Cactus and succulents

Preventing Bud Drop on Holiday Cactus

Holiday cactus often lose flower buds when you move them. Photo: @dkerr96

Question: My Thanksgiving cactus is blooming, but several buds have fallen off without opening. Is it because I moved it? I usually grow it in the basement, but take it upstairs when it starts to bloom so the whole family can enjoy it.

Lisette Provencher

Answer: This is a common problem with holiday cacti, which can be either the true Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) or its close relative, the Thanksgiving cactus (S. truncata). (Read When your Christmas Cactus Blooms Too Early to learn how to distinguish between the two.)

Christmas cactus flower buds on table
Flower buds that dropped off. Photo: ask.extension.org

When the growing conditions change dramatically, the flower buds tend to drop off. This happens when you move it from one part of the house to another, but even more drastically when you bring one back from the garden center and the plant has to make the transition from a brightly lit and very humid greenhouse to a darker living room where the air is very dry.

To prevent or reduce bud drop, try moving the plant when the flower buds are still very small. That will give the plant more time to adapt before its buds start to swell.

Two christmas cactus, one pink, one red
Maintaining the same orientation can help prevent bud drop. Photo: pflanzenblog-in.de

If flowering is more advanced, try at least to maintain the same orientation as the original spot. In other words, place the side of the plant that faced the window in your basement so that it is also facing the window in its new location. So, no spins or quarter turns. Theoretically at least, the buds are more likely drop off when this orientation is perturbed. 

Also, although a holiday cactus is a true cactus, it’s not a desert plant and it appreciates good atmospheric humidity. Since the air in a basement is usually more humid than the air on the ground floor, you could try placing the plant on a humidity tray in its new location to help lessen the shock of the move.

With these methods in mind, you ought to be able to move your holiday cactus without losing a bud.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

5 comments on “Preventing Bud Drop on Holiday Cactus

  1. Good advice. I have over a dozen Thanksgiving cacti (two of them around 100 years old, passed down from both great-grandmothers, and one rescued from a very old woman who was unable to care for it anymore). I have learned over the years to do exactly as you describe. Once the tiniest buds appear, they all go to a bright but cool room with eastern light and some southern light, and they are *never* moved. This year I managed to encourage nearly 100 flowers by monitoring humidity and ensuring the room was 50-60 degrees F, and preventing drafts. Nevertheless, the smallest buds failed to thrive as their neighbors came to full flower, and invariably dried out and dropped after a period of stasis. I’ve tried misting–ineffective. I’ve tried varying amounts of water, thinking the fail-to-launch buds were not getting enough moisture– didn’t seem to matter, and besides it’s better not to overwater these plants. These remind me of the “runt” of a litter of kittens or puppies. I believe sometimes the plant can’t sustain the energy needed to bring them all to flower–does that mean I should fertilize them more? Unsure. Nevertheless, I keep trying because I love these graceful flowers, especially the non-hybrids, the ones that have become heirlooms. I think I may experiment with the potting soil again. Someone on YouTube suggested using soil formulated for orchids, so that will be a project during repotting season.

    • I’m growing one (hybrid) in orchid mix and it’s doing fine, although I can’t say its doing any better than those growing in potting soil.

      • Thanks, that’s helpful to know. I repotted all of mine (including the woody centenarian!) during growing season in soil formulated for cacti/succulents, which I *think* has made a positive difference, but I also think the new undisturbed space I made for them also improved matters.

  2. I have mine on a movable stand and have swung it around to enjoy the flowers which explains the bud drop .thanks for the insight!

  3. ?! I have seen them do that, but just figured it was because they produced too many buds. Even with a few missing, they still bloom spectacularly.

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