not always on top of the water, either, so that may also factor in. 

Christmas cactus flower

Christmas cactus flower

Family Plants

Many people have a plant that belonged to their grandma, who got it from their grandma, and so on. This is a long-lived plant and one that is easily shared. When pruning them in the spring, take the cuttings and root them in soil, and you can share your plants with family and friends. Pruning will increase the blooms next year as well, so it’s a win, win situation. You increase the blooms of your plant and share a great plant with someone else!

Have a wonderful holiday season! 



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