Caring for your Christmas and Thanksgiving Cactus - Carolina Country

Snappy Seasonal Blooms with Christmas Cactus

Plus Garden To-Do’s for November

By L.A. Jackson

Snappy Seasonal Blooms with Christmas Cactus
Thanksgiving Cactus

While Christmas cactus in bloom is such a pretty sight, it is also a plant with secrets, which, thanks to the crack Carolina Country investigative team, can now be revealed:

The “Christmas cactus” you see during the seasonal shopping frenzy of late fall might not be a Christmas cactus. There is also the Thanksgiving cactus, which has a similar look but blooms earlier. Both have snappy displays dripping with complex, long-lasting flowers that come in bright colors such as pink, red, yellow, orange or white, but if you want to be precise with the plant you are buying, the main difference visually is their leaves. The Thanksgiving cactus has pointed stem segments, while its close cousin has more rounded segments. (And just to muddy the waters, there are also hybrid creations that exhibit similar eye-catching blossoms.)

Whether you buy a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus this year, neither is guaranteed to bloom exactly during the holiday season next year. Having them in full flower in time for Yuletide festivities requires 14 hours of continuous darkness in a cool area (around 55 to 60 degrees) each night for six weeks. Personally, that is more effort than I care to put into ANY plant, so I just let my pretties bloom when they dang well feel like it, which usually occurs anywhere between October and February.

Despite its name, the Christmas cactus is not a typical cactus because it originates from the tropical rainforests of South America, meaning it doesn’t like desert conditions such as full sun or dry air. This pretty performs best in a container of quality, well-draining potting mix and an indoor setting bathed in bright, indirect sunlight. It also enjoys humidity, so keep it away from air vents and, to help create a mini-moisture zone, set its pot on top of a tray filled with pebbles and water.

Speaking of humidity, your Christmas cactus will also appreciate an outdoor vacation during the typical hot, steamy Carolina summer, but tuck it away in an area of filtered shade. Water once a week and add a light dose of liquid fertilizer once a month.

And at the obvious risk of stating the, um, obvious, all of these plant perks for a Christmas cactus will keep Thanksgiving cactus as well as hybrid selections happy, too.

Garden To-Do's for November

Butterfly bush bloom going to seed

Butterfly bush bloom going to seed. Photo courtesy of L.A. Jackson.

For sight and scent, it’s hard to beat a butterfly bush in full bloom. But many older cultivars, especially from the popular Buddleia davidii clan, can be seedy, weedy, invasive brutes in the landscape. One good way to prevent their spread is to cut off seedheads that develop from spent flower clusters before they start to scatter their progenies hither and yon. Since this dispersal typically begins in late autumn, now is a good time to remove the seedheads and give them a one-way ticket to the dump. And don’t go crazy with clipping — save any major limb pruning until late winter.

  • Frost is not completely unwelcome in the veggie patch, especially when it comes to cool-season crops such as cauliflower, broccoli, collards, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale. A light frosty morn will turn some of the vegetable starch in these plants into sugar, making them taste sweeter.

  • Cut down spent cannas and trash the debris. This helps prevent bad bugs known as leaf rollers from overwintering in the faded foliage and emerging next spring to continue their dastardly canna-chewing ways.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at:

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