How to care for a Thanksgiving cactus – top tips for these seasonal succulents

Keep your Schlumbergera truncata in top health throughout the holidays and beyond

pink Thanksgiving cactus
(Image credit: Elena Grishina / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Thanksgiving cactuses are popular indoor plants for fall, with their bright blooms in brilliant reds, pinks, purples, or whites. Hailing from tropical climes, they add an exotic look to any interior scheme, and will last for years with the right care.

At first glance, the Thanksgiving cactus looks very similar to the Christmas cactus, and they share many of the same maintenance requirements, too. Unsurprisingly, they come from the same genus – Schlumbergera – but you can tell them apart by the leaves (the Christmas cactus' foliage has smoother edges). 

The Thanksgiving cactus also flowers slightly earlier, as its name suggests. And, if you look closely enough, you'll spot that the blooms are slightly different. 

'The flowers of a Thanksgiving cactus tend to have a more asymmetrical appearance and have a tubular or funnel-shaped structure,' says Kayla Gajdascz of Mental Houseplants.

Kayla Gajdascz
Kayla Gajdascz

Kayla Gajdascz is the co-founder and president of Mental Houseplants, a company dedicated to spreading the positive impact that plants have on our mental health. One way that the company does this is by partnering with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (the Massachusetts chapter), and donating a portion of every sale to them.

Thanksgiving cactus with red flowers

Holiday cactuses help to brighten the home

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3 tips for looking after your Thanksgiving cactus

Whether you've been given a Thanksgiving cactus as a gift and don't know what to do with it, or have recently bought one from a local store, these tips will help keep it looking its best.

pink Thanksgiving cactus flowers

With the right know-how, these plants are easy to care for

(Image credit: Евгения Матвеец / Moment / Getty Images)

1. Water it carefully

Thanksgiving cactuses are succulents, which means they are particularly susceptible to root rot if they sit in standing water. This means over-saturating them should be avoided at all costs. 

'Water them thoroughly when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch,' advises Kayla, adding that you should reduce watering in the winter months, when the plant is not actively growing. 

They also need to be planted in a well-draining medium. Autumn Hilliard-Knapp of Perfect Plants Nursery recommends using their succulent and cactus soil.

Alternatively, you can create your own potting mix, as Kayla points out. Simply combine regular potting soil with perlite or sand to increase drainage. Remember to use pots with drainage holes in the bottom, too.

In terms of feeding, use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks during the spring and summer months, Kayla advises.

Top tip: As tropical plants, Thanksgiving cactuses appreciate a humid environment. Frequently misting the plants can help, as can a nearby humidifier (this one from Pure Enrichment at Amazon is well-rated). Alternatively, place them in more humid rooms in the house, such as the bathroom

Autumn Hilliard-Knapp
Autumn Hilliard-Knapp

Autumn is a horticulture specialist and marketing professional at Perfect Plants Nursery. With four years of experience in the horticulture industry, she has developed a passion for helping people create beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy. Her expertise in horticulture encompasses a broad range of activities, including plant care and selection, landscape design, and maintenance.

white Thanksgiving cactus in pot

Be careful not to overwater your plant

(Image credit: amomentintime / Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Provide the right amount of light and warmth

'Thanksgiving cacti thrive in bright, indirect light,' notes Autumn. 'During the winter months, they can tolerate more direct light, but during the summer, it is best to provide filtered light to prevent leaf scorch.'

'They prefer average room temperatures,' adds Kayla Gajdascz. 'About 65-75°F during the day and cooler nighttime temperatures of 55-65°F can help encourage bud formation.'

'Avoid placing it near drafts or heating and cooling vents, because sudden temperature fluctuations may stress the plant,' says Autumn.

red flower on Thanksgiving cactus

These plants prefer bright but indirect light

(Image credit: DigiPubFlickr / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

3. Prune your Thanksgiving cactus when necessary

Pruning succulents such as Thanksgiving cactuses can encourage them to form a bushier and more compact shape. If you've had yours for a while, don't be afraid to trim back any overly leggy stems once it's finished blooming by removing a few leaf segments from the tips. Just be careful not to remove over one-third of the plant at a time to make its recovery easier. Any damaged sections can be snipped off, too.

Always use a clean and sharp pair of pruners or scissors when pruning to avoid harming the plants.

Most flowers will fall off naturally once they have died. However, you can deadhead any that are still clinging to the plant by hand if you want to – they will be dry and withered and should break off very easily.

Thanksgiving cactus flowers

You can deadhead the blooms to keep your plant looking its best

(Image credit: Denise Rains / Alamy Stock Photo)


How do you propagate a Thanksgiving cactus?

Propagating these succulents can be done by taking stem cuttings. Allow the wounds to callus before replanting them into well-draining potting soil to increase the chances of success.

Why are the leaves falling off my Thanksgiving cactus?

Usually watering problems are to blame – you may be giving it too little or too much. If you suspect it's the latter, remove the plant from its pot and check for signs of root rot. Damaged roots can be cut away and then you can replant the cactus into fresh, dry soil to help it recover.

These pretty plants are a perfect way to bring a splash of color into the home during the fall months. But even without blooms, their foliage is attractive all year round. And, if you love their look, don't forget about the Easter cactus, too, which flowers in spring.

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.