Propagating Thanksgiving and Christmas Cacti

31 January 2024

Perhaps you were gifted with a Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus (both Schlumbergera) and are wondering how to handle it now that it is outgrowing its pot.  Well, there are two methods and you get to choose which you would prefer.

When choosing a new pot, be sure it has good drainage.  That means a container with good holes in the bottom.  Before pouring in the potting mix, place a coffee filter or a piece of newspaper in the bottom.  That way the soil won’t run out, but the water will.


Remove the plant from its pot.  Using a sharp, clean knife, cut through the thick roots.  Depending on its size, you should be able to get two plants from one, or with a larger root ball, as many as four new plants.  Start with new or sanitized pots that have good drainage holes and fresh succulent potting soil and replant the divisions.

Okay, they may appear a little wonky because they are oddly shaped.  Wait until after they have bloomed and then give them an occasional pruning and they will shape up nicely.   If you start shaping before the first blooms, you risk removing the flower buds.


Another method is to start with cuttings.  This is particularly nice if your plant is not root bound but you want to start some new growths, perhaps to share with your friends, relatives, or neighbors.  Here is how this process goes.

Twist at a joint between the stems (phylloclades).  The best time to do this is when the plant is in active growth, usually spring or summer.  You may choose to allow the cutting to sit for a day or so the raw edge can heal a bit.

Place the cut side down into clean potting soil, preferably one designed for succulents, so that about half of the cutting is below the surface.  Keep the soil moist but not sopping.  Allow the soil to dry before re-watering.  Do not cover with plastic.

If the leaves wrinkle a bit, don’t worry.  Place in a warm spot, but not in direct sunlight.  In about two or three weeks, you will have roots.  Allow this plant to grow until it is too large for the pot.  At that point, you can probably just move the plant to a larger pot with fresh soil without having to divide it.

Other succulents that are easy to start from cuttings include Echeveria, Gasteria, and Jade plants.

If you have a holiday cactus but for some reason don’t know if it is Thanksgiving or Christmas, it is easy to tell the difference.  Duh, the Thanksgiving cactus blooms about a month sooner.  The Christmas cactus is more fragile and, therefore, is offered for sale less frequently.  But really…the leaflike stems on the Thanksgiving cactus have pointy ends and the Christmas cactus has smooth, round edges.  There is also an Easter cactus that blooms in the spring and its flowers are star-shaped rather than the tubular blooms of the winter cacti.

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