Celebrating my Thanksgiving Cacti

Happy Thanksgiving!  If you’re celebrating today, I wish you a joyful and uplifting day of celebration.  Today, I’m celebrating my Thanksgiving cacti, which are keeping perfect time and flowering for Thanksgiving.

Schlumbergera produce characterful flowers and flower buds.

Thanksgiving cacti (also known by their botanical name, Schlumbergera) are easy to care for, long-lived houseplants that thrive in shaded and semi-shaded conditions.  Unlike traditional cacti, which grow in bright and sunny, dry and arid conditions; Thanksgiving cacti flourish in a humid environment, away from bright sunshine.

Here’s a look at my vibrant coloured Schlumbergera as its buds begin to unfurl.

Our homes are usually dry environments with low humidity levels and almost desert-like conditions.  However, it’s easy to increase the humidity levels around your Thanksgiving cactus.  One way to do this is to grow your plant as part of a cluster or group of houseplants.

Another option, that will significantly raise humidity levels around your plant, is to place your Thanksgiving cactus’ pot on a saucer of pebbles and pour water into the saucer; do take care though, as Thanksgiving cacti do not want to sit in water (their roots may rot, if they stay wet for too long).  Accordingly, it’s important that both your plant’s pot and roots are sitting above the water, not in it.  This can be achieved by using a larger saucer in the usual way for your water and pebbles and then place a much smaller, upturned saucer on top of the pebbles, which will provide a dry ledge for your Thanksgiving cactus to sit above the water.

I think Schlumbergeras look so handsome when they’re in bud. When your plant starts producing flower buds, don’t forget to give Thanksgiving cacti a gentle shower, with lukewarm rainwater, to remove any dust or detritus that has collected on your plant’s stems.

Alternatively, you could use a tall ceramic planter to house your Thanksgiving cactus.  I’m assuming that you’re growing your cactus in a small plastic pot with lots of holes at the base; place your cactus’ plastic pot in the tall ceramic planter, so that your plant is held firmly at the top of the planter, with ample space below the pot.  Pour some water into the bottom of the planter (ensure that the water level is well below your plant’s pot/roots), which will moisten the air around the plant.  Spritzing your plants with rainwater (every day or every few days) is another effective solution, which will keep your Schlumbergera happy and contented.

Here’s my Thanksgiving cactus pictured just as its buds were opening on the 20th November 2020. I gave this plant a lovely shower with warmed rainwater, after taking this photograph.

This Thanksgiving cactus was a gift from two of my favourite people, back in 2014.  My cactus has looked absolutely fabulous up until recently, when a series of minor accidents have quite literally chipped away at the size of this specimen.  On a few occasions, when this plant was picked up (ready to be taken to the sink and watered) my Thanksgiving cactus’ pot was accidentally dropped; each incident shed (or reduced the size) of a few of the plant’s stems.

Here’s this same Schlumbergera, as pictured on the 6th November 2016. As you can see, this plant had green stems during its first few years in my care.

Then, once or twice, when it was the turn of one of the neighbouring plants to be collected for dedicated watering and tender loving care; the decorative pot that was covering my plant’s plastic pot slipped off and bounced onto my Schlumbergera – this accident turned out to be far more damaging for my planter than my Schlumbergera!

If you have a similar calamity with your plant, the pieces of stem that your plant has lost can be propagated and turned into new baby Schlumbergera plants.  However, there’s no need to drop any items onto your plant to acquire propagation material!

A closer look at my Schlumbergera’s vibrant flowers.

When propagating Schlumbergera, take cuttings from healthy plants that shine with vitality.  First, evaluate your plant and see if there are a few stems that would look more pleasing to your plant’s overall shape if they were trimmed; however, the most important thing when gathering propagation material is to choose the best and strongest, healthiest plant material available.

To take a Schlumbergera cutting: remove a piece of stem that’s made up of two or three leafy sections.  Make your cut at the natural end of a leafy stem section.  Leave the stems alone for a few days, until the wound has dried out and callused over, then take a small pot of peat-free, free-draining, cactus compost and insert the base of your cutting (the part which was attached to the mother plant) into the compost.

