Christmas cactus or not

Wed. Nov. 20, 2019

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show: Christmas cactus or not

 Is your cactus flowering? There sure are a lot of them working overtime by the looks for the pictures on Facebook!  How long has it been in bloom? If you thought it was a Christmas cactus, I hate to burst your bubble but it’s likely a Thanksgiving cactus.   Yup, there’s a difference!

Connie’s cactus – yes, it’s a Thanksgiving cactus – notice the pointy lobes?

For years I had a Christmas cactus of my mom’s.  Or so I thought. Then one day I was looking at information from the University of Minnesota and thought hey, something doesn’t look right.  I ran to look at the lobes of my Cactus and l found they were pointy, . ACK! I had a Thanksgiving cactus. The lobes of a Christmas cactus are rounded. 

Lobes of cactus, Thanksgiving and Christmas

Another way to tell is by looking at their anthers.\ And, of course, the Thanksgiving cactus starts flowering about 4 to 6 weeks earlier than the Christmas Cactus.  And all that time, I thought I had an exceptional plant too!

Thanksgiving cactus – notice the white anthers


If you’re planning on buying a holiday cactus for yourself or as a gift, I have a few tips to keep them in tip top shape. Despite the name, these guys are not quite as drought tolerant as desert cacti.  Because it’s a succulent the leaves can hold a lot of water. So, fill ‘er up till water drains out the bottom of it’s pot, empty the saucer and then don’t water again until the top HALF of the pot becomes dry. Then repeat!

For both Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti, daylengths between 8 and 11 hours are considered best to start them flowering.  While they’re flowering, feed them a weak all purpose fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks. They also like it cool, so don’t worry about setting these guys out in a drafty area. Once they’ve finished flowering you can let them dry out for several weeks, then repeat the watering schedule of letting the top half of the plant soil dry. Check out your local nursery for a great selection.

My Thanksgiving cactus isn’t getting as much light as it should but it’s trying!