Thanksgiving cactus
Close up showing pointed claws of the Thanksgiving cactus.

Did you get a holiday cactus as a gift? Or maybe you couldn't resist buying one for yourself? Here are some great tips on how to care for it once you get it home:

There are two distinct types of holiday cactus (botanical name Schlumbergera) that arrive for the holidays at most retail stores - Thanksgiving cactus has pointed claws or teeth on each of its leaf segments while the Christmas cactus leaf segments are scalloped and lack teeth. Both are worth your time and effort if you want ongoing enjoyment from them after the holidays are gone. Maintain a regular watering schedule and fertilize every 4 to 6 weeks with an all purpose fertilizer. When the blossoms drop off, keep the soil barely moist. Indoors, place it in a room which cools off at night and doesn’t get warmer than about 75 degrees during the day. You can even keep it in an unheated basement by a window.

Christmas cactus
Christmas cactus has scalloped segments without teeth.

If you choose to put your holiday cactus outside in the warmer months, place it in a shady spot or one with partial light. Protect it from drenching rain, and keep it away from strong winds. Keep feeding regularly until late summer when it goes into its time to set buds: dry conditions, cool temps and short daylight hours. With both plants , the bloom is initiated both by a drop in temperatures to about 55 degrees and the shorter periods of daylight.  If you want it to bloom naturally, keep it out of artificial light. When the plant begins to show its buds, set it out for all to enjoy.

Planning on a show of blooms for the holidays next year? You can force your holiday cactus to bloom next year by giving it total darkness for 12 hours each day from mid-October for 6-8 consecutive weeks. That dark treatment needs to be combined with reduced watering until you see those buds form. That should happen when temps stay steady at about 50-60 degrees.