There’s no need to bury your propagation material or push the stems too far into the compost, as they’re liable to rot if planted too deeply.  What I tend to do, is use a small clear pot (with drainage holes at the base) – an orchid pot is ideal.   I drop a small amount of gritty or sandy, peat-free, open compost in the bottom of the pot, to form a shallow layer, perhaps 3cm (1″) deep (at most).  This method allows the Schlumbergera stem to be shallowly planted, but the new plant’s stem can relax and lean against the side of the pot as it develops.  This ensures the cutting is fully supported and it also allows light to get to the plant.  In addition the depth of the pot holds onto some humidity.  Schlumbergera love humidity!  Mist your Schlumbergera cuttings every morning, at least until they establish.

This is the Schlumbergera my friends gave me in 2014. My plant is pictured just as the buds were opening, on the 13th November 2016.

The best time to propagate Schlumbergera is in April, which is also a great time to re-pot Schlumbergera plants.

Here’s my Thanksgiving cactus, as pictured on the 5th November 2017.

Schlumbergera tend to be happiest in smaller pots; I find that they would rather be in too small a container than too large a pot.  In their natural habitat, in the wild, Schlumbergera grow as epiphytes and lithophytes, when they grow upon trees or rocks, without any depth of soil; so these plants really don’t want to grow in deep pots of compost.

I grow my Thanksgiving cacti in small plastic pots that have holes at the base.  I then pop my plant into a decorative planter, to hide the plastic pot, which also has the advantage of giving my larger plants (which tend to be top heavy) more stability.

Here’s a picture I took of my Thanksgiving cactus in flower, back in November 2018. These cacti are quite happy being grown in a smaller pot than you’d expect for a plant of their size. There’s no need to re-pot your plant each year; it’s far better to under-pot, rather than to over-pot your plants.

Thanksgiving cactuses can get rather dusty, which makes them look rather unkempt.  During autumn, winter, and springtime, I give my Schlumbergera plants occasional showers with warmed rainwater.  I also regularly mist my Schlumbergera plants’ stems.  Ensure that your collected rainwater has reached room temperature before you even consider watering or misting your plants, as they won’t appreciate an icy cold shock of water!

As well as my vibrant Schlumbergera, I’ve also got this lovely white Thanksgiving cactus.

Schlumbergera are tender plants that need to be grown indoors during autumn, winter, and springtime.  I grow my plants indoors all year round, but you can move them outside in summertime, if you want to.

Don’t expose your Schlumbergera plants to temperatures below 10C (50F).  My plants thrive inside my home, where the temperatures generally range from 16-21C (60-70F).  Although summer temperatures can be as high as 27C (80F).

Isn’t this Schlumbergera flower bud gorgeous? This ivory coloured flower is beautifully highlighted with touches of the palest pink.

Each year, when my Schlumbergera plants are in bud, I give them a gentle shower with some warmed rainwater.  This prevents the plant becoming dehydrated and provides the cactus with more oomph to flower.  It also washes away any dust or debris that has collected on the stems, enabling for more effective photosynthesis and making the plant look smarter, too.

Here’s a closer look at this Schlumbergera’s flower bud, as it starts to unravel.

I love pale and pastel coloured flowers.  I am particularly fond of this white flowered Schlumbergera, which was another gift from a special person.

Here’s a look at a fully open Schlumbergera flower, showing the stigma and anthers from underneath.

If you’d like to buy a Thanksgiving cactus to brighten up your home, don’t delay placing your order.  These types of cacti are usually only offered for sale at this time of year, while they’re in bloom.

Another view of a fully open Schlumbergera flower.

Apart from my Thanksgiving cacti, this year, there’s another thing that I am feeling very grateful for and celebrating today, as I have been chosen as a finalist in the Garden Media Guild Awards‘ Blog or Vlog of the Year!  Hurrah!

For more information about Thanksgiving cacti, please click here.

To see all of my pages of flowering houseplants, please click here.

For more houseplant ideas, please click here.

For a step-by-step guide to planting a terrarium or bottle garden, please click here.

For information on an organic solution that eliminates the irritating flies you often get around houseplants, please click here.

For gardening advice for December, please click here.

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