How to Care for Holiday Cactus aka Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter Cactus

Holiday cactus, which includes Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus, is one of the most aesthetically interesting succulents you can grow.

It’s native to Brazil and enjoys a more humid climate than most other succulents.

It’s a wonderful plant to have during the Holiday season because it blooms when most other houseplants go dormant!

Christmas Cactus takes a little more work to care for than most other succulents, but if you can get it right (I’ll show you how) you’ll be rewarded with beautiful blooms in late Winter!

A green Thanksgiving Cactus planted in a white and blue decorative planter.
Thanksgiving cactus in decorative pot

What is Holiday Cactus?

Three different types of cacti fall under the “Holiday Cactus” category: Thanksgiving Cactus, Christmas Cactus, and Easter Cactus.

They all have different blooming times but they generally have the same care needs.

There are two main differences between Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus, though.

Thanksgiving cactus has sharper leaf segments whereas Christmas cactus has rounded leaf segments.

Sharp leaf ends on a Thanksgiving Cactus.
Thanksgiving cactus with sharp leaf ends

I see people confuse Thanksgiving Cactus for Christmas Cactus all the time because they’re so similar. Both cacti feature the same look we love: glossy, hanging leaves that form beautiful blooms at the ends!

You can find them in shades of red, white, purple, pink, or yellow.

Each bloom lasts for a few days and the plant will continue to produce blooms for a period of several consecutive weeks.

This definitely qualifies it as a long-blooming houseplant, just like beautiful Anthuriums.

Your Thanksgiving Cactus will begin to bloom in November, just in time for Thanksgiving, while your Christmas Cactus will begin to bloom a few weeks later in December, in time for all your holiday and Christmas festivities.

Soil needs for Christmas cactus

Holiday cactus has the same needs as other cacti and succulents when it comes to soil: it craves moist soil that is well-draining and it prefers to go dry between waterings.

I recommend a good cactus mix, one that is well-draining and rich in hummus, a nutrient that will help your plants stay healthy.

When you bring home your holiday cactus from the store, you can repost it in a new, prettier pot than it came in, but just make sure the new pot isn’t too much bigger than its current pot.

A general rule of thumb when repotting houseplants is to use a pot that’s no more than 20% bigger than the current pot. This is especially true for this plant, as it prefers to be root bound.

Early Fall Care for Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus

You might have purchased a Thanksgiving cactus thinking it was a Christmas cactus. That’s ok! You’ll still get gorgeous blooms, they’ll just come earlier than expected.

Since your Thanksgiving cactus will begin to bloom starting mid-to-late November, it’s important to help it along the blooming process several weeks prior.

You’ll also need to prepare your Christmas cactus a few weeks before Christmas so that it can bloom in time.

You see, holiday cactus is unique to other succulents in that it needs several weeks of total darkness before it can produce blooms, much like the Kolanhoe, another type of blooming succulent.

You should get your Christmas Cactus ready for bloom in late Septemeber or early October. And youThanksiginv cactus just a few weeks before that.

To do this, take your cactus and place it in a spot that gets at least 12 hours of total, uninterrupted darkness each day. This is very important! A closet or an unused room would be perfect for this.

In about 4 weeks time, you should start to see small buds on the ends of the leaf stems.

At this point, you can move your Thanksgiving Cactus or Christmas Cactus away from total darkness and into an area that gets filtered sun.

Acclimation is key. Never shock a houseplant or succulent when it comes to their environment because you can end up with a dead plant.

If you purchased your Holiday cactus when it already has buds on the ends, then you can skip this part since the plant has already been prepared to bloom.

You’ll skip this part this year but just remember to do this procedure next fall!

Pink buds have formed on the Thanksgiving Cactus and are getting ready to bloom on top of the green cactus.
Buds have formed on the Thanksgiving Cactus and are getting ready to bloom. They’ll need plenty of sunlight!

Avoid harsh exposure to sunlight because this can cause sunburn and too much stress.

How to Water Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, and Easter cactus

Watering your holiday cactus will be a little different from what you may be used to with your other plants and succulents.

During the Fall season when you move your cactus to a dark spot, refrain from watering regularly; the cactus requires little-to-no water during this 4-week period.

Once the plant begins to bloom, however, you should water it regularly and let the topsoil dry out between waterings, as with other succulents.

Always make sure to water the soil, not the actual leaves.

Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus do well in sandy soils that have excellent drainage, and they hate to be overwatered. Overwatering will eventually lead to root rot.

If your pot has a saucer beneath it to catch excess water, make sure to discard this water so the root system doesn’t sit in a puddle.

Pink Thanksgiving Cactus planted in white pot with soil and decorative moss.
Pink Thanksgiving Cactus buds

How to Fertilize Christmas Cactus (and Thanksgiving Cactus and Easter Cactus)

You should never fertilize your Christmas Cactus (or Thanksgiving or Easter Cactus) when it’s in bloom. Save the fertilizer for when the plant is done blooming. For Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus, this means Spring. Once a month will do.

Liquid fertilizer is best, but be sure to use one that’s suitable for succulents and cacti. I usually use a liquid kelp fertilizer for my succulents.

Pruning Christmas Cactus and other Holiday Cacti

The good news is you really don’t have to prune your Holiday cactus plant. You can, however, if you wish for it to take on a neater, more compact look.

To prune for cosmetic reasons or to avoid the leaf stems from dropping down too low to the ground, simply take a pair of scissors or pruners and make a clean cut between the leaf stems. That’s it!

I hope you enjoy growing this succulent as much as I do. It’s a beautiful plant to have around the house when the Holidays roll around and it’s just as pretty during the rest of the year, too.

It’s a unique plant that’s also used as an adornment, much like the Snake Plant and Aloe Vera (two of my favorite succulents!).



I have you covered! Visit the posts below to learn how to care for other plants in your home!

Types of Christmas Cactus Plants: Differences in Holiday Cacti
How to Care for Poinsettias During the Holiday Season
How to Water Succulents
How to Care for a Jade Plant
Why Succulents Grow Leggy and Stretched-Out
How to Care for Peperomia Plants
How to Care for a Pothos Plant
Pothos Propagation: How to Grow Pothos Cuttings
Are ZZ Plants Easy to Care for? Easy Tips for Beginners
How to Keep Air Plants Alive
How to Care for Anthurium Plants Indoors
10 Low-Light Indoor Plants that Thrive In Homes and Offices