Dakota Gardener: Holiday cacti are excellent houseplants

Holiday cacti can live a very long time under proper care.

Holiday cactus
Holiday cacti will bloom naturally around the holiday for which they are named. NDSU photo

By Carrie Knutson, NDSU Extension Agent, Grand Forks County

When I started in Extension many years ago, I took a cutting from a co-worker’s Christmas cactus.

The plant grew extremely well. In fact, it has taken over the top of my file cabinet and frequently gets pinched when I shut drawers.

The plant loves to be left alone and it has rewarded me with spectacular magenta pink blooms late November or early December.

How can you tell what type of holiday cactus you have?


We have three main groups of holiday cacti. They are Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti. These cacti have many hybrids and cultivars. They frequently are grouped together and are confused easily unless you know what to look for.

The secret lies in the stems.

Thanksgiving cacti have pointed, claw-shaped stem edges. The Christmas cacti have scalloped stem edges and the Easter cacti have rounded, smooth stems.

If you are like me and need more of a visual guide to identify what type of cactus you have, check out the video by Calla Edwards, a North Dakota State University Extension agent in McLean County, on our Facebook page, .

Another key identification characteristic is the season in which the plants naturally bloom. The plants require different spans of long nights to bloom. The plants will bloom naturally around the holiday for which they are named.

Thanksgiving cacti are the most common. They easily re-bloom without any extra effort on your part. They frequently are labeled and sold as Christmas cacti around the holiday season.

Christmas cacti might require a little more care to bloom. The plant will need complete darkness for at least 12 hours and cooler night time temperatures of 60 to 65 F to bloom.

Easter cacti will bloom later in the winter as daylight increases and temperatures warm. The Easter cactus requires the longest span of long nights to bloom.


Regardless of what type, holiday cacti are excellent houseplants. These plants can live a very long time under proper care. Holiday cacti are not native to the desert. They come from the rainforests. The plants prefer moist, well-drained soil and bright indirect light, and benefit from fertilizer during the summer. The plants don’t like to be moved, especially when they are blooming.

So what type do I have? Well, mine is indeed a Christmas cactus. It really must like my office because it blooms reliably ever year with no extra effort from me. Happy gardening!

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at .

Carrie Knutson
Carrie Knutson

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