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Plant Know-How: Schlumbergera- aka Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus

 

Image of Thanksgiving cactus, viewed from above, green leaves with little points on the edges and light peach colored blooms

Commonly referred to as 'Thanksgiving Cactus' or 'Christmas Cactus', the two most popular plants in the Schlumbergera genus are Schlumbergera truncata (Thanksgiving Cactus) and  Schlumbergera x buckleyi (Christmas Cactus). Named for the approximate time of the year that they bloom, the two are similar, but have a few distinct characteristics- leaf shape being the easiest to use to distinguish between them. 

Illustration from Gardening Know How site, of Schlumbergera leaves- Thanksgiving has little points on the edges, while Christmas is more rounded

Illustrations c/o Gardening Know How

We most commonly see Schlumbergera truncata, even at Christmastime, but different regions may see Schlumbergera x buckleyi, or even both. There is a third 'holiday cactus' that may be found at Easter time- Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri- but since this plant is actually in an entirely different genus, so we're not covering it in this post. 

Thanksgiving cactus plant sitting in a dark red clay pot. Plant has green leaves with small points on the edges, and light peach colored blooms all over.

HOW TO CARE FOR SCHLUMBERGERA:

Light requirements for Schlumbergera: Though they are technically a cactus, Schlumbergera do best in bright indirect (filtered) light. Some direct sun is fine, as long as it's not too intense like afternoon direct sun, or lasts for more than a few hours a day. If the leaves of your Schlumbergera turn purple, this is sun stress and a sign that the plant is getting too much direct sun. 

Watering tips for Schlumbergera: Schlumbergera will grow best if you water when the top 1/8-1/4 of the soil is dry.  Leaves will begin to look just slightly puckered and softer when ready for water. Avoid letting the soil dry until the plant is totally limp or the leaves are super puckered as some of the roots and leaves may not recover from long periods of total dryness. Inconsistent watering can also cause blooms and buds to drop off Thanksgiving or Christmas Cacti, so be sure to prevent long periods of dryness or overly wet soil especially while it's in bloom. If you need some help knowing when to water your plant a moisture meter is a helpful tool that can take out some of the guesswork!

The Best Soil for Schlumbergera: A chunky, well-draining soil will keep the roots of your Thanksgiving/Christmas Cactus happiest. We prefer our Folia Favorite Potting Mix for Schlumbergera since it doesn't dry out quite as quickly as our Desert Mix (so you don't have to water as frequently), but either will be a safe choice for this plant. Avoid any potting mix that retains water for a long time, or doesn't drain well. 

Are Schlumbergera pet-safe? Schlumbergera are considered safe for cats & dogs, according to the ASPCA. If you're looking for other pet-safe plants, be sure to check out the Pet Safe category of the Plant Care Compendium

Close up of a light peach colored Thanksgiving cactus bloom. Bright fuschia colored stamen stick out from the middle of the bloom. Green leaves with small points on the edges are visible.

How can I get my Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus to blooms again? This is a question we get often and there are a few things you can do to ensure your Schlumbergera blooms year after year:

  • LIGHT & TEMP: If you don't see flower buds about 8 weeks before your plant usually blooms (the timing may be different depending on which species you have, and when it last bloomed), move the plant to a cool room that gets at least 12-13 hours of darkness a day. If you live in an area where night temps don't dip below 50-55ºF, you can even place the plant outside- just protect it from direct sun during the day, and ensure it's in an area that's truly dark at night (no lights). The ideal temp for this 'rest' period for Schlumbergera is 55-65ºF. 
  • WATER: Cut back on how often you water- watering only when the soil is dry halfway down.
  • POSITION: As soon as buds appear, move the plant back to a spot where it will receive bright filtered light, and resume watering when the top 1/8-1/4 of the soil is dry. Leave your Schlumbergera in this spot for the rest of the blooming season as moving the plant can cause blooms and buds to fall off. 
Ready for a  Schlumbergera of your own? We have them in stock in our Eagle Rock store in a variety of sizes, and can also make a custom Kokedama with one.