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Christmas Cactus vs Thanksgiving Cactus

By: Jennifer HowellJennifer Howell
Let us show you how to tell the difference between a Christmas cactus and a Thanksgiving cactus, plus we'll let you know how to get it to bloom!

How do I tell a Christmas cactus from a Thanksgiving cactus?

If you've ever wondered why your Christmas cactus blooms too early, it's because it is likely a Thanksgiving cactus!

  • Thanksgiving cactus blooms about a month earlier in the fall than its fellow holiday bloomer.
  • The traditional Christmas cactus has more delicate, breakable foliage and it isn’t as common in the retail floral industry today for that reason.
  • The most obvious way to tell the difference between the two types is to look at the phylloclades, or flattened leaflike stems where photosynthesis occurs. The Thanksgiving cactus has pointy edges; the Christmas cactus has smooth, round edges.

Identifying holiday cacti: Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus and an Easter cactus comparison

Holiday cactus comparison: Thanksgiving cactus, Christmas cactus & Easter cactus

Take a look at the photo above to learn how to distinguish Christmas cactus from Thanksgiving cactus, as well as their lookalike, the Easter cactus, which blooms in spring with star-shaped flowers, rather than tubular like the others.

  • Christmas cactus Schlumbergera bridgesii
  • Thanksgiving cactus Schlumbergera truncata
  • Easter cactus Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri

Holiday-cactus-care: Add water to a gravel-filled saucer beneath your plant to give extra humidity to holiday cactus, such a this Easter cactus.

How to grow Holiday Cacti

Each of these holiday cacti require well-drained soil and do not like to be overwatered. Pot them in an equal mix of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and soil, which will give the plants the good drainage they require. Wait until the soil is dry before watering.

Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus like bright light but not direct sun. They also prefer night temperatures around 65 degrees (although flower bud formation requires temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler). Come summer, put your holiday cactus in a cool, bright room or set it outdoors on a partly-shaded side of the house. You can leave these cacti outdoors until fall temperatures dip to 35 degrees. Easter cactus can be treated similarly, but bring them indoors when temperatures dip to 45 degrees.

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christmas cactus flower: Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus are commonly bright fuschia, but can also come in shades of red, pink, salmon, peach, cream, purple and white.

How to get a holiday cactus to bloom

Cool evening temperatures, around 50 to 55 degrees F, and 12- to 14-hour nights promote bloom set. To ensure your Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus blooms for the holidays, it needs a lot of time in the dark when the buds are forming from September through November. During this time, bright, indirect sunlight is fine during the day, but from dusk to dawn, keep it in a dark place with a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees.

An unused bedroom with a south window or a 3-season porch works great, but don't turn on any lights at night and keep the plant away from street and porch lights, which can delay flower bud formation. Give Easter cactus similar treatment, starting in late December or early January for early spring blooms.

You Might Also Like These Products:
How to Grow Holiday Houseplants
Bloom Booster Fertilizer
Christmas Cactus Potting Mix

Published: Oct. 6, 2021
Updated: Dec. 1, 2023

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