Thanksgiving cactus fertilizer

Terry L. Ettinger Horticulture Consulting Services

August 4, 2012 – 06:43 am

If using a granular fertilizer

Q. This past summer I was given custody of a family heirloom - a four foot diameter Christmas cactus that’s been part of our family since before 1900. I’m intimidated by the responsibility of keeping the plant alive and afraid that I’ve already messed up because it was in full bloom at least a full week before Thanksgiving! Why did this plant bloom so early and how do I take care of it in the future?

A. Though they’re related to desert cacti, the holiday cacti (Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus belong to the genus Schlumbergera while Easter cactus is in the genus Hatiora) are native to the relatively cool, mountainous rainforests of southeastern Brazil.

Holiday cacti are mostly epiphytic, which means they grow on the trunks and branches of trees. Instead of rooting into the ground, they most often root into decaying leaves, bark and bird droppings that accumulate in the crevices and hollows of their host trees.

Taking a cue from their mountainous habitat, holiday cacti thrive when temperatures range from 70ºF-80ºF during the summer down to 50ºF-60ºF from fall through late winter.

It's exposure to cool temperatures, especially at night, that triggers the formation of flower buds. In fact, I’ll bet the reason your Christmas cactus bloomed so early is that it may be growing in a room that's a little on the cool side? The other possibility is that your Christmas cactus isn't really a Christmas cactus, but rather a hybrid Thanksgiving cactus which tend to bloom between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

The way you can tell the two apart is by looking at the edges of their flattened stems, which are called cladodes. The edges, or margins and Christmas cactus cladodes, above, tend to be somewhat rounded. Meanwhile, those of Thanksgiving cactus, at left, tend to be somewhat pointed.

A second cue from their native habitat is the importance of a well-drained potting soil that mimics the decaying organic matter in which they grow. Fortunately, peatmoss-based potting soils such Pro-Mix, Jiffy-Mix, and others fit the bill nicely as they hold a lot of water yet drain rapidly.

Speaking of water, keeping holiday cacti moist - but not wet - from March through August will encourage maximum growth. Adding quarter-strength, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer to the water once a month is also a good idea. From September through February, however, water plants only once every two to three weeks to keep the soil just barely moist and don’t fertilize at all.


You might also like:

Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus
Christmas Cactus Plant
Christmas Cactus Plant

Agree, the bougies should be blooming now.

The jasmine at our nursery aren't really blooming right now (each variety seems to bloom in different cycles).
I wouldn't prune the bougs right now because I don't think they'd have enough time to flush back out to bloom by Thanksgiving(?)
A light application of a bloom builder type fertilizer might help (one with a higher phosphorus content--middle number on the fert bag). Make sure not to apply on totally drought stressed plants though. Bougs like it more towards the dry side (but not cactus dry) otherwise.

Christmas Cactus Unrooted Cuttings 'Lavender' Variety
Lawn & Patio ()
  • Easy to Grow.
  • A holiday and year round favorite.
  • Buds bloom from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
  • Three healthy unrooted cuttings are 2-4 segments each.
  • Roots can take 4 to 6 weeks to grow.

Related posts:

  1. Thanksgiving Cactus Crab Cactus
  2. Thanksgiving cactus (plant)
  3. Thanksgiving cactus Flowering
  4. Thanksgiving cactus vase life