Thanksgiving Cactus: A Festive Addition to Your Home
The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) is a popular tropical cactus known for its beautiful and prolific flowers that bloom around Thanksgiving, adding a splash of color to your home during the holiday season. It is one of three common holiday cacti often confused with one another: the Thanksgiving cactus, the Christmas cactus, and the Easter cactus. While they all look similar, they are technically three different species of Schlumbergera with unique care requirements.
Appearance and Characteristics
Thanksgiving cactus leaves, called “phylloclades,” are serrated or “toothed,” with pointy spines and 2-4 points on each side, giving them the nickname “Crab Claw Cactus”. The flowers are produced from the tips or where the leaf segments join, resembling a long tube and appearing as if a flower within a flower. They come in a range of pastel colors, including red, pink, peach, purple, orange, or white, and typically bloom around Thanksgiving.
Care and Maintenance
Thanksgiving cacti prefer a loose, well-draining growing medium and do not tolerate heavy soils. They require good aeration, which can be achieved by incorporating up to 40% perlite into a potting mix. Water the plants when the soil is dry to the touch, and avoid overwatering to prevent root rot. During the spring and summer months, you can allow the soil to dry out slightly, but consistent soil moisture is necessary during flowering.
These plants thrive under normal household conditions, with daytime temperatures between 75-80°F and cooler night temperatures falling to a minimum of 55-60°F. They enjoy full sunlight during the winter, but hot, direct sun during the summer can make them pale and even a bit yellow. Best growth occurs when temperatures are between 70 and 80°F from April to September.
Thanksgiving cacti are easy to propagate from stem cuttings, which can be rooted in water or soil. To propagate in water, take stem cuttings and let them callous over before placing them in a container with water. For soil propagation, let the cuttings callous over, wet the bottom 1-2 inches, dip in rooting hormone, and stick them into a soil mix. Place the cuttings in bright indirect light and water weekly.
To encourage your Thanksgiving cactus to bloom, you should provide cool temperatures and shorter daylight hours. Here are some steps to follow:
1. Maintain cool night temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Ensure the plant receives bright, indirect light during the day.
3. Provide 13 hours or more of continuous darkness each night for at least 4 to 6 weeks, starting around mid-September. You can place the cactus in a closet or cover it with a loose-fitting black plastic bag during this period.
4. Keep daytime temperatures between 70 and 80°F from April to September for optimal growth.
Common Problems and Solutions
A common cause of leaves dropping from a holiday cactus is too much water, either by overwatering or because the pot doesn’t have any drainage holes. To prevent this issue, ensure proper drainage and water the plant only when the soil is dry to the touch.
Root Rot and Wilting Leaves
Root rot is often caused by overwatering and can lead to wilting leaves, soggy soil, and black or reddish spots on the plant. If you suspect root rot, remove the cactus from its pot, rinse the roots to remove the fungus, and trim rotten areas. Repot the plant in a pot filled with a potting mix formulated for cacti and succulents, ensuring the pot has a drainage hole.
Christmas Cactus Not Flowering
If your Thanksgiving cactus is not flowering, it may be due to insufficient cool temperatures and shorter daylight hours. Follow the steps mentioned in the “Encouraging Blooms” section to help your cactus produce vibrant blooms around the holiday season.
By following these care guidelines, you can enjoy the vibrant blooms of your Thanksgiving cactus and create a stunning holiday display in your home.