How to Grow Thanksgiving Cactus – A Quick Guide

Thanksgiving cactus, also known as the crab cactus, is one of the three-holiday cacti. It is popular for its segmented foliage and colorful flowers. The plant doesn’t need much care and maintenance, making it a popular houseplant but there are some specific needs you need to note so that your Thanksgiving cactus can thrive.

In this article we discuss the care needs, methods to propagate it with cuttings, and the key features of a Thanksgiving plant.

Holiday Cacti – Thanksgiving, Easter, Chrismas

thanksgiving easter and christmas cacti

It is interesting to know that the Christmas cactus is closely related to the Easter cacti and Thanksgiving cacti. The main difference is in the green segments called cladodes that join together to form the stem and the seasons in which they bloom.

The Stem Segments

Christmas cactusTear-shaped or scalloped leaf, less spikey and rounded edges on the leaves.
Thanksgiving cactusPointed, spiky, sharp claw-shaped projections on the edges of the leaves
Easter cactusSubtle rounded-edged leaves, not spiky

Seasons of Bloom

They are named around the season in which they bloom. The Christmas cactus produces flowers during the Christmas holidays while the Easter cactus produces flowers in the month of Easter and the Thanksgiving cactus produces flowers in the month of October which people use as a giveaway gift for thanksgiving.

About Thanksgiving Cactus

orange thanksgiving cactus

The Thanksgiving cactus, also known as the crab cactus or zygocactus, is a flowering plant native to the tropical forests of South America. It’s named after the holiday of Thanksgiving because of its bright red, pink, or white flowers that bloom around the same time as the holiday.

Unlike a traditional cactus, which has sharp spines, the Thanksgiving cactus has soft, flattened stems with small, pointed tips. The plant is easy to care for and can thrive in a variety of lighting conditions, making it a popular choice for indoor gardens. It’s often given as a gift during the Thanksgiving season.

How to Care for Thanksgiving Cactus

red thanksgiving cactus

These easy-to-grow plants need very little care and maintenance. Its care requirements are different to cacti although it easily grows as an indoor plant. When growing Thanksgiving cactus, there are a few things that you should keep in mind to make it bloom for longer and stay healthier.

Light Requirements

The Thanksgiving cactus grows best in filtered, indirect light during spring and summer. But when the blooming season is about to come, put it in a brighter location, however keep it away from direct sun. The perfect place for the Thanksgiving cactus is a place that is well lit with indirect sunlight.

Soil Needs

When Thanksgiving cactus grows in the tropical forests, it survives off the organic decaying matter from the bark and grows from trees. To provide similar conditions,

Thanksgiving cactus should be grown in an airy, well-drained potting mix rich in humus, and which has an acidic pH level. The perfect mixture for growing Thanksgiving cactus at home is in one part perlite, one part orchid bakis, and one part moss.

Watering Requirements

One of the best ways to keep the Thanksgiving cactus happy is to have a proper routine for watering. The soil should not be allowed to dry out and it should be moist all the time.

Remember that the plant is very sensitive to waterlogging, so water should never be allowed to stand in the pot. Before watering, check whether the top 1-2 inches of soil are dry, then water the plant thoroughly until the drainage hole at the bottom of the container starts to drain water.

Fertilizer Needs

To promote your Thanksgiving cactus to bloom during fall, fertilize the Thanksgiving cactus regularly. Use a diluted, balanced liquid fertilizer and apply it after every couple of weeks during early fall, summer, and spring. Stop fertilizing the plant after the blooms fall off as the plant goes into dormancy period. Don’t fertilize it till it starts growing again in the spring.

Humidity and Temperature

Native to the tropical forests, these plants grow well in warm and humid conditions. Keep 50% humidity around your Thanksgiving cactus when growing it at home and the temperature should be between 60 and 65 Fahrenheit (15 and 20 degrees Celsius). Usually, the household conditions of temperature and humidity are right for Thanksgiving cactus.


Prune the plant from time to time to make the plant produce more blooms during the flowering season and stay healthy and bushy. When you see new growth starting in the spring, it is best to start pruning the plant. When making the cuts, do it carefully as every cut will promote branching at that place.

Use sterilized pruning shears or a pair of sharp scissors to prune the plant. Save the cutting and you can grow them into new plants.

How to Propagate Thanksgiving Cactus

pink thanksgiving cactus

The way to propagate Thanksgiving cacti is by using stem cuttings. The cactus is in its active growing period during spring and summer; this is the best time for propagation. The plant goes into dormancy period in the winter, so avoid propagation at that time.

When you prune the stems of the Thanksgiving cactus, it is best to grow them into new plants. This way you can easily create new plants or fill out an existing plant. Here are some simple steps to propagate the plant by using stem cuttings:

  • Use a pair of sterilized scissors or pruning shears and take several leaf/stem cuttings, there should be about 2-3 leaf segments in each cutting.
  • The cut ends need to be callous over, so put them in a cool, dry location for almost a day.
  • Fill a pre-moistened potting soil in a small pot to grow your Thanksgiving cactus cutting.
  • When the stem cuttings have calloused, plant them in the direction they were growing on the original plant.

How to Make a Thanksgiving Cactus Bloom

thanksgiving cactus

As the name suggests, Thanksgiving cactus is a plant that blooms around that time of Thanksgiving, in late fall every year. Some people adore the foliage of Thanksgiving cactus, but some grow it for the prolific and stunning flowers that bloom in the shades of white, pink, red, yellow, and orange. The flower keeps blooming from November and all the way to March.

If you are growing this plant indoors, then it may need a little extra care to help it bloom every year. When the days stay short and cold for a few weeks, then the plant starts flowering. You can make your Thanksgiving cactus bloom by exposing it to colder temperatures in early fall.

