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Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus

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Do you have a Christmas cactus that seems to bloom early each year, and you wonder what you've done wrong? It could be that Thanksgiving is in fact the right time for your plant to flower.

The sharp-toothed edges of this plant suggest it is actually a Thanksgiving cactus, a species of its own.

The sharp-toothed edges of this plant suggest it is actually a Thanksgiving cactus, a species of its own.

A Christmas cactus is one of three popular holiday cacti: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. You can probably guess by their names when these plants usually bloom; Thanksgiving cacti typically start in late fall and Christmas cacti, around a month later. An Easter cactus often starts producing flower buds after the height of winter.

Thanksgiving cacti are often sold as “Christmas cacti,” and these two holiday plants look very similar. In fact the Thanksgiving species was a parent of the hybrid Christmas plant. Commercial growers can treat both types to bloom at a prescribed time for holiday sales. Both fall in the genus Schlumbergera, have the same color scheme and require the same care. There are two main differences between a Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus: the flowering season, which we have already discussed, and the segments of the leaves. True Christmas cacti (S. xbuckleyi) have smooth, round leaf edges while Thanksgiving cacti (S. truncata) have jagged leaf edges.

If your plant possesses the telltale rounded leaves of the Christmas cactus yet insists on blooming earlier in the fall, it's likely due to its growing conditions. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti need cool temperatures to spur flower buds. Night temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees (F) are ideal. Flowering is also best with longer periods of total darkness, around 13 to 16 hours each night. Flowering should follow after about eight weeks of this treatment. The earlier the onset of cool conditions and long nights, the sooner the plant will flower. Try keeping your plant in a warm, well-lit spot, such as a room you use throughout the evening, for longer into the fall if you'd like it to bloom later in the season.

Recommended related reading:

Find all you need to know to tend and display flowering and foliage plants indoors with The Practical Houseplant Book by Zia Allaway and Fran Bailey.

Gain a better understanding of houseplants and how they communicate their needs with The New Plant Parent by Daryl Cheng. A highly readable book, it offers a way to master plant care indoors.