Slightly pot-bound Thanksgiving cacti are seen to bloom more easily. Therefore, do not repot your plant until spring each year. A tip to prolong the blooming season and produce more blooms is to deadhead the spent blooms.

Thanksgiving Cacti – Common Problems

dying thanksgiving cactus

Even though Thanksgiving cactus is a plant that is easy-to-grow and easy-to-care for it is important to remember its growth needs so that it will thrive.  

No Blooms

When plant sellers put Thanksgiving cacti on the sail window, they often force them to bloom earlier than their flowering season. This causes the plants to stop blooming in their second year.

So, you should wait for one or two years to see the plant blooming again. Do check the growing conditions for Thanksgiving cactus as we state above, so that your plant produces a lot of blooms even indoors.

Yellowing Leaves

Two problems may cause the leaves to turn yellow. If you are watering the plant more than it needs, then the leaves start to turn yellow and mushy. Ensure that the pot has proper drainage and the roots do not stay in soggy soil.

Another reason for yellow leaves is too much sunlight. Put your Thanksgiving cactus in a place where it doesn’t receive direct sunlight.

Dropping Flower Buds

There are a few possible reasons why the buds on your Thanksgiving cactus may be falling off, including:

  • The plant is not getting enough light. The Thanksgiving cactus requires bright, indirect light to produce buds and flowers. If the plant is not getting enough light, it may not produce enough buds or the buds may fall off before they can open.
  • The plant is not getting enough water. The Thanksgiving cactus requires regular watering to maintain its health and promote abundant blooms. If the plant is not getting enough water, the buds may fall off before they can open.
  • The plant is not getting enough nutrients. The Thanksgiving cactus requires a well-balanced fertilizer to provide the nutrients it needs to produce buds and flowers. If the plant is not getting enough nutrients, the buds may fall off before they can open.
  • The plant is experiencing temperature fluctuations. The Thanksgiving cactus prefers a warm, consistent environment. If the plant is experiencing sudden changes in temperature, the buds may fall off before they can open.

If you are experiencing bud drop on your Thanksgiving cactus, try to identify the cause and take steps to correct the problem. This may include providing the plant with more light, water, or nutrients, or protecting it from sudden changes in temperature. With the right care, your Thanksgiving cactus should be able to produce healthy, abundant blooms.

Thanksgiving Cactus FAQs

1.   Where is the best place to put a Thanksgiving cactus?

The Thanksgiving cactus is a tropical plant, so it thrives in warm, humid environments with indirect sunlight. It is best to place the plant in a location with bright, indirect light, such as near a window that gets plenty of sunlight but is not directly in the path of the sun’s rays.

Avoid placing the plant in direct sunlight, as this can cause the leaves to burn and the flowers to fade. The Thanksgiving cactus also requires a well-draining soil mix and regular watering to keep the soil moist but not soggy. It is important to avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot.

2. How many times a year does a Thanksgiving cactus bloom?

The Thanksgiving cactus typically blooms once a year, around the time of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. The exact timing of the blooming season can vary depending on the plant’s care and environment. In general, the plant will begin to produce buds and flowers in the fall, with the blooms typically lasting for several weeks.

The flowers are typically bright red, pink, or white and have a delicate, star-shaped appearance. The plant may also produce smaller blooms throughout the year, but the main blooming season is in the fall.

3. Should I trim my Thanksgiving cactus?

Yes, it’s generally recommended to trim your Thanksgiving cactus to maintain its shape and promote healthy growth. The plant will naturally grow long, trailing stems, so regular trimming can help keep it compact and prevent it from becoming leggy.

To trim the plant, use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears to carefully cut off any long or damaged stems. Be sure to make clean, diagonal cuts just above a leaf joint, as this will encourage the plant to produce new growth.

Avoid trimming off more than a third of the plant’s stems at one time, as this can shock the plant and reduce its ability to produce flowers. Regular trimming will help keep your Thanksgiving cactus healthy and promote more abundant blooms.

4. How do you know when a Thanksgiving cactus needs water?

There are a few signs that can indicate when a Thanksgiving cactus needs water, including the following:
The leaves of the plant start to look wilted or droopy
The soil in the pot feels dry to the touch
The plant starts to lose its leaves or flowers

To check the moisture level of the soil, stick your finger into the soil about an inch deep. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water the plant. Be sure to water the plant thoroughly, allowing the water to run through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow the excess water to drain away, and then empty any water that collects in the saucer underneath the pot.

5. What does an overwatered Thanksgiving cactus look like?

An overwatered Thanksgiving cactus may exhibit the following symptoms:

The leaves of the plant turn yellow or brown and fall off
The stems of the plant become soft and mushy
The plant begins to rot or develop mold
The soil in the pot becomes waterlogged and starts to smell bad

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is likely that your Thanksgiving cactus has been overwatered. Overwatering can be harmful to the plant, as it can lead to root rot, which can kill the plant. If you think your Thanksgiving cactus has been overwatered, stop watering it for a few days and allow the soil to dry out.

Then, resume watering the plant, but be sure to water it less frequently and allow the excess water to drain away. Over time, the plant should recover from the overwatering and return to good health’.

6. Why are the buds on my Thanksgiving cactus falling off?

There are a few possible reasons why the buds on your Thanksgiving cactus may be falling off. For instance, it’s possible that your plant is not getting enough light, water, or nutrients. It could also be experiencing sudden changes in temperature.

Wrapping Up

The Thanksgiving cactus makes a great holiday plant. Remember that although it is a low maintenance plant, it is important to provide proper water, soil, temperature, and sunlight conditions as these are essential to grow healthy Thanksgiving cactus plants.

Stay on the lookout for any problems the plant may be facing and solve them as soon as possible to ensure that the plant blooms happily and produces a lot of flowers adding to the aesthetics of your garden.